Raw milk, health authorities and the right to choose the food we eat

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UPDATE, Nov. 4, 2011: Michael Schmidt, who began his hunger strike Sept. 29, ended it Nov. 4 after meeting with the premier of Ontario.

UPDATE, Oct. 26, 2011: Michael Schmidt converted his hunger strike from a single glass of raw milk each day to only water, 10 days into it. He has been without food for 27 days.

UPDATE, Oct. 9, 2011: Because in Canada one can only buy pasteurized milk, those of us who believe in the nourishing value of raw milk from grass-fed cows go to great lengths to access to this food. The BC government promised to leave our cow share alone until we got through our constitutional challenge, but a couple of weeks ago they broke that promise and charged our agister, Michael Schmidt, and one of the cow share members with contempt of court again.

Furthermore, Michael’s case that he had won in Ontario was overturned on appeal, so now Michael has been charged in two Provinces. He is appealing the Ontario case again, and is currently on a hunger strike, only drinking one glass of raw milk a day.

I find it to be a strange double standard that anyone can go into a grocery store, buy bacteria-filled ground beef from factory-farmed, grain-fed cattle, take it home and eat it raw (not recommended, but no one would stop you), and yet the health authorities get tied up in knots if I want to drink raw milk from pastured cattle that are healthy due to the fact that they are allowed to eat what they are meant to eat – grass.

This issue goes way beyond milk. Earlier this month, Wisconsin Judge Patrick J. Fiedler ruled that “Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to produce and consume the foods of their choice.” So, according to Judge Fielder in the States, you have no right to the vegetables you grow in your garden or to the eggs your chickens might lay. You have NO right to choose what food you eat. The government has the right to mandate or prohibit the consumption of any food.

This may sound like science fiction, but small farmers that produce artisan foods are constantly being raided both north and south of the border. If you value the ability to choose what food you eat, it is time to stand up for that right. If we don’t take a stand, we will find soon enough that the only food available for us to eat is processed corporate food.

Feel free to contribute to Michael Schmidt’s defence via the Canadian Constitution Foundation. (It is interesting to note that shortly after Judge Fiedler made the above ruling, he quit to go into private practice with the law firm that represents Monsanto. )

Jan. 17, 2010: Well the dust is settling after the latest skirmish between Fraser Health and my cow share, Home on the Range Farm, which distributes raw milk to the owners of the cows that live in the city of Vancouver. This kind of arrangement is common for city-living horse owners who pay someone in the country to board and look after their horses. The owners can come out and ride their horses whenever they want. Similarly, cow owners who pay the farmer to care for their cows, have the right to the milk from their own cows.

Cow share programs are the only way Canadians can access raw milk, and different levels of government in Canada are trying to shut these programs down under the premise that they are protecting the health of the raw milk drinkers. Yet the government makes no effort to stop Canadians from bringing raw milk back from the States for their own consumption. So, is "health" really the issue?

I choose to be a part of the cow share program, because I know the cows are eating their natural diet of grass and hay, and they have the freedom to roam. These jersey cows are living a good cow life, so I feel good about enjoying their milk. Because the cows are eating their natural diet, the milk is naturally low in the harmful bacteria that the government says it is worried about.

Raw milk has higher levels of vitamins B and C, easily digestible calcium, phosphorus and iodine. It contains lots of the good probiotic bacteria that we need to improve our immune systems and to help us digest our food.

There are studies that suggest that children raised on raw milk have fewer allergies, which makes sense according to the hygiene hypothesis. And it tastes SO much better than the pasteurized stuff.

The other option is to purchase pasteurized milk from the grocery store. I have yet to see a commercial milk label in a grocery store that states that the milk is from grass-fed cows, so one can only assume that the cattle are fed grain, probably GMO corn. Cows get sick on grain. E-coli and other harmful bacteria counts skyrocket when cows eat grain, which is why the cows are given antibiotics.

Cows eating grass have far less need for antibiotics, because they are far less likely to get sick.  The routine feeding of antibiotics to animals is the key reason we are facing antibiotic resistance today, and as such, the practice should be stopped.

Most if not all commercial milk comes from huge factory farms, where hundreds of holstein cattle bred for milk quantity rather than quality, are kept indoors on cement floors for their entire lives. The cattle are fed grain mixed with antibiotics because it is cheap.

In the States, Bovine Growth Hormone is commonly used in dairy cattle in order to increase milk production, but the side effect is mastitis, or large infected, puss-filled udders. Good thing this milk is pasteurized! Sure would not want to drink raw milk from this source!

