Raw Milk Safety Lecture With Michael Schmidt – What I Learned

Once in a while we are blessed to meet people who are born to stand up for what is right and have the ability to motivate others to also wake up and speak. To my mind Michael Schmidt is one of those people. Through all the adversity he has faced since the raid on his farm in 2006, he has stood firm in his belief that the people of Canada and the USA should have the right to eat and drink what they choose. When most people would have given up, he has not. In fact he has rallied around him a very large and constantly growing mass of people who believe that our right to have raw milk, if we choose to, should not be a legal debate. After all cigarettes and processed foods are completely legal and yet we can find study after study showing that they are detrimental to our health.

On Saturday September 17, 2011, Michael Schmidt talked to a group of between 40 and 50 people about the raw milk safety issue and how to choose a farm and a farmer to buy your product from. He also explained to us some of the issues around the whole legalization of raw milk. On January 21, 2010 in an Ontario court, Michael Schmidt was acquitted on charges of selling raw milk. As a result the sale of raw milk under a cow share agreement became legal in Ontario. The Ontario government appealed that ruling and currently we expect that the appeal judgment will be forthcoming by the end of September 2011. For more background information please see http://www.canadianconstitutionfoundation.ca/article.php/170.

Schmidt explained to us that after the ruling last year he began to wonder what would happen if raw milk was made legal without a system in place to make sure that the raw milk was being produced safely. Cow Share Canada was born 16 months ago to address this. Under Cow Share Canada a farmer must follow guidelines as to how he produces the milk, how he tests his cows and the farm must be inspected by one of two organic dairy inspectors who have agreed to work with Cow Share Canada. I know that these inspections concern some raw dairy farmers I’ve spoken to not because they are afraid of the results but because they have had bad experiences with commercial inspectors. The Cow Share Canada inspectors are well versed in organic dairy laws and regulations and will help the farmer by pointing out what needs to be changed to conform to current laws and not act as dictators. Raw dairy farmers join the organization, take Cow Share College 1 and 2, show proof of good test results, make any changes the inspectors suggest and receive the okay of the inspectors so that consumers and our health boards can be assured that the milk is safe. At that time they become accredited by Cow Share Canada. A few of the farmers I have spoken to in the last year have expressed the concern that Cow Share Canada regulations will be expensive and too confining. The reality is that without some sort of regulatory process around raw milk production we will never have a chance to get this legalized in Ontario or in other parts of the country. One of the concerns is that if it was legalized without a set of standards in place we would see farmers getting into this for the money and not really understanding what they need to do to make sure the milk is safe. There is more to producing safe raw milk than just making sure the buckets and milking parlor are clean and I will speak about what I learned in that regard later in this essay. As a consumer, the beauty of the Cow Share Canada system is that I can be assured that the milk I feed myself and my grand children is free of contaminants and has the highest nutritional value. Michael Schmidt has being farming for over 30 years and in 20 years of supplying raw milk has had no illness reported. Who better to oversee the process of regulating the production of raw milk? The farmers themselves know more about what creates good milk than any government agency and the testing under Cow Share Canada is, in some areas, better than in commercial dairies where the milk is destined for pasteurization. Michael Schmidt has always conformed to government regulations when it comes to what testing needs to be done and how to set up his diary whether it be for milk or cheese. As a consumer I would want to know that my farmer is doing the same thing. Left to government to regulate we would not have the same high standards but rather a lot of rules that may not even make sense on a small scale grass based farm. Government tends to back and help large bodies like the dairy board and not the small farmer. Good quality raw milk needs to come from small farmers with healthy farms. May I say right now that if you are currently drinking raw milk and your farmer is not part of Cow Share Canada, I would encourage you to talk to them about joining or at least speaking to Cow Share Canada. When we see farmers joining together to create healthy standards and consumers standing behind them, we will see change in government policies. Remember that your politicians will say anything they need to in order to get elected and when they realize that this is important to so many of us they will start to come around. Consumers can join Cow Share Canada as well for a small fee. Your money will help the organization to continue to do the good work they are doing on our behalf. My opinion is that large numbers putting their money and their mouths to good use in this movement is what will assure future generations of safe raw milk legally. All grass roots rebellions depend on critical mass to tip the scales in their favor. Cow Share Canada can and should, in my opinion, be the group that brings farmers together into a collective that will be harder for the government to tackle especially when there is a strong consumer voice behind them. For the farmers who are sitting on the fence about joining and going through the process, there are a few benefits I would like to point out. Number 1 is that they have a structure whereby they can be assured their milk is safe at all times due to the testing requirements.  This is a form of protection for both the farmer and the consumer.  If they are accused of making someone sick they will have the results of their testing and the inspections of their farms to use in their defense. Number 2 is that consumers pay a substantial fee up front for the purchase of a piece of a cow from which they then receive milk every week. The costs for the farmer are less when they have this capital to work with. Number 3 is that if they are part of Cow Share Canada and they are targeted by the milk police they will have help from Michael Schmidt and the backup of those of us who are behind the consumer side of this movement. It’s a much better place to be than alone. You can read about one rally that happened in Ontario because a Cow Share Canada farmer was targeted by officials. When those officials found out that they would have a group of consumers and Cow Share Canada to deal with when they got to the farm, they backed down and didn’t even show up. That story is at this link http://balanceyourapple.com/2011/04/28/raw-milk-the-saga-continues/.

