Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sifting Information with a Critical Eye...

[This post is dedicated to a friend who once queried me regarding the elements of research. Thank you for inspiring me to share...]

Knowledge is power, we have been told...and knowledge comes from ingesting information. But how do we discern facts and draw appropriate conclusions? Facts are funny things...just look at revisionist history. Truth often is stranger than fiction (thank you, Mr. Twain). Yet how often do we suspect that the version of truth we are being told is something other than the facts? I believe this is where we need to employ those vitally important critical thinking skills.

Thinking critically and examing the information presented are paramount to our ability to determine verity. We need to become "information specialists" to deconstruct establishment "facts" that may not contain absolute truth. A favorite tactic used by the "powers that be" to sway public opinion is fear-mongering, whose primary elements include misinformation, fact manipulation, half-truths and sometimes, outright lies. The secret to fear-mongering's influence lies in a general public that lacks knowledge and discernment. The enemy of a fear-mongering campaign is the dissemination of thorough and valid information.

In the real food realm, we watch the on-going war against raw milk. As regulatory agencies and industrial interests attempt to control and eliminate our access to real milk, we see the employment of "official" doctrine that denounces this natural food and intimidates its consumers. Should we be afraid? Is raw milk a public health hazard? The FDA and CDC would like us to believe so. But what is the basis of their accusations? We need to scrutinize the warnings; read like investigators. Good journalists (no, that is not always an oxymoron, LOL) are taught to look beyond the surface, to question, to sift. Let us do so before digesting the position we are being fed. We tell our children, "you can't believe everything you read;" do we practice what we preach?

Before facing an onslaught of regulatory propaganda, we need to examine our personal presuppositions. There seems to be a general societal belief that regulatory agencies and medical institutions are authoritative, accurate and honest. I do not share that presupposition, which impacts my view of information coming from those sources. What are your presuppositions? How do they affect your study and conclusions? A cacophony of voices vie for dominance on this topic...I am not here to represent varied viewpoints. Rather, I desire to reveal holes I see in the conventional presentation of "facts;" I encourage you to sift with your critical eye.

The example I want to use for our sifting exercise comes from the CDC's cache of articles warning the public about the "dangers" of raw milk. It's downright scary stuff!

The first page of the CDC's warning against real milk, Food Safety and Raw Milk, is a good example of factual ambiguity. The article offers sweeping statements backed by little data, and no detailed case studies. The CDC's representation of pasteurization history is misleading, containing half-truths that lack full disclosure. The agency's version of history allows the reader to infer that the milk just arbitrarily became bacteria-laden (or was dangerous all along, and miraculously, we survived it for multiple milennia) and needed to be cooked to spare the public from such a dangerous food.

Additionally, notice that the article does not differentiate between proper raw milk and the other options. Healthy real milk comes from vibrant, grass-fed, free-roaming, sunshine-drenched cows. Drinking raw milk from an industrial (or even small-operation) grain-based, confinement dairy is a recipe for illness. More on this later...  The CDC does not include any exhortations regarding the folly of the dirty dairy industry, nor does the "safety advisory" enlighten the reader to the harm caused by feeding cows grains, corn and soy (not to mention eliminating the animals' opportunity to exercise, fresh air and direct sunlight).  The article neglects to inform readers that industrial dairies routinely feed cows grains as a primary calorie source.  And did the CDC mention anywhere that feeding cows corn actually contributes to e. coli infections?  No.  Am I surprised?  No.  But that is a crucial piece of information in the raw milk illness puzzle, is it not?

Moving on...  The Q&A section of the CDC's raw milk "safety" data contains a slew of misinformation, including more of the aforementioned misleading pasteurization history and additional misinformation regarding the deleterious health effects of pasteurizing milk. At every turn, the answers contain only one version of the story...the opponent's version; and its version is sorely lacking detailed data. As if you are too busy to be bothered or perhaps too unintelligent to comprehend a complete set of facts? The CDC would like you to believe that it is a bastion of truth and that its information is trustworthy. But the agency is neither presenting the full spectrum of available information, nor sharing completely accurate and honest data.

