C. J. Katz writes about raw milk and Michael Schmidt’s recent visit to Saskatchewan, on her “Savour Life” blog titled “The Raw Milk Debate”:
Raw Milk. Canada is the only G8 country to have a total ban. British Columbia has declared it to be a hazardous substance. The raw milk debate is heating up in Canada and driving the issue is Michael Schmidt, the German dairy farmer from Durham, Ontario who has been taking his fight to allow the sale and distribution of raw milk to the courts of the land. In mid-January, a Newmarket court acquitted him of 19 charges of distributing raw milk and raw milk products. This was after he lost 500 of his 600 acre farm, all his machinery and 42 of his 45 cattle.
Schmidt was in Saskatchewan last week and we sat in on a talk he presented at St. Mary’s Church in Regina. He is passionate about the right to drink raw milk – a product he says is safer to drink then pasteurized milk. That’s a tough idea for the Canadian public and particularly health officials to swallow. Is raw milk safe? We’ve been told since we were children that it’s not.
In 1938 Canada endured a tuberculosis epidemic and milk was fingered as the cause. Schmidt however says that it wasn’t cows that were the problem it was people carrying TB who were milking the cows. Also, water, often contaminated, was added to the milk. There was no refrigeration. “Swill” dairies existed where cows were fed mash from whiskey distilleries. In addition to causing intestinal problems for the cows, the milk was bulked up with flour or plaster to make it appear fresh. It was not. A swill milk outbreak in Brooklyn in 1858, for example, killed thousands. Today the milking process is completely different – completely sanitary with the milk going directly from the cow to the holding tank without touching the human hand.
Schmidt maintains that pasteurized milk is causing more health problems than most of us realize. Health issues such as milk intolerance, rashes, bloating and increases in childhood asthma and ear infections can be linked to the consumption of pasteurized milk. Also, he estimates that 30% of Canadian dairy cows carry Johne’s Disease, a bacteria that has been linked to Crohn’s disease and survives the high temperatures of pasteurization. According to Crohns Canada “this bacterium is called MAP (Mycobacterium avium Paratuberculosis)… and has been found in the breast milk of breastfeeding mothers with Crohns. It has been found in the resected tissues of the intestinal tract of Crohn’s sufferers and it has been found in milk after pasteurization.”
A look at the food safety recalls in Canada in recent months listed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency shows numerous food recalls for pasteurized cheese products and products manufactured by other companies that use these cheeses. There were also food recalls for sandwiches containing cold cuts, as well as recalls for fresh herbs, meat products, BBQ chicken and chicken pot pies. We did a search of the CFIA site for raw milk recalls and found none.
It is not illegal in Canada to consume raw milk but it is illegal to sell and distribute. As a result, cow share programs are cropping up across the country to circumvent the law – legally. The premise is simple. Cow owners are permitted to drink unpasteurized milk. If you’re keen on drinking raw milk then become a part owner of a cow. The cost will run you roughly $300/year for the ownership plus a fee (about $2.50/litre) that you pay the farmer to care and milk the cow for you. Schmidt is working on setting up Cow Share Canada, which would train and certify farmers, educate the consumer, institute guidelines for testing and quality control of raw milk, and provide farmers with legal support.
Is raw milk safe? I don’t have a clear answer for that. What I can say is that I drank it for years with no ill effects. Many farmers who sell their milk to the Milk Marketing Boards admit to drinking raw milk from their tanks. The Queen drinks raw milk and there is a large black market for the product. In the U.S. it is estimated that about 500,000 are drinking raw milk, and roughly 50,000 in Ontario.
But I’m more concerned about my right to choose. Raw milk is legal in most countries around the world. The government should relax the regulations and let the consumer decide if they want to drink raw milk…or not.