And the waste from factory farms that runs off into streams is very damaging to the environment. It is important to note that milk that is labelled "organic" does not mean the cows are allowed to graze on green grass. More likely the cows are also factory farmed, but are fed organic corn instead of GMO, which does not improve the e-coli problem at all.

The milk from factory farms is sent to milk processing plants where it is pooled with milk from other factory farms. It is completely separated into its various parts like fat, protein, and other solids and liquids. It is then reformulated into the various types of milk on the market, like skim milk, 2% etc.

The lower fat milks usually contain powdered skim milk, which does not have to be put on the label. The milk is then either pasteurized by heating it up to 71.7 degrees C (161 degrees F), or ultra-pasteurized to 135 degrees C (275 degrees F).

As it is pasteurized, it is also homogenized, a process where the milk is forced through a micro-filter at high pressures, breaking up the fat globules so they stay suspended in the milk, and the cream does not separate and rise to the top.

It should be noted that ultra-pasteurized milk tastes cooked, and the process completely destroys the milk, so it can stay on store shelves for weeks at a time even without refrigeration. Not even bugs will touch it – they know it is not food anymore. So commercial milk is a highly processed product that no longer resembles the nourishing food that came out of the cow.

That seems to be the food processing way these days. Increase production as much as possible, even if harmful bacteria counts skyrocket, and then fix the problem by cooking the milk to kill the bacteria, and as a consequence, destroy the lactase and other delicate proteins in the milk, reduce the vitamin content, and render the calcium insoluble and therefore less bio-available. Then add back in cheap vitamin A and D to make sure the population isn't completely malnourished.

It appears that there are just as many or more cases of people getting sick from pasteurized milk as from raw, so drinking the pasteurized, denatured stuff is no guarantee against getting sick.

So, after having looked into this issue, I feel that drinking raw milk from healthy cows is safer and certainly far more nourishing than drinking pasteurized milk from sick cows, and I have been doing so for at least 3 years now with no problem.

I object to the government dictating to me what I can and cannot eat. I am not suggesting that everyone MUST drink raw milk – but don't deny me the option if I decide that is the best choice for me.

It seems to me that Fraser Health has its priorities wrong, spending resources violating the rights of a few hundred people that are obtaining raw milk within the law, and pouring their property down the drain (along with bleach, contaminating the ground-water while they are at it), when there are so many other public-health issues that deserve scarce health-care dollars.

It seems to me to be a bit backwards that one can easily purchase cigarettes and alcohol which cause health problems that affect millions of people, and yet I can't purchase the milk I want to drink at the grocery store.

Other countries seem to have found a way to make raw milk available to anyone who wants it, so why is this such a huge issue in Canada? Is pressure from the Milk-Marketing Boards that see this as a threat to their control over the dairy industry the real reason for the heavy-handed reaction to our tiny raw-milk dairy? Michael Schmidt, a farmer who is on trial in Ontario for distributing raw milk certainly thinks so.

Once again, the politics of food makes lowest quality food the norm. The milk monopoly wants to stamp out all competition, and the easiest way to do that is to put fear into the hearts of the public with respect to grass-fed raw milk, so that people don't notice the poor quality of the milk they are selling, and dairy farmers won't get any ideas on how to do things differently (cow-share programs don't come under the thumb of the Milk Marketing Board).

Surely there is room in the market for both kinds of milk. It can't be too hard to copy safety regulations including microbial standards that other jurisdictions use (like California for example) to allow grass-fed raw milk into the marketplace.

It would be a niche market, as many people are still leery of drinking raw milk, but please stop the big brother mentality and allow the consumer to weigh the risks decide what food to eat.

If you want to subscribe or search for other posts by title or by topic, go to www.wellnesstips.ca.

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The Bovine “Up to individuals as well as parents to make their own decisions when it comes to what they eat and drink” — Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq Oct. 7, 2011.

Schmid, Ron The Untold Story of Milk, Revised and Updated: The History, Politics and Science of Nature’s Perfect Food: Raw Milk from Pasture-Fed Cows NewTrends Publishing, Washington DC, 2009.

Schlosser, Eric, Food, Inc. 2009.

Weston A. Price Foundation Raw Milk: What the Scientific Literature Really Says: A Response to Bill Marler, JD www.realmilk.com An article which reviews the science with respect to outbreaks of foodborne illness associated with raw milk.

Fallon, Sally Is Raw Milk Safe for Babies? An article and chart comparing reported outbreaks of food-borne illness from raw milk, pasteurized milk in California (where raw milk is sold in grocery stores) and from other foods in the US from ’82 to ’97.

