I was in court today with my two kids (let me clarify that: two adolescents, not baby goats). We were unable to attend all the court proceedings due to other commitments. In short I, along with my kids, am proud to be a cow share member, and especially proud that we can call Michael Schmidt our farmer.
Last Friday afternoon, I was able to attend court to witness the testimony of the crown’s expert witness, Dr. Manse Griffith, from the University of Guelph. Today, my kids and I were present to listen to the testimony of the crown’s second expert witness who was a professor in epidemiology and a veterinarian (or so I recall) from the university of Guelph. Two interesting facts about the crown’s witnesses were established. Dr. Griffiths who purported raw milk to be a hazardous food conceded that he has never suggested that raw milk be banned from human consumption (dairy farmers, or anyone who owns a cow may drink raw milk….and they do!). The second crown witness Dr. Jeffrey Wilson, although not currently consuming raw milk, drank raw milk growing up as a boy, since he was raised on a dairy farm. Interesting!
Not being an expert myself, and subject to forgetting details that are not within my expertise (whatever my expertise is!) … I listened in court, reflected on previous comments I have heard and read, and assembled some new and old pieces together. If I am mistaken in my reflections, connections and inferences, I certainly hope someone comments and clarifies where I have erred.
I want to address four points. One point is the perceived safety of pasteurized milk. The second point is the difference between raw milk from a conventional dairy farm that is destined for pasteurization, and farm fresh raw milk that is prepared on an organic or a biodynamic farm. Thirdly I want to present some hyperbolic and misleading comments that the government officials have used in the media compared to the government’s expert witnesses at the raw milk court hearings. The fourth point and final point will address our constitutional rights and rights as individuals to make our own choices.
Today in court, it became quite clear to me that pasteurized milk is not as safe as our culture and government have lead us to believe. First off, pasteurization was initially implemented not as a health and safety measure, but to prolong the shelf- life of milk. Our culture erroneously believes that pasteurization kills harmful pathogens in the milk. Not so. As both the crown’s expert witnesses testified, pasteurization only minimizes the pathogens. Pathogens are everywhere in the living world around us, so unless we live in a bubble, pathogens (along with the ones not killed by the pasteurization process) will enter the pasteurized milk even after the pasteurization process.
I recall Leona Dombrowski (Ontario Minster of Agriculture), stating in Norman Loft’s documentary on the raw milk issue, that the count of bacteria doubles in milk every twenty minutes, and so she considered milk a hazardous substance. I would like to note two corollaries to Ms. Dombrowski’s comment, firstly that in general, all bacteria doubles every twenty minutes wherever it is, and secondly she must mean that bacteria doubles not only in raw milk but in pasteurized milk too.
So I wonder… what’s the point? After pasteurization, we now have a denatured product, that no longer can kill off certain pathogens that it was originally capable of doing in its raw state, and is now, also capable of carrying and multiplying pathogens (remember: doubling every 20 minutes!). According to her logic, Ms. Dombrowski must also consider pasteurized milk to be hazardous. I would think so. Expert witness also admitted to outbreaks of food born illness due to pasteurized milk, but were uncertain as to why they occurred.
Raw milk can be divided into two broad types. There is raw milk that is destined for pasteurization. And there is farm fresh raw milk destined to be consumed by the consumer without being pasteurized. Different? Yes! … especially farm fresh raw milk destined for immediate consumption that comes from an organic farm or biodynamic farm. I am not going to go into all the differences between conventional farms, and organic/biodynamic farms where cows graze on open fields etc., but suffice it to say that statistics of outbreaks of food born illness due to raw milk should not, and must not, lump the two types of raw milk together. Together, the statistics would be misleading . I would like to take an excerpt from my husband’s (Paul Kirkley) letter that he wrote to Mr. Zimmer, regarding the reporting of food born illness due to raw milk: …(what) the FDA report leaves out is where the raw milk that caused the 200 illness came from. Did it come from certified and regulated producers or others? If you look at the performance of conscientious individual raw milk producers, you will see some stellar results.
Michael Schmidt for instance, has been providing raw milk for over 20 years and has not had one case of illness attributed to his milk. In California, the sale of raw milk is legal although it must be clearly labelled. A major raw milk dairy in California, Altena Dairies has been selling raw milk for 40 years with 0 cases of illness reported. California has a highly regulated raw milk industry and the highest sales of raw milk of any US state. There have been a number of years in California when there were 0 cases of illness atributed to raw milk. In the same years there were numerous cases attributed to pasteurized milk in California (CDC FoodNet report for 2002).
Hmmm….food for thought…..or is that drink for unbiased consideration!
“Allowing raw milk’s sale amounts to manslaughter!” Good grief!!! Put those guns away! But seriously….who could make such hyperbolic statements? Truth be told….our government officials…and not just one, but two! The preceding quote was by Dr. Murray Mcquigge, Medical Officer of Health, Grey Bruce Health Unit. I believe, Dr. Hazel Lynn, (Mcquigge’s successor) said that allowing the sale of raw milk was tantamount to manslaughter….essentially the same thing as her predecessor. Scary stuff. I’ve been giving this farm fresh raw milk to my family for over nine years now, and we haven’t died, in fact we have remained quite healthy. The only time I suffered from food poisoning was from pasteurized cream served with pancakes from a restaurant in Brampton. That incident occurred a number of years before I began consuming raw milk.
There are various other comments, but I am thinking of winding down here….although I would like to add a comment by Bruce Saunders, Chair of the Dairy Farmers of Ontario. Mr. Saunders stated in an interview that, “It is pure myth that raw milk offers any health advantages.” Dr. Mansel Griffiths, Director of Canadian Research Institute for food Safety, University of Guelph, and crown expert witness in the trial, acknowledged that there were health advantages found in raw milk, namely probiotics which are killed during pasteurisation. I believe he said he was currently working at how to extract these probiotics from raw milk sources and finding a way to safely put them in a form that is safe for human consumption.
What? Am I confused? If the probiotics are already in raw milk, why do we try to safely take them out, when we could safely leave them in as they are and concentrate on minimizing contamination of raw milk with good farm practices. I guess that isn’t commercial enough or lucrative enough. Please recall Michael Schmidt’s excellent statistics for an example of what can be achieved when good farm practices are implemented. Pasteurization we were told at the trial does not eliminate all pathogens, it minimizes them; likewise good farming husbandry minimizes points at which the milk can be contaminated….this is what we should be exploring.
My fourth point was regarding my constitutional rights and my rights as an individual. Why can a farmer drink raw milk and not a city dweller? A city dweller cannot have his or her own cow in the city (and likely does not own a cow in the country unless they are a fortunate cow share owner) and consequently cannot legally drink raw milk. That is wrong. That is clearly unconstitutional. To prohibit the consumption of raw milk violates my rights as an individual. That is wrong too. I think, in good faith and out of respect for what is right, it is time to correct these wrongs….I truly do.
Time for a paradigm shift….time to permit meaningful dialogue. The crown’s witness today said there was hardly any evidence to use when discussing the pros and cons of raw milk. I suggest, to start, perhaps with Glencolton’s cow-share members. Perhaps they could be followed and data collected for needed research. I suspect, maybe, there might be Mennonite farmers who consume raw milk and may also be willing to serve and provide data. But, regardless of data collecting, the right to distribute raw milk should be permitted without penalty.
Thank you so much to Michael, Marcus, George, and all the others at Glencolton farms who have helped to provide such a quality product to us, your cow share members. Your work is a demonstration of love and intelligence. Michael, we are so pleased to have you representing us at this trial.
Shirley Ann Wood