When I first began composing this post more than a month ago, the testimonial videos you now see on the main page had not been added. Watching the videos confirms my assessment of the CDC's purpose and its manipulation of the "facts." I will comment only on the first testimonial. First, please understand me...I sympathize with this mother and the pain her family suffered. I do not take that child's suffering lightly, nor would I desire to see anyone suffer in such a way. I am not criticizing this mother for her reaction. But for the sake of deconstructing the story's educational merit, I am pointing out its flaws. Again, I am not suggesting that the mother's emotions are insignificant and illegitimate.

First, observe in the video one of the still images (chosen by the CDC to "recreate events..." though "not of the actual events or people") shows a cow being milked by hand in a beautiful green pasture. This is a carefully crafted, not-too-subtle attempt at emotional manipulation that equates the raw milk being discussed in the story with all real milk, especially the family farm, free-range, pasture-based variety. It is unlikely that the majority of raw milk consumers are purchasing their milk from small backyard, pasture-based herds where farmers or cow owners are hand milking. (We hand milk two goats and I can assure you it is not easy work. I know people with only one cow who use milking machines rather than hand milk.)

Remember, it is easier to manipulate an unenlightened populace; perhaps American consumers, even though they are learning the wonderful truth about real milk, are as yet unaware of how that milk is produced. This is something we need to change to be truly informed consumers. We are too far from our food to understand it fully. Organic Pastures, the nation's leader in excellent-quality real milk, is a good resource for understanding the process and benefits of real milk. [And as much as I love to dream of the idyllic days of peaceful, pastured cows being happily hand-milked, even OP uses milking machines; I doubt any commercial operation could afford to do otherwise.]

My point, which may have been obscured by my commentary, LOL, is that the image of the hand-milked, pastured cow is designed to cause the viewing public to believe that we all are the potential victims of poison raw milk coming from small-operation, grass-based, free-range, hand-milked cows. The image is not factually linked in any way to the story being related. As a matter of fact, no details about the milk's source were shared at all.

Notice, also, the other still photo used that includes the background of green grass...the boy drinking the quart of milk. These images irritate me because of their blatant subtext. The overall purpose to the "story" is to discredit pasture-based raw dairies and cause the public to fear them. The imagery is designed to evoke subtle emotions, manipulatively creating negative responses to "pasture." I studied such techniques in my media history courses...these methodologies are routinely used in propaganda whose goal is to indoctrinate; the effect takes place on a subconscious level, and the effect can be lasting.

Getting back to the narrative details of the video, note that the source of the illness-causing raw milk was not revealed, nor were the particulars of the cows' lifestyle and the operation of the dairy. Was it a grain-based, confinement operation? How were the cows milked?  What is the sanitation routine of the milker?  These details are important aspects in the assessment of whether raw milk is safe and nourishing. We cannot understand the case fully without full disclosure of the details. Hopefully, by now most raw milk consumers know that not all raw milk is equal. It is erroneous for the CDC or anyone else to act as if and instruct as if it is.

The remainder of the video highlights the emotions of the mother regarding her child's serious bout with malevolent e. coli, and ends with her expressed opinion that raw milk should not be available to consumers because the risks outweigh any benefits. Watching a mother's agony is heart-wrenching...and the editors of the video know that. Beyond understanding that aspect of the video's design, I want people to see, as they digest the information presented in the video, that no real information was shared at all regarding the details of the source and/or handling of the allegedly contaminated milk. (I say allegedly not to suggest that it is impossible for milk to be contaminated with dangerous e. coli, but only to emphasize that the narrative never provides any proof that the milk was contaminated and therefore isolated as the only possible cause of the boy's illness.)

