Raw milk friends rally ’round Schmidt

Here’s an excerpt from a recent story in the Owen Sound Sun Times:

Mr. Raw Milk in California, Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures was in town to speak at the International Raw Milk Symposium January 31, 2009

Mr. Raw Milk in California, Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures Dairy, shown here on the podium at O.I.S.E., was in town to speak in support of local farmer Michael Schmidt at his trial in Newmarket and at the International Raw Milk Symposium in Toronto, January 31, 2009

“Raw milk advocates have rallied around Durham-area Michael Schmidt as he stands trial for distributing unpasteurized milk in Ontario and pushes to change the law banning raw milk sales.

Among them is California dairy farmer Mark McAfee, who milks 350 cows, owns 10 distribution trucks and sells raw organic milk through 420 stores.

“I think a big part about this issue is the fear factor used by those who want to protect their markets,” McAfee said from Schmidt’s home on Sunday.

The demand for raw milk is “huge” in California, but there are other market forces that don’t want his products out there, said McAfee, who also sells organic cream, butter and cheese.Major buyers prefer to have processed products in their stores that have long shelf lives, he said. They also prefer cheap imported food where profit margins are higher rather than fresh, local foods with which the farmer would have a greater return.

Health Canada warns milk that hasn’t been treated can contain bacteria including salmonella, E. coli and Listeria, which can cause health problems from fever, vomiting and diarrhea to life-threatening kidney failure, miscarriage and death. It says any possible benefits of raw milk are far outweighed by the serious risk for illness.

Schmidt is in his second week of trial in Newmarket and is defending himself against 20 charges stemming from 2006, relating to the sale and distribution of raw milk. He contends that under his “cow-share” program, people buy a share in one of his cows, rather than the milk. Farmers are allowed to drink raw milk from their own animals under the law here law.

A raw milk symposium was held in Toronto on the weekend. More than 180 people attended from all over the world. One of the speakers at the symposium was Dr. Ron Hull from Australia, a 30 year food industry consultant and microbiologist who also who testified at Schmidt’s trial.

“What I have seen is that parents are excited about raw milk,” Hull said from Schmidt’s home. “There are so many kids with allergies now but when they drink raw milk the parents see that they are better.”

Hull alleges that raw milk has many good nutritional attributes for the digestive and immune systems, while pasteurization kills most of the good bacteria.

Raw milk advocates say the condition of the cows is the key to safety.

“My main concern on my farm is to keep everything clean and keep my cows healthy,” McAfee said.

That doesn’t mean just cleaning the teats well, because it’s the whole process, including good healthy feed and outside air, that keeps the cows from getting infections.

“If there are bad bacteria in her it will show up in the milk, whether the teats are clean or not,” noted McAfee. He has been waging a fight in California lately to keep raw milk legal. According to McAfee a groundswell of public support has kept raw milk available there.

Schmidt testified before a California senate committee on the virtues of raw milk.

Schmidt says he sincerely believes the 1938 law that made pasteurization a legal requirement in Ontario was made for a different time.

“We have modern facilities that can be inspected now,” he said.  As to the trial, which will wrap up this Wednesday, Schmidt says, “I feel really good about the whole thing so far.”

Hull was asked at the trial what should happen regarding raw milk in Ontario, based on his experiences in Australia and especially in California, where he had a big a part in the senate hearings.

The two sides should “move forward,” he said. “There is room for both products as long as the safety concerns are addressed. This is a far better way to proceed than fighting it out in court.”…”

Here’s a link to the original story.

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