CDC tries to scare us all about (gasp) raw milk with skewed data

“What?” you say, in shock and amazement that any government agency might try to fudge the numbers to support a foregone conclusion. “Surely not! Surely, in its wisdom and scientific approach to all things related to our health and safety, surely they have our very best interests at heart.”

Dear and gentle reader, I hate to break it to you, but while there are well-meaning people in regulatory agencies, there are also those who would – shall I say it delicately – attempt to persuade us of something less than true by demonstrating something known as “bias”.

On Tuesday of this week, 21 February, the taxpayer-funded agency, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), released a report with the plain-vanilla title, “Nonpasteurized Dairy Products, Disease Outbreaks, and State Laws—United States, 1993–2006.” How it’s being trumpeted all over the news media is much sexier; a typical title (like this one from The Washington Times) reads “Feds: Fresh milk 150 times more dangerous than pasteurized dairy.”

The Weston A. Price Foundation issued a rebuttal to the article the following day (22 February), titled “CDC Cherry Picks Data to Make Case Against Raw Milk.”

I used to think statistics were pretty boring. I’m guessing a fair number of you might feel the same. But the one thing I do recall about statistics is the very politically incorrect statement my psychology teacher in high school made about them (sensitive readers, cover your eyes): “They’re like a woman – once you get them down you can pretty much do whatever you want.” Blatant stereotyping aside, he was absolutely right: you can take the numbers and totally mess with them to get the results you want. According to the rebuttal, CDC used the following rather shady tactics in producing its report, guaranteed to skew the results:

  • Carefully selected the time period from which to cull data to avoid those awkward years that didn’t supply the data they wanted (and did not explain why they chose the 13 years they did, in particular why they cut it off at 2006 when there is more recent data available)
  • Failed to distinguish between “outbreaks” (two people with minor complaints, or thousands with serious ones) and “foodborne illnesses” (verified number of individual illnesses related to a specific food)
  • Completely ignored the actual number of people who drink unpasteurized dairy, according to CDC’s own recent survey (hint: it’s a lot more than they said)
  • Mixed up the incidence of disease from pasteurized cheese with that from fluid raw milk (the report is only supposed to cover the drinkable stuff)
  • Included data from other countries, when the report is purportedly drawn from all U.S.-based data

Want more information? Watch this highly entertaining video recorded at Harvard Law School’s Food Law Society last Thursday, in which two people from each “side” (pro- and anti-raw milk) present their opinions. Do you find it the least bit intriguing that CDC released its report just a few days after this?

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