I’m hoping that the following article might motivate people to share the story, add to the discussion and respectful debate. I’m not asking you to agree with me – but am hoping that we can put all of the collective information on the table to share in an open dialogue to make sense of dairy in Canada, the US and many other places in the world. The article is specifically about RAW Milk in Ontario but you’ll see that the issue (and confusion) is far broader. The facts presented here are, to the best of my ability, factually correct and open to feedback.
I am not a scientist. I do not regularly consume raw milk (although I do remember fresh cream on blueberries as a child) and I’m not sure I would if I could. I don’t know the detailed risks and I’m not recommending that you should or shouldn’t consume it.
I am, however, very passionate that we should each have the opportunity to do our own research and make up our own minds and have the choice.
Before looking at the history, let us acknowledge that the reason raw milk is banned is because of the potential to make people sick with nasty things like Listeria. Let us also consider:
- 17 U.S. States allow the sale of raw milk
- Provinces across this country allowed it until the early 1990s
- Raw milk is considered the highest standard of milk in France
- Raw milk is commonly sold in Germany
- The regulations of the European Union declare milk safe for human consumption
- Cigarettes, which surely cause significant health problems are legal in Ontario
- It is legal, in Ontario, for a farmer to drink their own milk and feed it to their families (this point becomes important further in the article).
- Multiple recalls of mass-produced meat, veggies and fruit are now commonly accepted (through the process of normalized crises) across the planet. Common threats are lysteria and e. coli (the same threat that keeps raw milk off the shelf here).
- Pasteurization was invented in 1862 – certainly milk was drunk before that time.
A quick history of raw milk in Ontario:
- The Dairy Farmers of Canada was founded in 1934 (as the Canadian Dairy Farmer’s Federation). The mandate was to ‘pursue market stability policies and ensure fairer prices for producers.’
- Raw milk was banned for sale in Ontario in 1938 – pasteurization became a requirement to ‘boost confidence’ in milk.
- In the late 1950s and early 1960s, milk sales were made from individual farms to many different fractured milk producers.
- The Milk Act was passed in 1965 which created the Ontario Milk Marketing Board (OMMB). The Milk act made requirements for farmers to sell their milk to the Marketing Board (passage 37; “requiring any person who produces a regulated product to offer to sell and to sell the regulated product to or through the marketing board constituted to administer the plan under which the regulated product is regulated”)
- In 1987, Ontario (via Germany) farmer Michael Schmidt purchases 12 heritage cattle (Canadiennes) from a Québécois farmer. He is frustrated with ‘modern’ methods and wishes to use biodynamic farming principles he learned and practiced in Germany since the 1970s (the entire article is here). His beliefs include a high value for raw milk. (The entire story of the Schmidt’s is ongoing but a comprehensive catch-up can be found here).
- In 1991, RAW milk was officially banned for sale under Food and Drug Regulations.
- 1992, Farmer Schmidt’s sales of raw milk have increased enough to create a small store on the property.
- 1994 the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation films a feature highlighting the farm and raw milk. Police raids hit the farm 2 days before the piece hits television. Various raids and legal proceedings continue from then through the present.
- The OOMB changed it’s name and structure (absorbing the milk and cream bodies into one) called the Dairy Farmers of Ontario in 1995
- In January of 2010, a stunning reversal of fortune occurs: a Newmarket, Ontario court rules in Farmer Schmidt’s favour – he had been selling cow-shares where people could buy a significant percentage of the cow (therefore being able to consume milk from the cow they own). I understand he sold 25% shares in each cow. People could not resell the product and it was not available to the mass public. He had 150 shareholders in total.
- The Milk Act continues to be revised; the most recent version is from 2010 (here) – likely to accommodate though I am not certain.
- September 28, 2011. A higher level of court overturns the Newmarket finding – Raw Milk is once again outlawed and the only possible client to sell it to is the Dairy Board.
It is not without irony that on the same day that raw milk is banned for safety reasons that we have also experienced a recall of mass-produced meat in 6 provinces. The fear? Listeria.
Isn’t it time to ask why? Perhaps it’s time to examine the role of the gatekeepers who are there to remove ‘inequities’ in the system yet we have a system with a single buyer that lacks the competitive checks and balances of an open market.
Why doesn’t the system doesn’t allow for competitive advantage for individual producers to offer an alternative product direct to consumer? Perhaps it shouldn’t be on the free market – but what is the cost to stop this from happening? Who is benefitting? What is the real risk level of a product that was consumed in its raw form for thousands of years before 1862?