Why Confronting the Experts Is So Tough, and Why Sports Drink Research Preferable to Exploring Raw Milk Benefits

Mary Martin with husband Tony and son Chris.The reminder from Mary Martin (in a comment following my March 19 post) that it’s been three years since she first posted on this blog, got me thinking about how much things have changed in the world of raw milk over that period.

Her journal, posted on this blog about dealing with son Chris’ illness, apparently from E.coli 0157:H7, led to an outpouring of commentary. That experience led her to become ever more expert on the fine points of food-borne illness. It also led me to detail her experiences in my book, The Raw Milk Revolution, as an example of the mystery and agony surrounding illnesses associated with raw milk.

Certainly one huge shift over the last three years is the growing fascination by the media with raw milk. When Mary first posted in early 2007, raw milk was typically mentioned only in small newspaper fillers containing warnings from state public health authorities. Now, we have at least three documentaries in the works about raw milk—“Farmageddon” from Kristin Canty, “Milk Men” from Max Kane, and now “Germ Wars” from a California producer, Jed Riffe.

The New York Times came out with an article yesterday that claims “the raw milk movement is becoming something of a cult, growing nationwide.” The article, while somewhat sarcastic about the growing popularity of raw milk, is surprisingly fair (and not just because it quotes me).

But not surprising, the establishment agendas dominate. The bulk of the media attention continues to parrot the public health establishment’s fear mongering, only amplifying it half a dozen times over what it was in 2007. An eye-opening example is one that just came out in Wisconsin, site of the contentious battle over aggressive anti-dairy regulator actions and over legislation that could legalize raw milk on a very limited basis.

It’s eye opening, first, because of the new level of anti-raw-milk hyperbole (something public health types always accuse raw milkies of). This from Bill Keene, a prominent epidemiologist out of Oregon: “”I think after a few dead kids, people will lose their enthusiasm for raw milk.” I met Bill Keene last summer at the American Veterinary Medical Association day-long symposium on raw milk, and he actually seemed like a reasonable guy (for a regulator), but when it comes to raw milk, reason is often a casualty.

The Wisconsin article is even more revealing for what it says about the dairy industry’s priorities, and its supposed concern about the importance of children. The article actually mentions studies out of Europe and New Zealand that document raw milk’s benefits in reducing allergies and eczema in children, and then states:

“The University of Wisconsin has not done comparison tests of raw and pasteurized milk because the testing would cost several hundred thousand dollars, would take several years to complete, and no one has asked for it.

“ ‘It could be done. But right now we are doing work on behalf of the dairy industry, on things like low-sodium cheese or protein in sports drinks. That is where the state, and the industry, wants to spend its money,’ said Rusty Bishop, director of the Center for Dairy Research at the university.”

With a straight face (I presume), this big-shot researcher with a huge research budget is saying protein in sports drinks trumps finding a possible antidote to chronic skin and allergy conditions affecting children. These are the same people who shed crocodile tears about “the children” who could get sick from food-borne illness. (They never seem to shed tears over the explosion of chronic conditions in children.) And here they’re defending sports drinks over kids’ illnesses. I always knew they thought that way, but never thought I’d find one of their top dogs saying it, with pride.

Look at it another way: Suppose there was a vaccine that could cut childhood asthma by 40% or more. But there was a slight risk of illness. What do you think the public health establishment would be saying? Of course. (Deep voice) “That slight risk is worth taking if we can save hundreds or thousands of children from the ravages of asthma. We’ll never stop searching for ways to keep making this vaccine even more effective, and reduce any risks there might be. It’s too important, for the children.” And they’d be applying for ever-larger grants from the pharmaceutical companies and the federal government…and getting the money.

The public health establishment’s growing shrillness against raw milk belies its growing concerns over raw milk’s exploding popularity. That shrillness also helps us understand how the establishment behaves when challenged on matters it would prefer to ignore. Joseph Heckman, a professor at Rutgers University and an advocate of food rights, alerted me to an insightful 1996 book, Confronting the Experts. It presents the stories of scientists who sought to confront established views on such matters as fluoridation and nuclear power. It concludes:

“Establishment experts are in a powerful position. Typically, they have superior numbers, prestigious positions, high credibility with the media and the public, control over professional and academic journals, and links with powerful groups. Faced by a challenge, their usual initial response is simply to ignore it…If…critics become too noisy, too credible or too influential, then they are liable to be suppressed ina more overt and heavy-handed fashion, for example by personal attacks on the dissident.”

“If being ignored or being suppressed were the major problems in confronting establishment experts, this would not be such a difficult business. There is something more involved: vested interests behind the establishment position. Indeed, vested interests are crucial in making a position into one called an ‘establishment.’”

Wisconsin may take a small step toward allowing raw milk. But the vested interests are lined up to make sure that even if it’s passed, it will be continually challenged, the regulators encouraged to enforce it as strictly as possible.

Mary Martin concludes her note by stating, “It is time to focus on working together to make raw milk safe as humanly possible.” I think lots of people are prepared to do that, but for that to happen, there must be a level of good will. The vested interests tend to be rich on the financial side, but quite impoverished when it comes to good will. 

 Bill Keene, epidemiologist with the Oregon Division of Public Health.

