The Raw Milk Debate and Why It’s Dumb

Recently I’ve been chatting in a thread online about raw milk that sprung up after some people got sick in WV after drinking raw milk. Of course, correlation does not equal causation and a lot of people (including reporters and people who were there) are saying there was a stomach flu (a virus, not bacteria) going around and that they got sick from that. It was just very bad timing.

This led to a huge debate I’ve seen over and over again; is raw milk Good for you or Bad for you. Is it a horrible disease causing monster like the FDA claims, or is it some cancer curing miracle drug the way pro-raw-milk people claim?

This is a fun, hot-topic political debate. And really, it has nothing to do with should raw milk be legal or not. It’s exclusively about stupid labeling for petty people. Because, you see, if raw milk is GOOD for you, then all the pro-raw-milk people can claim superiority over the anti-raw-milk people and say “Raw milk is good for you! We support raw milk so we are Good People! And you are anti-raw-milk so you are Bad People.”. The same is true for the other side as well of course. Anti-raw-milkers are just as much on a political superiority feel-good power trip as pro raw milkers.

How often have you witnessed raw milk debates? I find that most raw milk debates follow this sort of a format;

A:”Raw milk is bad for you. Here is a reasonable, intelligent, well-done study that I am going to cite that shows raw milk is many times more likely to make you sick.”

B:”Raw milk is good for you. Here is a reasonable, intelligent, well-done study that I am going to cite that shows raw milk is good for you and more likely to improve *insert health issue here*.”

A:”Your study is biased, and inconclusive. My study is the better one! But you’re too dumb to see it! That means I’m smarter than you!”

B:”No, it’s YOUR study that is biased! Raw milk is good so you are dumb because you are anti-raw-milk and that is bad and being dumb is bad! I’m smarter!”

Etc. Etc.

And it doesn’t matter how well-thought-out the arguments are, because this is the shocking conclusion I’ve come to. BOTH sides are dumb. Because they’re debating the WRONG THING. You see, raw milk, like many things in this world, probably has the potential to be both Good and Bad AT THE SAME TIME. (!!!) Shocking, I know.

You see, the Good Vs Bad argument can be made about many, MANY things. I have taken to using Motorcycles as a great example. Motorcycles are twenty six times more likely to kill you than cars. In fact, one in ten people who rides a motorcycle will sustain a serious injury from it. Nearly half a million people a year buy motorcycles which means nearly 50,000 of those people will sustain serious injuries and of those around 4500 people will DIE from it. Those are pretty scary statistics. And best of all, just like raw milk there’s a far-safer alternative to motorcycles. Cars.

(To put this in perspective, US has a population of around 320 million people. The CDC says that 3% of the population drinks raw milk, so about nine MILLION people.  Also according to the CDC an average of around 200 of those people get sick each year, 15 of those people are hospitalized, and perhaps one person dies every year or three.)

So the debate could easily look something like this. This might ring some bells if you’ve ever read anything about raw milk from either side of the debate;

A: “Motorcycles kill one person for every 100,000 that are sold. That is an indisputable fact. We should not allow companies to sell motorcycles. It could risk all motorists.”

B: “Motorcycles are great for transportation. We should keep motorcycles legal. If all motorists followed better safety laws it would reduce the risks to all motor vehicles.”

A: “You can get the same transportation from a car, which is twenty six times safer. Why put that burden on car motorists? Just ban motorcycles. They’re inherently unsafe.”

B: “Cars don’t give the exercise, reduced stress, fresh air, etc. that motorcycles do! In fact here’s a great article on how stress can help cancer grow, here is one linking stress to autism, and here is one about fresh air. I even have this article that cites a study done in Tokyo and talks about how it improves physical strength and brain cognition, meaning it could help prevent joint damage or Alzheimer and diabetes!”

A: “That’s nonsense. Look at how many people it kills! You can obviously get the same benefits from riding a motorcycle through safer activities. Just go for a walk or something! Besides, that study is biased and done just to try to promote motorcycles. Motorcycles are dangerous and have NO health benefits that can’t be gotten with a safer alternative!”

B: “Are you kidding me? The place that produced those accident numbers is an insurance website! Of course they want people to not ride motorcycles. They don’t want to pay out the fees! And everyone knows that insurance companies are in cahoots with big pharma to drain taxpayers dry! Of course they want to spend less on us and take our money with diabetes drugs! How dumb can you get!?”

A: “The place that produced those numbers is a national information institute that only provides factual numbers and averages to the public and doesn’t do anything else. They have no reason to lie. All of this is just a conspiracy theory! You are so dumb for believing it!”

B: “I’m not dumb, you won’t even look at a university study! You probably wouldn’t even understand it if I posted some more in depth studies! You’re dumb! You must want people to get diabetes or something then! You’re a horrible person!”

A: “You want people to die in car accidents from your ignorance! You’re awful!”

Etc. Etc.

Replace all the info relevant to motorcycles with info relevant to raw milk and you have the EXACT same debate I’ve seen a dozen times now. And the fact that something can cause illness or injury is NOT mutually exclusive to it giving health benefits or helping disease. Because you most certainly can benefit from increased cognitive function from riding a motorcycle, and you most assuredly do move your body more from riding a motorcycle and that doesn’t change that it’s riskier to ride a motorcycle than to drive a car because the benefits of riding a motorcycle actually directly correlate to the fact that it’s riskier for you.

And you can literally make the argument about anything. I could cite the health benefits and risk on injury of owning a BATHTUB to the same effect! Or of owning exotic animals, or large dogs, or working on a farm or drinking alcohol, or eating chocolate, or raw eggs, or living off-grid, or being vegan, or walking down the street, or, or, or…

Life has risks. Life is full of them. Some (like motorcycles) are extremely risky (1 in 10 chance of having a bad time, 1 in 110 of dying). Some (like raw milk) are less risky than that (1 in 45,000 chance of having a bit of a bad time, 1 in 600,000 of having a very bad time). Some are even less risky than that (About 1 in 1,000,000 chance of being bitten by a shark while surfing in the USA).

In fact you have about a 1 in 11,000 chance of dying from falling down. Which is higher than your chances of dying from motorcycles, surfing shark attacks and raw milk combined. Should shoes should come with giant warning labels reminding us to always tie our laces? Should we ban shoes? Could wearing shoes possibly reduce fall deaths?

And the real question is not “Should we ban shoes?” or “Should we ban bare feet” because one might contribute to fall deaths, because that’s a Really Dumb Argument. The raw milk debate is Dumb.

The question is really, should we ban ANYTHING that has a certain threshold of risk? What is the appropriate conditions for a governmental agency to BAN something? Is is a safety threshold? Is it when it becomes dangerous to people other than the direct consumer (like a gun or a car or an airplane)?

What are the parameters where it’s OK for the government to prohibit a product or activity?

In my opinion, you can require labels on things, you can require basic safety testing standards, you can even require hefty sin taxes on things that are particularly risky. I don’t care. But frankly, as long as you can risk a 1 in 110 chance of dying on a motorcycle, or a 1 in 18 chance of dying from lung cancer from smoking tobacco, we should be allowed to take the 1 in 9,000,000 chance of dying from raw milk if we want to.

If you’re arguing that we should ban things based on health risks there are FAR riskier things to advocate against then raw milk.

And if you’re still trying to prove that it’s Good or Bad, that’s dumb.

Raw milk is not a debate about health benefits or risks.

Because the question is much simpler.

What right does the government have to say what is an acceptable risk for me to take?

And what will I lose the right to do if they are allowed to decide what is OK or not.

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