Raw Milk In Canada – A Solution

It’s been a couple of months since I have posted.  Life got busy and I’ve been working in the background for the food freedom/raw milk movement.  I’ve been slowly writing an article which today I feel I need to present here.  This battle for raw milk has been going on for over 20 years and where are we?  What once was a small group of people seeking out a few farmers to buy milk on the sly from has become a nation wide educated group of people seeking out more and more farmers.  It is time to look at the antiquated laws in Canada.  Laws that do not differentiate between small grass based farms carefully milking cows for raw milk distribution to educated consumers and commercial farms milking hundreds of cows meant for pasteurization.  These are two very different types of milk and it is time to educate our politicians on this fact.  Trying to change the minds of Dept. of Agriculture and Health Canada is like trying to turn the titanic.  However, if we don’t keep at it we will not get anywhere.  To that end, I am submitting the article I have been writing for far too long.  Enjoy!

Raw Milk In Canada 1890 or 2012?

Throughout history humans have consumed the milk from mammals.  In the book Real Food, Nina Planck tell us “Over thousands of years, humans have herded, corralled and milked a variety of mammals.  In the Near East, our ancestors domesticated sheep and goats about 11,000 years ago.  Archaeologists surmise that milk, not meat, was the initial reason for keeping animals.”

Not until the late 19thth century and early 20th century were dairy cows jailed in huge barns, confined to stalls and fed foods that created acidity in their bodies, poor quality milk and untold misery.  Earlier in the 20th century these poor creatures were housed next to distilleries and fed the swill that was the byproduct of making alcohol.  In the later part of the 20th century and until today cows are still confined on huge dairy farms and fed a diet consisting of mixed grains and commercial feeds supplemented with antibiotics because they suffer from illness on a regular basis.  These types of farms produce milk that must be pasteurized in order to be safe.  A powerful advocate for pasteurization of swill dairy milk back in the 1890’s was a man named Nathan Straus.  He was one of the people responsible for the must needed pasteurization laws at the time.  According to Ron Schmid, ND in the book The Untold Story of Milk, Straus himself said “If it were possible to secure pure, fresh milk direct from absolutely healthy cows, there would be no necessity for pasteurization.  If it were possible by legislation to obtain a milk supply from clean stables after careful process of milking, to have transportation to the city in perfectly clean and closed vessels, then pasteurization would be unnecessary”.  This is 2012, over a hundred years later.  We have the capability of providing all these things as well as refrigeration, state of the art testing for bacteria and much improved products to ensure a clean environment.   Indeed many of us are obtaining raw milk from exactly this type of farm and have come to depend on it for our own health and that of our families.  What we are missing is the legal ability for our farmers to supply us with it.  Other countries have made these kinds of arrangements and have the legislation that Straus recommended in place as well.  Why not  Canada?

All the while the controversy was happening about the poor quality of milk coming from large dairies in the earlier part of the 20th century there were main stream doctors using what was then known as the “milk cure” to heal all kinds of illness.  Before the pharmaceutical companies squeezed out natural medicine and took over funding medical schools, raw milk was viewed as a healing food.  According to Ron Schmid in The Untold Story of Milk, the Mayo Foundation, later to be called the Mayo Clinic used raw milk to heal.  “In 1929, J.E. Crewe, MD, one of the founders of the Mayo Foundation (forerunner to the Mayo Clinic) in Rochester, Minnesota, published an article entitled “Raw Milk Cures Many Diseases”.  To quote Dr. Crewe “The results obtained in various types of diseases have been so uniformly excellent that one’s conception of disease and it’s alleviation is necessarily changed”.  So what has changed?  With the growth in power and economic influence of the drug companies, the power of food to heal was swept under the rug.  Plain and simple.  No longer is prevention of disease through foods as they come from nature, even given a second thought.  People have been so conditioned to believing that the doctor knows all and that there is an easy pill fix for everything that food has become something to fill the empty hole in the gut rather than a healing substance that either builds health or destroys health.

The average person consuming raw milk and it’s many products has gone to great lengths to educate themselves on both the benefits and the risks and have made a free will choice to consume this health giving food.  I am willing to speculate that raw milk consumers would not go back to pasteurized milk even if there was no way to obtain milk raw.  Once you’ve tasted the sweet creaminess of raw milk with it’s many variations depending on the season and the breed of cow, drinking watery pasteurized milk that has virtually no flavour and certainly no variation in flavour would be, to say the least, much less satisfying.  Indeed many of us depend on the products obtained from raw milk in our daily cooking.

