“You wouldn’t think that something so basic as milk could be controversial. However, milk has made a renegade out of me.
I have on occasion bought milk from a local farmer — an act that is both venerable and verboten. The sale of raw, unprocessed, straight-from-the-farm milk is illegal in Canada. More specifically, it is illegal to sell milk that has not been pasteurised.
Pasteurization is a process by which milk is heated to a temperature that kills harmful bacteria such as tuberculosis, salmonella, campylobacter and E coli. These bacteria may be present in varying degrees in the milk depending on the health of the cows and the cleanliness of the dairy operation.
Critics of pasteurization say it also kills good bacteria, enzymes, vitamins and flavour. They argue that milk from healthy, grass fed cows milked in scrupulously clean conditions doesn’t pose a great risk, especially when the milk is regularly tested for the presence of harmful bacteria.
Proponents of pasteurization say the benefits outweigh the downsides. Opponents of pasteurization say consumers should have a choice.
That conviction led to recent meetings in Regina and Saskatoon with raw milk crusader Michael Schmidt, a dairy farmer from Ontario who was charged with selling his milk without the benefit of pasteurization. Schmidt was eventually acquitted in court. That’s because he had orchestrated a unique scheme called “cow shares” in which consumers bought shares in his herd of cows.
In that situation, he wasn’t selling milk to the general public so much as providing the milk to its rightful owners.
He argues that governments should permit and regulate the sale of raw farm milk, since so many people are doing it already on the sly.
Schmidt is planning to return to Saskatchewan in the spring to conduct a “Cow Share College” for those who would like to try it here. However, it is yet to be seen if such a scheme will be deemed legal in Saskatchewan.
Through most of human history, we didn’t worry about pasteurization. We’ve been drinking cow’s milk for thousands of years, while pasteurization was invented by Louis Pasteur in 1863.
As farming industrialized — creating conditions that were less sanitary — contaminated milk became a serious public health concern. Pasteurization was a major advance in food safety. It is not to be ignored lightly.
As a dedicated locavore, I like to try every locally-produced food when the opportunity presents itself, including fresh farm milk. I find it to be richer in colour and flavour than store-bought milk, making a luscious yogurt or a creamy ricotta cheese….”