Finally, while I understand the emotions of the mother in the story, I absolutely disagree with her final assessment that the American public should not be able to buy and consume raw milk. Despite the FDA, CDC and other government entities' insistence to the contrary, we have a right to choose for ourselves what to eat and drink. Just because the FDA does not believe Americans have the right to health and food choice, does not make it so.  That agency is a government organization that works for us...it does not have dictatorship privileges, despite appearances to the contrary. Besides, raw milk is not the only food in existence that could possibly cause illness. Should we outlaw every offender? For there are far worse offenders than real milk!

If we impose this mother's logic (and our government's desires) on a broader scale, many lifestyle choices, foods, activities, pharmaceuticals, medical procedures, etc. should immediately be outlawed because of their danger to the public's health.  (How about cigarettes?)

We have a right, as free individuals, to exercise personal responsibility. We are not wards of a nanny state. We do not need to be saved from ourselves. (And good grief, we are talking about FOOD here! Sorry...)

If you read enough CDC, USDA, FDA et al. advisories, you will be overwhelmed with fear of everyday life. Warning!...don't eat, don't breathe, don't leave the house! According to those agencies and various players in the medical industry, your body is constantly subject to an onslaught of dangerous germs and harmful bacteria to which you are destined to fall prey. Yet, ask yourself...is this a completely accurate paradigm? It certainly isn't mine...I do not believe that a healthy system falls prey to every malevolent microbe that comes along. And on top of that, I allow my children to use the seesaw at the playground! (Whenever we can find one, since they have gone the way of the dinosaur in our accident-fearing, litigious society...sorry, I digress. LOL)

Here's a fact that you won't see our illustrious government agencies heralding. Mass producing food on an industrial scale causes harm. Your first line of defense in avoiding food-borne illness is to eschew industrial food. You also need to naturally build your body's immune system and pursue a health-promoting lifestyle.

Honest representation of all the facts involved allows consumers to make truly informed decisions. If the CDC genuinely cared about educating the public and seeing people thrive, it would provide all facets of the truth. The articles would talk about how raw milk could become contaminated with microbes that could cause illness (including the care and feeding of dairy cows, and the milking process). The advisories would educate the public regarding the hows and whys of such illness and what you can do to avoid it. Even the proponents of real milk will tell you the truth about existing potential of illness, and what consumers can do to avoid it. For example, from a recent Mercola article about raw milk:

Research by Dr. Ted Beals, MD, featured in the summer 2011 issue of Wise Traditions, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, shows that you are about 35,000 times more likely to get sick from other foods than you are from raw milk! Statistically, you're also more likely to get injured driving to the farm to pick up your raw milk than becoming ill from drinking it.

Dr. Beals' research shows that between 1999 and 2010, there was an average of 42 cases of illness per year attributed to raw milk, and that includes both "confirmed" and "presumed" cases.
"From the perspective of a national public health professional looking at an estimated total of 48 million foodborne illnesses each year [from all foods]… there is no rational justification to focus national attention on raw milk, which may be associated with an average of 42 illnesses maximum among the more than nine million people (about 0.0005 percent) who have chosen to drink milk in its fresh unprocessed form.…

Consumption of any food has some risk of illness or adverse reaction. And the consequence of basing public policy on horrific personal experiences is that all foods will ultimately be banned, and we will not be able to participate in any activity."If this isn't food for thought, I don't know what is. These statistics are the smoking gun proving that the war on raw milk cannot be based on food safety or protecting your health from an even remotely real threat…

Mercola's assessment is spot on...I won't try to say it better. (For the record, I don't agree with everything Mercola says or does, but I think his site is an excellent research resource with valuable information that is often correct.) Read the entire article to understand the differences among raw milk, and compare what you read there with the information presented by the CDC. Then, when continuing to sift through the fear-mongerish and vague information presented by the CDC, FDA, etc. on this topic, consider:

Where are the news alerts to the public warning them against conventional medical care, drugs and surgeries? If the agency is truly concerned about public welfare and safety, they should be exhorting us to be wary of the medical industry, whose iatrogenic (illness caused by medical exam or treatment) death rate is estimated to exceed 700,000 yearly. But I doubt we'll see the medical industry or any governmental agency pulling back the covers on that bit of ugliness anytime soon.