It is not surprising that the milk from commercial dairies is, for the most part, in need of pasteurization to protect the public from contamination.  For the thousands of years before the 20th century and indeed on many small farms today, animals raised for their milk were and are out on pasture eating the food that Nature designed specifically for them, grass.  A cows digestive system is perfectly developed to digest grass and make it into milk and meat.  Humans have been the happy recipients of this gift from Nature since the days of the cave man.  Of course in Canada we have 4 seasons and grass based farms must deal with winter.  Hay and small amounts of grains are used during the winter to provide nourishment for healthy cows.  Antibiotics are not necessary except in dire circumstances.  Pesticides and chemicals are not used.  These types of farms and farmers are much more suited to supplying small herds with the care and attention that is needed to produce safe, healthy and optimum raw milk.

These are healthy grass fed cows on lush pasture.

The vocal battle for raw milk in Canada has been in full swing for over 20 years.  Meanwhile the rest of the world is consuming real raw milk.  There is a world wide movement asking for accountability from governments trying to control our food.  As recently as 10 years ago there were small groups of  “foodies” on the fringe touting the benefits of everything from organic agriculture to raw milk.  I have been one of those foodies ever since a health crisis in my 30’s woke me up.  Organic agriculture was laughed at in those days and yet organic has gone from a very small market to a household word and is the fastest growing food market in the world.  Now we see multi-national grocery chains and corporations getting on the organic band wagon.   If we work together we can see the same thing happen for raw milk.  My desire is to know that my grand children and their children will have the benefit of this food and that the small farms that provide it and other healthier foods are still be around 50 years from now.

No longer are we a small band of “foodies”.  Today the movement for food freedom right across the world is growing very quickly as governments continue to try to control our food and our freedoms.  Whether you are a supporter of Michael Schmidt or you are not, we do have him to thank for bringing the food freedom issues to a head and into the main stream media.  Without his steadfast resolve to wake people up to what is happening to their food freedoms, many would not even know that it was possible to acquire raw milk in Canada and this grass roots movement would still be small.  Today it is large and growing steadily.   I do sometimes wonder if our government even realizes what they have done and if they do if they wish they had never raided Schmidt’s farm in the first place.  That raid triggered a grass roots movement that has gone on to support Alice Yongerden in BC and will be there if any of our other farmers are attacked.  This is a movement that is educating other consumers on both food rights and raw milk benefits.  If Schmidt’s farm had not been raided and he had not been the kind of man he is to stand for his rights and teach others to do so as well, raw milk would still be a small underground market operating quietly and not attracting a lot of attention.  Because of the attention that government itself has brought to raw milk by it’s actions, hundreds more people are drinking this milk and hundreds more are looking for a source.  Even people who do not consume raw milk have joined us as they see the threat that government going after small farmers with guns and force is to our freedom to choose our own sustenance.  A movement of consumers to demand our food freedom from government can be and is a driving force for change.  To quote Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed it’s the only thing that ever has”.

Consumers today are better educated about health than ever before in history.  No longer are we as trusting that our medical system will save us.  Our doctors have very little training in nutritional interventions that could prevent disease from happening in the first place.  Many are disillusioned with the promise of health from pharmaceutical companies and the promise of higher yields from chemical companies.  These things have side effects that are becoming more and more obvious to those of us paying attention.  In fact the general public are fatter, sicker and suffer more chronic illness than ever before in history.  We want to take responsibility for our own well being and to do that we need to be able to access natural, unprocessed and unadulterated food.  The role that food nutrition plays in both maintaining and regaining health is well researched and yet the public continues to be bombarded by advertisements for pseudo foods and fear based warnings about consumption of raw milk without the benefit of a differentiation as described earlier in this article.

