Reprinted from The Ontario Farmer:
By Ian Cumming
IT’S ESTIMATED THAT 4.5 billion people, including the British Queen and her immediate heirs to the throne, will drink raw milk today.
An Ontario Public Health Report in 2013 estimated that 1.8 per cent of Ontario’s population, about 270,000, are raw milk consumers.
Raw milk advocate and producer Michael Schmidt, persecuted by provincial authorities for years at a cost of millions of dollars, by his own account feeds 600 of those Ontario consumers. So who provides the raw milk to the others? The 1.8 per cent of Ontario’s population cited in this Ontario study as being raw milk consumers is dismissed by most experts on the subject as being way too low for an educated liberal society with a high rate of immigration.
Even if it is too low, and not counting the 3500 dairy farm families that may be drinking their own raw milk themselves, that’s about 80 raw milk consumers per licensed dairy farm in the province.
USDA public data estimated that in 2010 raw milk consumption among its consumers was just under four per cent, double the percentage estimated by the Ontario gov-ernment for its residents.
In 13 years of data published by the United States Centre For Disease Control, there have been 121 reported food illness outbreaks, resulting in 1,571 people getting sick from consuming raw milk and the cheese manufactured from it.
Raw milk is not even on the top 10 food list that American consumers are advised by the government to be careful of.
Scare tactics are falling on deaf ears, with a March 17, 2015 USA Today report stating that in California, raw milk sales at $16 a gallon (all US) had increased by 25 per cent since 2010, while pasteurized sales had fallen by three per cent over the same time period.
Raw milk regulations vary state by state. Vermont, for instance, with similar demographics to Ontario -a liberal, highly educated population tolerant of immigrants – was studied by Ryan Lemay from the University of Vermont in October 2014. The researcher estimated that 11.6 per cent of that state’s residents consume raw milk.
In the education demographic of those Vermont raw milk consumers surveyed -a phone book was used by Lemay to get over 2,000 names on an indiscriminate basis – the lowest on the scale were 17.4 per cent having a high school diploma, 57 per cent having a university degree, with the rest being college-educated.
Raw milk sales are legal in Vermont, following a 2015 state government update in the rules and regulations. That includes all cattle being tested for TB, along with monthly farm inspections and sales restricted to on-farm venues, and in farmers markets.
Doug Flack operates a beautiful, pristine 160-acre farm on Pumpkin Village Road, near Enosburg Falls, Vermont. He sells grass-fed raw milk from his herd of American Milking Devon’s at $10 per gallon, plus grass-fed organic meat from his Icelandic sheep, and fermented vegetables.
A high percentage of his customers are Canadian, who “legally bring their raw milk back into Canada, no problem.”
Twelve of the 13 states touching the Canadian border have legal raw milk sales.
In late November, with snow on the ground, his Devon’s are starting to be dried up, “since the milk I sell has to be grass-fed,” said Flack.
Having a Ph D in ecology and animal behaviour from the University of Wisconsin, Flack worked seven years in New Zealand with grazing systems before moving to Vermont.
He was on the vanguard of forming Rural Vermont, which always had legal raw milk sales, as a priority over the past four decades.
His daughter, the famed author Sarah Flack, lives next door.
However, “it wasn’t until we got a majority of legislators who had no clue of established farming and weren’t in the pockets of big agriculture and dairy that we made any legislative headway on the raw milk issue,” said Flack. Even their federal United States Congressman is on board with their raw milk efforts. But despite the efforts to get raw milk legalized, it doesn’t mean all raw milk producers will comply.
Also in the Vermont hills, some miles from Flack, a strong, elegant lady of considerable fame in her day as an American Olympic athlete, who suffered the harsh govern-ment-imposed consequences of being an active Vietnam War protestor, doesn’t want her name printed for being a raw milk producer for over two decades, providing the product year round in addition to being a regular licensed producer.
She never became registered as a legal raw milk producer with the government, but is honest with her co-op, who allow her in their contract to produce extra milk for “other uses.”
The Jersey cattle are beautifully uddered, with sleek hides. Care is taken to put the 16 head going for raw milk straight out of the pipeline into the raw milk containers at the start of every milking, with the pipe then put into the bulk tank -where the huge majority of the herd’s milk goes for regular shipment.
The lowest 16 cows SCC’s go as raw milk, even though the milk shipped into the dairy is usually below 100,000 SCC’s.
With such care already taken to ensure milk quality, why didn’t she just become registered, she’s asked? There’s a bit of a sigh: “the man in the house and I have been together over 40 years, we have grandchildren. It’s like an inspector coming in the yard and telling me I have to marry him. Ain’t going to happen.”
Skirting the established raw milk laws also happens in New York, which decrees that raw milk can only be purchased by consumers on the legally inspected and designated farms -all of who can be found online, with addresses and phone numbers.
In a November 17, 2017 article by Ellen Fankman in the City Spoonful, a New York City publication on food for consumers, she personally followed three organic co-ops on a Sunday, due to less traffic, making their massive weekly deliveries of raw milk to collection spots in the city.
Detailing it as “New York City’s thriving black market for specialty dairy items,“ these co-ops ”have milk routes” and even deliver to large coolers left by multiple buyers in the lobbies of fancy apartment complexes, she wrote. “So far the state hasn’t had the resources to stop this,” wrote Fankman.
The authorities might be discouraged from doing that. The only Liberal arm of American society that expressed sheer delight online when Donald Trump was elected was the raw milk group, who claimed that the President and his wife were long-time raw milk consumers both in New York and Florida.
The First Lady’s native Slovakia has more legal raw milk dispensing machines than car dealerships.
In Ontario, other than the province spending two and a half decades pouring health enforcement and police resources into stopping Schmidt with his 600 consumers, anecdotal evidence shows the black market they have ignored, or are unable to penetrate, is indeed thriving.
Thriving for both the licensed quota-holding producers who keep the customers staggered so the bulk tank doesn’t fluctuate, or the purists, without quota, who also serving this niche market.
The dollars are there. At $5 a litre, which consumers in Ottawa, Montreal and Cornwall seem willing to pay, three regular producing Holsteins will make $500 a day in cash.
Location is everything. Using the Sir John A MacDonald analogy that “not every horse thief is a Liberal, but that doesn’t mean that every Liberal isn’t a horse thief,” every raw milk supplier, either scooped out of the bulk tank or delivered, is close enough to an urban centre for consumer convenience.
There are several quota-holding families who have provided the Montreal and Ottawa markets with raw milk for well over four decades.
Several years ago, Cornwall – which has a great raw milk market – in an attempt to stem the tide, had its Health Unit put out a press release which went viral on news media, about area people getting sick from on-farm manufactured cheese made from raw milk.
The lab results of the cheese were leaked to the press, which showed it was fine and free of anything dangerous. There have been no raw milk health incidences reported for well over half a decade.
Anecdotally, a woman in the Cornwall area recognized as the local non-quota purist had a poised young lady approach her this past summer at a public event. “I’m a young mother,” she said. “I’m looking to buy raw milk.”
The woman replied with a dismissive grunt and stony silence. The young lady eventually walked away.
“A young mother, at the end of an afternoon, would have whining kids hanging off her -where are they?” she asked. “She would have been wore down, carrying some extra body fat.”
“That Barbie is a plant, working for the government.”
“We have to be damn careful,” she said. “Look what they’ve done to Michael over the years.”