When you really look at the statistics and understand them, you can see that raw milk is not the hazard to health that it is being made out to be.  There is risk in eating all foods and in the last year we have seen many cases of food born illness from processed foods. Many more than unprocessed dairy.  You will find lots of information on www.realmilk.com and through the Weston A. Price Association at www.westonaprice.org. Raw milk itself is a God given whole food that has nourished mankind for thousands of years. Recently there has been a report of a European study released at the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology that shows that children are 40% less likely to have allergies and asthma if they drink raw milk. You can read about this study here: http://journal.livingfood.us/2011/09/17/kids-drinking-raw-milk-have-40-less-asthma-and-allergies-new-large-study/. How that raw milk is produced is where the difference in opinions shows up. The government in British Columbia has declared that raw milk is a hazardous substance. Let me see now, raw milk has been shown in a large EU study to help 40% of children to be less likely to develop asthma and allergies and it’s a hazardous substance in British Columbia. Are cows different in our country than in the EU or is government just ignoring the research? If raw milk is coming from swill dairies or confinement dairies, I would agree that it is hazardous to drink raw. For detailed information on the pasteurization saga that the current regulations are still based on you can read The Untold Story of Milk by Ron Schmid (http://www.amazon.ca/Untold-Story-Milk-Revised-Updated/dp/0979209528/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1316484189&sr=8-1).  There is big difference between these types of dairies and the milk produced by good grass based raw milk farmers. My opinion here is that we are looking at nothing less than lobbying of government by dairy boards worried about their quota systems and health boards going on old information without in depth investigation into the safe production of raw milk. I have personally spoken to a couple of commercial dairy farmers who told me without reservation that they would not drink their own milk raw. They know their milk is destined for pasteurization and that it is not clean enough to drink raw. The farmers I choose to deal with do drink their own milk and feed it to their children because they know it is safe. Why do you think that the governments of our Canadian provinces don’t look at the research around the world and the farming practices that make raw milk safe to drink? I have my theories and they all come down to money and political agendas. I may be right or I may be wrong but either way this whole battle between citizens and government for the right to choose what we eat and drink is ridiculous.

Michael Schmidt told us about the Raw Milk Symposium that he attended in Prague. At that symposium there were authorities from all over the EU and they were not beating the drum of disease from raw milk but rather looking at the health benefits to drinking it. He told us that the Raw Milk Association of Germany have standards that the farms that are under their wing must conform to. In 100 years they have never had one report of disease caused by raw milk on any of those farms. Does that not speak volumes?

Here are a list of things that Schmidt told us to look for when looking for a farm to buy a share of a cow from.  The safety of raw milk is not just about testing he told us. It starts with the health of the soil and the overall health of the farm. It is up to the consumer to interview their farmer to make sure that they will receive the healthiest milk possible. When you become a co-producer with a Cow Share Canada farmer or even one who is in the process of accreditation with Cow Share Canada you know these things are being done.

1) Raw milk safety starts with soil fertility. Just as with humans, what goes into the cow creates the milk that comes out of the cow and also creates the health of the animal. The fields need to be chemical free and the ground needs to be fed and nurtured to grow healthy native grasses that are higher in nutrients. The nutritional quality of milk goes up with lower production and good soil fertility. Ask your farmer what his soil fertility management plan is.

2) What are the cows eating? This article from Cornell University supports the recommendations that cows being milked for raw milk be fed a diet of grass and hay and not grain and corn. http://www.news.cornell.edu/chronicle/98/9.17.98/cattle_feeding.html
The type of e-coli that makes people sick is called O157:H7. It is produced when the cows are fed grain or corn as their main ration. A little grain as a therapeutic when needed is fine according to Schmidt but the main diet has to be green grass in summer and hay in winter to ensure that the milk is free of e-coli O157:h7. This is an important question to ask a farmer you are considering buying raw milk from. Root vegetables are an okay addition to an otherwise grass diet for a treat for the cows and Schmidt said they can enhance the milk when given in small quantities. Cows have 4 stomachs and are one of three types of animals that can turn grass into protein. Sheep and goats can do this as well. These ruminants were put on the planet to eat grass. Why are we feeding them grain and commercial feeds?

