Recently discussed on this site was how the raw milk debate is in many ways ground zero for the debate between consumer protection and consumer choice. The Seattle Post Intelligencer ran an interesting piece today focusing on just that debate.

I found comments attributed in the article to Kansas State professor Doug Powell most salient:

Doug Powell says he’s not surprised that government health officials denounce the dangers of raw milk then turn around and license the sale of the same milk.

"In part, it’s because of the almost evangelical way people talk about raw milk and that America is founded on consumer choice," said the associate professor of food safety at Kansas State University.

"The numbers of illnesses from outbreaks caused by unpasteurized milk are not that high. You could very easily make the cases that ‘Wow, maybe tomatoes should be regulated a whole lot more than we do now because the numbers of cases of salmonella saintpaul are up to 550 now,’ " said Powell, who is also scientific director for the International Food Safety Network.

While I’m not sure I agree that "America is founded on consumer choice," professor Powell is surely right that the conflict between consumer choice and consumer protection is bringing raw milk to boil. Professor Powell is also correct that from a public health standpoint, fresh produce presents a greater and more certain danger.

Implicit in the Post-Intelligencer article is that the debate suffers from a lack of consumer information. For example, do we really understand the alleged benefits of raw milk? There is some information on the web but is this peer-reviewed information that consumers can trust? On the flip side, consumers should be given better information than the kind of "scared straight" quality of information currently available. Both those who advocate against raw milk and those who support it can surely agree that both would be served by better research and consumer information.