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14 Comments on "Why Confronting the Experts Is So Tough, and Why Sports Drink Research Preferable to Exploring Raw Milk Benefits"

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Ken Conrad
March 26, 2010 3:04 am

The humanly possible aspect of Marys statement is what concerns me, since it lends to the human species persistent desire to manipulate and control beyond the limits of and with little consideration for the laws of nature. It also begs the question as to the methodology used for the creation of a safe raw milk product. Jeff Goldblum sums it up well scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should. Martin Luther Kings statement is relevant as well, Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided… Read more »

Don Wittlinger
March 26, 2010 3:17 am

As the saying goes David "You can"t fight City Hall" Raw milk has an enormous struggle against the modern day Boss Tweeds it would seem that little has changed since then.
There is a rather interesting political cartoon half way down the page showing Boss Tweed arresting 2 young boys perhaps one could update this cartoon by replacing the 2 young boys with 2 raw dairy farmers?

Blair McMorran
March 26, 2010 6:33 am

Thanks Ken – great post.

RE: Working hard to protect our children:


"…Triclosan is an anti-bacterial ingredient in many cosmetics and personal-care products. These include nearly half of all commercial antibacterial liquid soaps, cleansers, deodorants, detergents, toothpastes, and mouthwashes. …
"…Unexpected volatility has been documented when the triclosan in liquid soaps and other household products comes into contact with water, as would happen during common use. At Virginia Tech University, a team of researchers in April 2005 reported that some toothpastes and soaps create a chloroform gas when the triclosan in these products reacts with chlorinated tap water. Triclosan… Read more »

Don Wittlinger
March 26, 2010 8:08 am

Boise Weekly is reporting that the new idaho raw milk bill was passed after a closed door meeting between lawmakers lobbyist the state agriculture department and the dairy industry. It is just 3 pages long a quick read. Raw milk violation penalties include fines up to $200 up to 3 months in jail or both.
Link to text of House Bill 675
Are there ny penalties concerning violation of the other stuff or deli meats?

Bill Anderson
March 26, 2010 8:10 am

The Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research claims they exist to "help dairy farmers make money." Its like trickle-down "Reaganomics." Supposedly by helping the big corporate dairy processors make more money, these profits are going to "trickle down" to dairy farmers.

I call BS.

They are totally hostile to raw milk. They are indifferent, dismissive, and ignorant of rotational grazing practices. And they advocate all sorts of highly processed milk protien concentrates (shipped in from CA) in cheesemaking to boost yields, homogenization and artificial enzymes to alter flavors in cheese, expensive ultrafiltration of whey protiens, the enrichment of… Read more »

Bob "BubbaBozo" Hayles
March 26, 2010 9:46 am

Don…I disagree…you can fight city hall…IF you use guerrilla warfare. If you play their game, you use their rules…change game, change tactics, fight dirty.

That’s how Washington beat the British, that’s how the Viet Cong beat the United States and that is how food (and other) rights folks can win too.


Joseph Heckman
March 26, 2010 10:37 am


You can find the same common functioning social principles operating in many areas of science. I think the book _Confronting the Experts_ by Brian Martin is useful reading for anyone trying to understand contentious debate in science and policy, including the raw milk issue.

Brian Martin is Professor of Social Sciences at the University Wollongong, Australia.

He also has an interesting article on the web called Suppression of Dissent in Science. http://www.bmartin.cc/pubs/99rsppp.html

Joseph Heckman

Don Wittlinger
March 26, 2010 5:26 pm

Bob I agree with you I was just trying to point out the MASSIVE BEAST we are up against. Some times its hard to convey the intent of words with a keyboard blocking the view.

Bob "BubbaBozo" Hayles
March 26, 2010 10:12 pm

But Don…we simply use the beasts massive size against it.

The bigger the beast, the more ravenous it is…the more fuel it needs…and the more a reduction in fuel, no matter how small…affects it.


Mary Martin
March 27, 2010 9:39 am

David, the picture you posted was taken at the dinner after the AVMA conference in Seattle last year. Bill Marler hosted and paid for the dinner and was kind enough to invite you. I hope the quote below wasnt referring to Bill. He did reach out to you in good will.

[Mary Martin concludes her note by stating, It is time to focus on working together to make raw milk safe as humanly possible. I think lots of people are prepared to do that, but for that to happen, there must be a level of… Read more »

Bob "BubbaBozo" Hayles
March 27, 2010 10:35 am

We are a nation of laws, not of men. I choose to support the constitution, not Marler, Bemis, or any other individual.

If the constitution is wrong…change it. There is a constitutionally acceptable method for doing so…but until that happens, it IS the law of the land, regardless of how badly it has been bastardized by people following case law as opposed to constitutional law.


Bill Marler
March 27, 2010 11:51 pm

"We just don’t see that as an issue.

Thats what Kathy Kramer, a so-called nutritionist and office manager at the Weston A. Price Foundation in Washington, D.C., told Mike Nichols of the Wisconsin Journal Sentinel Online when he asked, what if people get sick from drinking raw or unpasteurized milk?


Those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it.

Wayne Craig
March 28, 2010 8:06 am

I concur with WRMC re: the WI Center for Dairy Research. I had first hand experience dealing with the Center when we were doing a grass-based cheese and they were helping us with different recipes and techniques. We requested a raw milk option and their response was they would have to sterilize their entire facility iafter raw milk was used. They also said there was no advantage or good reason to use raw milk. Bottom line: if we don’t use raw milk we won’t have to learn anything new regarding it. This from… Read more »

Bob "BubbaBozo" Hayles
March 28, 2010 3:37 pm

Marler, you and I finally agree on something.

"Those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it."

Overbearing regulators and politicans who think they are beyond the will of the people have forgotten the history of what happens to folks who believe in ruling people here without regard for rights…folks like King George.

It IS a war…a war over rights…nutritional rights and more…and the history you refer to teaches that people’s rights will win.