So let's just examine the perspective here...raw milk may potentially cause 42 illnesses a year, and according to the CDC has caused two deaths in 10 years. Again, I am not belittling the suffering of the victims. But just do the math. The CDC wants to outlaw real milk, wants you to fear it, and reports two deaths in ten years caused by it. But the medical industry kills THOUSANDS of people yearly... Hmmm...maybe we need to refocus the lens here?!

Considering the facts, is it really raw milk that poses a danger to the American public? Is it so dangerous that it needs to be outlawed? Should not the same logic (protecting the public from health harm) be used against the medical industry and its bosom buddy regulators? Where was our government's fire in the belly when Vioxx was killing nearly 28,000 Americans? Oh wait, I said that last time...well, perhaps it bears repeating. According to CDC and FDA doctrine, we are to vilify and fear raw milk, yet trust and admire Merck? This defies reason.

Rabbit trail warning...
Our overgrown government and its dictatorial agencies fundamentally do not believe that we have the right to choose what food we eat (in addition to other personal freedom violations). I find this ironic, considering that they have no problem ensuring grocery store shelves are stocked to the brim with unhealthy, illness-causing franken-food stuffs. But real food? Watch out, that's dangerous...you need the nanny state to protect you from that! I don't know about you, but I am not a ward of the state. I believe it is inherently wrong for the government to tell me what to eat, just as it would be wrong for the government to dictate what I believe.

If a government body is going to regulate away your ability to eat a particular food (or deny a particular freedom that is yours by Natural Right), you have a right to know why...and "it's too dangerous, we're protecting you from yourself, trust us," is not good enough. What might the outcome be if we all said no to the nanny state and refused to be infantilized? These agencies, if they were acting in the public good, would desire to educate consumers, not illegitimately scare them and regulate away their natural rights. In whose best interest are these agencies acting?

Read enough about any health and food issue, and you will begin to see the pattern...big industry and controlling government targets the underdog...seek and destroy. Time and again, it is John Doe organic farmer selling to Suzy Q. Public who receives regulatory wrath and bullying. Monsanto, Cargill, Tyson, Dean Foods, et al seem to get a free pass. Oh, I forgot...they make the rules. But I have digressed enough for today...

Back to reading critically....
I shared the CDC "raw milk warning" as an example to whet your appetite for further sifting of proclaimed truth. I believe the "information" presented in the CDC articles is intended to keep you ignorant and scared. Please don't let it. Demand details. Don't subscribe to someone else's version of reality (even, or rather, especially a government agency's) until you have studied it thoroughly (using varied sources and viewpoints) and are convinced that it is accurate.

Don't accept pat answers...demand data. For example, when scrutinizing a case of negative effects attributed to raw milk, ask what was consumed, from where, from what conditions, by whom and what exactly happened? I am not saying that people could not become ill from raw milk...neither are the champions of the cause. I am saying that we deserve full disclosure if we are to thoroughly understand the potential harms and how we can avoid them; and I am saying that despite any potential harms, outlawing raw milk is not a legitimate or fair option.  When contemplating the attacks upon raw milk and the information being presented in favor of outlawing it, consider the myriad more harmful foods, drugs and procedures not being targeted...and ask yourself why, and who benefits? Finally, if the CDC is willing to parade such slanted, vague and manipulative information as absolute fact in this realm, where else do you think it might employ such tactics?

So, to conclude my ramblings on research and information assessment, I encourage you to perform your own study...ask your own questions...examine what is being said and what is not being said...study claims and their bases...draw your own conclusions. That's freedom. Perhaps your interpretation will be different from mine...that is your individual right. What I am promoting is that you do not believe the establishment just because it tells you to. Examine carefully the information being presented and the claims being made.

The truth is not complicated; we need to stop accepting the complexification of simple things. One of society's downfalls is that we have become a people who no longer think. We trust "experts" far too much and believe what they tell us.

I would rather that we all become our own experts...but you know that already! Cheers!

For further study