When people boast about feeding their kids raw milk, aren’t they simply boasting about their abuse and neglect?
In December last year, a three year old child died.
He died because he drank a brand of organic raw milk – deliberately or accidentally, we may never know. Four other Australian children have fallen dangerously ill in the same way.
Selling raw milk is illegal. Health authorities in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US agree that the effects of drinking raw milk can cause severe illness or death (hence the illegality).
Yet some parents continue to proudly feed it to their kids.
In the Good Weekend today, there is an opinion titled “Why I feed my kids raw milk”.
It’s written by a dad, Mark Whittaker, who used to feed his children milk from their family cow. But then the cow died:
Faced with the question of where to get our milk, we moved across to the raw dairy black market because, by this time, we had come to the conclusion that it was better for you and that it did not pose the grave health risk that has been claimed.
It’s not clear whether Whittaker is a scientist, but he came to his own conclusion that “it did not pose the grave health risk that has been claimed”.
Whittaker does not seem like an unreasonable person. He says he has spoken to the families of some of the children who feel ill and while they are open to the possibility that contaminated milk made their children ill, they’re not sure. Whittaker also points out that it was two different bugs that made the children sick and it was only five children over six months who became ill.
He says that he drinks raw milk, but he never gets sick:
My kids sometimes do get sick but I’m more hardcore than them. I often turn milk into kefir, a gluggy, yoghurt-like drink full of good bugs. I sometimes leave plain milk on the kitchen bench to let the natural lactobacilli sour it for a day or two. I drink it with a little honey to offset the tang, or I skim the crème fraîche off the top and have it on my muesli. (Curiously, the kids won’t go near that.)
This is all fine. Except it’s not robust adult men that scientists are concerned about. And it’s not healthy adults who might choose to endanger themselves that the law is designed to protect.
The science on this is clear: Raw milk poses a risk and that risk is most significant for young children, the elderly, pregnant or people who are unwell.
So if Mark Whittaker wants to drink raw milk that’s fine. That’s his risk to bear. He even chooses to court disaster by leaving the milk lying around on the bench. That seems unwise, but he is obviously aware that what he’s doing is against professional advice and illegal. Good for him.
But that’s not the real problem.
The issue is this: Whittaker and those like him aren’t just taking risks with their own health. They are playing a dangerous game with the health of their children.
It might be a decision that an adult can make for themselves, but when it comes to being foolhardy with the welfare of children, that’s another matter.
If a parent was driving around in a car without their child in a car seat, would we tolerate the answer: “Oh, it’s fine. I’ve come to the conclusion that my actions do not pose the grave risk that has been claimed…”?
Of course not. We wouldn’t tolerate that because we know – through science, from people’s horrific experience and from the law – that driving without properly restraining a child can be dangerous and deadly for a child.
Yet we’re prepared to make that exemption for parents who intentionally, and for some reason PROUDLY, feed their children something that they know could be contaminate and could harm or kill them (as it has killed and harmed other children before).
Ask yourself if parents in the poorest suburbs of your city were taking risks with their children’s lives whether people would stand idly by? If they were exposing them to substances known to be hazardous? If they were knowingly and recklessly indifferent to their children’s health? Of course not – there would be an outcry.
So why are we so comfortable when people with every privilege and access to safe and reliable food sources are paying hand over fist for potentially contaminated goods that they happily feed to children? It beggars belief that this is so acceptable that people feel comfortable boasting about it.
When parents willingly and repeatedly expose their children to risk and danger, that’s abuse and neglect. In any other circumstance, we would expect child protective services to be involved.
Why should this situation be any different?
Do you agree? Is feeding raw milk to children akin to abuse and neglect?