Raw Milk Facts.com Tuberculosis

Callaway TR et al. Diet, Escherichia coli O157:H7, and cattle: a review after 10 years. Curr Issues Mol Biol. 2009;11(2):67-79.

T. R. Callaway et al. Forage Feeding to Reduce Preharvest Escherichia coli Populations in Cattle, a Review J. Dairy Sci. 86:852-860, 2003.

Francisco Diez-Gonzalez et al. Grain Feeding and the Dissemination of Acid-Resistant Escherichia coli from Cattle Science 11 September 1998: Vol. 281. no. 5383, pp. 1666 – 1668

James B. Russell et al. Factors That Alter Rumen Microbial Ecology Science 11 May 2001: Vol. 292. no. 5519, pp. 1119 – 1122

Fallon, Sally Dirty Secrets of the Food Processing Industry This presentation was given at the annual conference of Consumer Health of Canada, March, 2002.

The Sustainable Table The Meatrix 2: Revolting a funny cartoon short on factory dairy farm

Organic Pastures Why raw?

From Armchair Science Raw Milk Vs. Pasteurized Milk London (April 1938)

Copyright 2010 Vreni Gurd

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12 Comments »

  1. Michele said,

    January 17, 2010 @ 12:36 pm

    i’ve tried to access raw milk in my community and surrounding area with no success…
    if you have any contacts or information to pass along with respect to other provinces (i am in Ontario (south western) … i know it would be welcomed by many

  2. Vreni said,

    January 17, 2010 @ 12:59 pm

    Hi Michele,

    According to the RealMilk.com site there is not a lot of choice in Ontario, but see if any of these farms would work for you realmilk Canada.

    The other option is to talk to farmers at farmers’ markets. Someone may have an idea for you …

    If the outcome of Michael Schmidt’s trial is good, your problem may soon be solved. There may be a ruling as soon as Jan 21st, 2010. If he is not successful, the case will be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, but in the mean time it won’t bode well for any raw milk drinkers in the country, as most likely health authorities will then have the right to shut down even cow share programs. So, let’s hope the court rules in Schmidt’s favour!

  3. Kristine said,

    January 17, 2010 @ 2:51 pm

    What an amazing article.
    Thank you for bringing this issue to the forefront again – just because the media storm has died down doesn’t mean the fight is over.
    My boyfriend and I have been drinking Raw Milk for over two years – growing up I intensely despised the flavour and consistency of Pasteurized Milk and continue to this day. Being introduced to Raw Milk changed my life and my outlook on the food industry as a whole. Making better decisions, researching alternatives and giving up processed foods needs to start happening to help ward off all these plagues our world is facing such as obesity, heart disease and dental problems.
    Your comment on organic milk was very thought provoking as this is an industry which is quite large in British Columbia and stands to make a lot more money in the coming years with the push for ‘organic’.
    The government must be halted on their quest to squash out Raw Milk – our world is being increasingly overrun by corporations and this must stop – they are not in it for the betterment of the people, only the money that stands to be made.
    Raw milk is an educated choice being made by people who participate in the Home on the Range Cow share program. I for one will not be one to let the government take my freedom of choice away.

  4. Natalie said,

    January 17, 2010 @ 10:33 pm

    We are in West Vancouver and were recently talking about this very topic. It is very annoying that we as people do not have the option to buy raw milk. I am not telling everyone they should drink raw milk(though they should), but would like to be able to buy some for my husband myself and our 7 children. For us the cow share option is just too expensive. We would get way too little milk each week for our size family. The next best option is for us to go over the border( I have some friends already doing this). We have not got our youngest sons passport sorted out so I cannot go over with the kids during the week to do this. I would much rather support our local farmers than go over the border, but we have no better option at this point. So fro now we are buying Avalons non homogenized milk which is still not ideal but I think at least better than regular homo milk. t would be nice to one day buy raw milk at our local farms and for it to not be an issue.

