When a risk message fails – telling the story of raw milk in Australia

When a risk message fails – telling the story of raw milk in Australia

Author: Penny Wilson – Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, ANU, Australia

Raw milk sale is prohibited in Australia; the risk of illness and death is considered too great to legally sell this “fragile” product. However, there is a continued desire to source and consume raw milk for reasons such as health, taste, belief, history, nostalgia.

The official risk message from scientists/ regulators is that the potential for harm is too great to allow the legal sale of raw milk.

The producers of raw milk are also knowledgeable and informed, relying on handed-down wisdom, formal learning, networks of support, trial and error. Many have always drunk raw milk, appreciating taste and texture, decrying the commercially available alternatives. However, the producers acknowledge the potential for risk in the raw milk product while understanding the optimum conditions for managing the complexity of milk’s microbiology.

So if producers and scientists/ regulators all recognise the risks in raw milk, what is wrong with the risk message?

Boholm and Corvellec (2011) developed the Relational Theory of Risk to examine the underpinning reasons for risk communication to miss the mark. I took the theory and reimagined its use, asking interviewees what they saw as the risks surrounding raw milk and who or what the risk would impact.

This presentation draws from extensive interviews exploring the stories of producers and consumers, those who see raw milk as the norm; and scientists/ regulators those for whom raw milk represents a potential risk. My work may enable reduced risk for consumers, increased awareness of milk-drinking practices amongst producers and regulators, and the possibility of revised regulations and new legal frameworks.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Stories
Area of interest: Investigating science communication practices