3) Where are the cows coming from? If farmers are buying cows from commercial dairies, those cows will take some time to produce healthy raw milk once they have been put out to pasture. Cows from commercial dairies can be transitioned but it takes time. One recommendation was to start to convert the herd by buying a good quality grass based bull calf and start to breed him to the current herd. This can get rid of 50% of the genetics and over the generations the resulting cows will become healthier and their meat and milk will also become healthier. As a consumer it is difficult to get into these kinds of conversations with farmers but I would suggest that you at least mention this and again it’s another reason that your raw milk farmer should talk to Cow Share Canada and take the college classes. Many farmers don’t really understand that the genetics of their cows can affect the quality of their milk. The Holstein cow has been breed to produce huge quantities of milk and it would take a number of generations to convert them back to healthy raw milk producers. Schmidt told us that a commercial Holstein would not be able to live on grass and hay alone. They have been conditioned to live on commercial feed and would become ill if taken to a grass based farm. Better to choose a farmer who is working with heritage breed cows or who has been breeding the Holstein out of his cows if you want high quality and more nutritious raw milk.

4) What testing does your farmer do? The things that must be tested for are brucellosis, tuberculosis and Jones disease before the cow is even brought onto the farm. Jones is para-tuberculosis of the intestines in cows and has been implicated in Crohns disease in humans. We were told that 40% of the cows in Canada have Jones and the officials know about it. Publicizing this fact would destroy our current diary industry so the information is being kept quiet. Pasteurization does not destroy Jones. Crohns and ulcerative colitis have been increasing in the last 40 years. Could this be why? Tests should be done for salmonella, listeriosis and e-coli. The manure should be tested every 6 months and the somatic cell count monitored on a regular basis. Somatic cell count is a management tool. It monitors white blood cells which are an indication of how well the immune system is working. High somatic cell count would alert the farmer that something isn’t right with the cow either in the milk or the udder. There may be infection starting. Somatic cell count needs to be 500,000 or less in commercial milk destined for pasteurization. 200,000 is the highest allowed under Cow Share Canada and a count of under 50,000 could mean the immune system was compromised in that cow so would be looked at as well. Ask your farmer if he/she is doing any of this testing. In Ontario it can be done at the University of Guelph.

5) Milk Handling – There is a booklet written by Tim Wightman from the US called Raw Milk Production Handbook which has basic guidelines for producing healthy raw milk. Since many of the farmers going back to the basics and producing raw milk on diversified truly sustainable farms are not from farming backgrounds, this is a tool that should be pointed out to them. Even if the farmer is from a farming background, producing milk for raw consumption is different from milk headed for pasteurization so the booklet is still a good resource for them. It is also something you, as an interested consumer, could give to the farmer as a gift. https://www.farmtoconsumer.net/EducationalProducts.asp At the same link you will find a booklet for consumers called Safe Handling – Consumers Guide to Preserving the Quality of Fresh, Unprocessed Whole Milk. Once your farmer has given you your milk this will tell you how to handle it safely in your home, how to clean your bottles etc. Milk can leave the farm perfectly healthy and safe and if not handled properly at home it can develop some problems. Raw milk should last 2 and even 3 weeks in the refrigerator before it starts to taste sour. The temperature of the refrigerator and the condition of the bottles are factors that can influence that. Raw milk doesn’t go “bad” as we have come to think of pasteurized milk past it’s prime. Instead raw milk sours and should smell pleasantly sour and not rancid when it is soured in a safe way.

6) What is the setup of the farm? Is the farm and barn clean? Does the farmer have a separate milking area outside of the area where the cows spend their time in the barn? Ask how he cleans his equipment. Real pure milk should not be subjected to javex. There are alternatives such as hydrogen peroxide or vinegar that do a good job of cleaning equipment.

Schmidt suggested we ask the farmer for enough milk for three glasses. Then put those three glasses in the fridge and each week take out a glass. The milk should last without going sour for at least 2 weeks and may very well still be good at the end of the 3rd week. If it doesn’t last at least 2 weeks it may not be clean. However, things like thunder storms can change the length of time the milk takes to go sour. Electricity in the air can affect raw milk. This makes me wonder if living under power lines might affect the length of time a person can keep their milk in their homes? Might be a good research project idea for someone interested in this.  Regardless it is another indication that this is a living food and we have come to understand in the last few years that living foods create life in us.

Another test he suggested was to let the milk clabber on the counter until it thickens and starts to look like yogurt. If the resulting product has bubbles in it, that is an indication that there may be e-coli in the milk. Clabbered milk should look thick like yogurt and then separate so that the whey is separated and should have a pleasantly sour smell. This whey can be drank or used to start probiotic vegetables like sauerkraut.

This was a very interesting talk. If you want more detailed information I would suggest that you think about taking Cow Share Canada 1 and 2. Both consumers and farmers are likely to learn a great deal at these sessions and an educated consumer is an asset to the real food movement.

Margo McIntosh, RHN, RNCP,
Registered Nutritional Consulting Practitioner.

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One comment

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