  5. Vreni said,

    January 18, 2010 @ 1:40 am

    Hi Natalie,

    Have you looked into the cow shares at Home on the Range?? You can get more than one share – as many as you need for your family, but yes, it certainly is more expensive than other options. But it is also very time-consuming to drive over the border each week, so if you consider time is money …

    Good luck! :)

  6. mom24 said,

    January 18, 2010 @ 3:23 pm

    Very well said! I started drinking raw milk 3 years ago and couldn’t ever consider going back. I have the freedom to purchase it (as well as aged cheese) legally, but much find other fermented, nourishing foods under the radar and by word of mouth through the farms around here. These farms are constantly under attack even for selling the raw milk! I truly do not understand why governments feel the need to legislate such a thing when there are so many more things that ‘endanger’ public safety!
    I can only hope that it gets easier for us to choose what foods we eat…

  7. Ieneke van Houten said,

    January 18, 2010 @ 3:28 pm

    Great article. I am a long-standing fan of the Weston A Price foundation. The lack of health freedom drives me batty. Milk, even grass-fed raw milk, does not agree with me, but I’d like to make those decisions for myself, thank you.
    Good onya for fighting the good fight. What I don’t understand: how come health freedom has never been an election issue yet?

  8. Helen said,

    January 18, 2010 @ 3:45 pm

    And taking a tip from your analogy at the start of the article to horse-boarding: Isn’t horseback riding demonstrably more dangerous than drinking raw milk?

    And for that matter, isn’t driving a car?

  9. Smokey said,

    January 29, 2010 @ 7:43 pm

    Just found my way to your site…really good article.

    The Industrialization of farming is pervasive throughout agriculture. But for sheer cruelty, dairy and beef take the cake! And the regulators always seem to side with the “big boys”.

    I am a small grass based Texas cattle producer. Our “girls” have “good eats” and room to roam…plus the benefit of an ear scratching when ever they see us. Our problems, like yours, is when we direct sell our beef to the consumer. Our processor has been a small family operation for over a hundred years, but, every time they “custom” for me, whooee(!), we have to go through a couple of layers of paperwork on each animal…time consuming and expensive.

    As for your industry, if you have the stomach for it, check out the dairy investigation at Mercy for Animals…

    Good Luck! And keep up the great posts

  10. Organic Grass-Fed Beef said,

    March 10, 2010 @ 6:25 pm

    I enjoyed your post. If I may, I would like to suggest my farm web site.

    Sumas Mountain Farms is the only producer of 100% certified-organic, lifetime grass-fed & finished beef in the Lower Mainland of BC (Canada). We also offer chicken, eggs, pepperoni, jerky, salami, sausage, farmer sausage, and more.

    Because our beef is 100% grass-fed & finished, the quality of the meat is exceptional, and the flavor is unsurpassed. Plus, it is more nutrient-dense and packed with healthful Omega-3′s than conventional beef, which is healthier for you, your family, and the planet.

    Please visit http://www.sumasmountainfarms.ca/ for more information! We have plenty of recipes for you to try.

    Thanks.

  11. George Affleck said,

    October 26, 2011 @ 5:55 pm

    An extremely well written and responsible article. Thank you for telling the truth to your readers.

    I would encourage everyone who can to flood the premier’s office with real mail support by demanding he meet with Michael. He will be complicit in Michael’s death if he does not, as surely as if he refused to give aid to a dying person on the street.

    Details for mailing the premier and other links are found on thebovine.wordpress.com

    George Affleck

  12. Jan Steinman said,

    November 2, 2011 @ 1:29 pm

    Raw dairy farmer Michael Schmidt is in his 35th day of a hunger strike because Canada has slapped him with $110,000 in fines for taking care of cows owned by herd share members, and for distributing raw milk to the herd share members.

    All he seeks to end his hunger strike is a meeting with Ontario Premiere Dalton McGuinty to begin constructive dialogue on food freedom issues, but the Premiere refuses to meet with him. You can help by flooding McGuinty’s office with calls and emails: dmcguinty.mpp.co@liberal.ola.org

    and/or: https://correspondence.premier.gov.on.ca/en/feedback/default.aspx

    Send a copy to kim.hartke@gmail.com, and it will get published on Michael Schmidt’s blog, The Bovine: http://thebovine.wordpress.com/

    While you’re at it, please take a moment to sign Michael’s petition:
    http://www.change.org/petitions/government-of-canada-support-food-freedom

    Finally, you can join Michael’s Facebook Cause:
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/supportmichaelschmidt/

    “But I don’t drink milk,” you might exclaim, or even “I’m vegan, and don’t believe animals should be milked.”

    Well, remember what Pastor Martin Niemoller* wrote in the days of Nazi Germany? It may be milk they’re after today, but it may be your bean sprouts tomorrow. This is not someone else’s problem! This is a problem for ANYONE who wants control over what they eat.

    Please join me in signing the petition!
    http://www.change.org/petitions/government-of-canada-support-food-freedom

    Thanks!
    Jan Steinman

    * “In Germany they first came for the Communists and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me — and by that time no one was left to speak up.” — Pastor Martin Niemoller

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