We are in a health crisis in Canada and yet our grocery store shelves are full to overflowing with “legal” processed, pseudo and fake foods.   Boxed, bagged, processed and sterilized foods fill our children’s lunch boxes.  Canada’s Food Guide has not worked.  It is obvious by the increase in ADD, ADHD, autism, learning disabilities, frequency of illness in children, cancer rates, obesity, diabetes  and on and on.  People are popping vitamin pills like they were a replacement for real food and where is the education to the contrary?  The world of Holistic Medicine, Holistic Nutrition and a very small group of Dieticians are seemingly the only professionals concerned about this.  Perhaps it’s time for us to become even louder in our effort to wake people up and get them back to eating real food from real farms.  As more and more consumers want to get out of the sickness industry that makes billions on drug treatments and into the self help industry that provides education on healthy soil, healthy farms and healthy food intake, we see the food freedom movement grow and we see Holistic Medicine grow.

The sad fact is that government regulations are working against the mother trying to make better choices for her family.  The small farms that produce local, healthy, chemical free foods are increasingly falling prey to stricter rules and regulations that make no sense on a small scale farm.  Supply management sees to it that their financial interests are protected by regulating the number of chickens, turkeys and eggs a small farm can produce without quota.  I believe that supply management has a part to play in keeping the doors shut to any talks about raw milk legalization as well since dairy quota is a huge money maker.  My opinion:  with any luck our Harper government will get rid of supply management the way they took out the wheat board.  In the meantime we need to protect our right to acquire these foods starting with raw milk.

While I am an outspoken advocate for raw milk and for food freedom in general, I do understand the reservations of government towards legalizing something they have come to believe so strongly is dangerous.  It has been fruitless to create a differentiation in their minds about the type of farm, breed of cow and diet of the animal in regards to safe milk.  This is why a government task force is necessary to look at all aspects of this argument.  A task force that is unbiased and will include a look at the positive research, learn from farmers and research what is working in other countries. Some of our raw dairy farmers need to be included in this task force along with government officials.  There will always be those who believe strongly that raw milk is dangerous and they are welcome to continue to consume pasteurized milk.  There will always be those who know that raw milk has improved their health and feel good knowing they are consuming a raw natural product.  These people, me included, deserve the right to choice as well.  I am not recommending that pasteurized milk be discontinued or that raw milk be available to the public at large.  I know that there are those who will disagree with me on both sides of this debate, but I do feel that raw milk needs to be available under specific circumstances to well informed consumers and not to the public at large.

Raw Milk in Canada – A Solution

As I see it the solution and middle ground which would protect consumers and government alike would be to create an exception under current Canadian law for contractual agreements between farmer and consumer.  The farmer would be responsible to follow a set list of standards and testing requirements that would be created with input from small dairy farmers and health boards working together.  These would be based on what makes sense for a small farm and not what makes sense for a commercial dairy farm. This exception would be a means of creating a market for small farms which would not interfere with supply management, would ensure that the consumer seeking raw milk is committed and educated and the milk and cows are tested for health.  As in the UK, these farms could have a licence and farm gate or farmer direct sales only would be legal.  There are different ways to do this some of which would be cow shares, farm shares, herd shares or CSA type agreements.  In each of these scenarios the consumer needs to put money up front and this in itself would ensure that the consumer is educated on the risks and benefits.  Thereby the fear of Health Canada and provincial health units that the general public at large would be in jeopardy would be alleviated.  Consumers would be taking back the responsibility for their own health and their own food as many of us have already.

As I said before, I believe that supply management has a part to play in the continued closed door to discussion involving raw milk distribution under the law and the above scenario would solve that problem.

To quote Sandor Katz in his wonderful book This Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved:  “The raw milk movement is one of the most widespread civil disobedience movements”.  When tax paying citizens are forced to go to the length of civil disobedience to acquire a natural food, we have a problem.  Also from Sandor Katz “The two contrasting approaches to safe milk – certification and pasteurization – are not mutually exclusive.  It is possible to have a regulatory scheme in which some of the milk is pasteurized (and clearly labelled as such), while other milk that meets some specified standards can be sold raw (and clearly labelled as such).  Such is the situation in California and several other states today, and historically, both regulatory schemes overlapped in most places.”  Of course Sandor Katz is from the USA where there is no milk marketing board.  The solution is simple really.  Trust educated consumers to seek out and contract with small farmers who are following production methods that make sense and get the food police out of our kitchens and off our farms!

Margo McIntosh, RHN, RNCP, CGP

Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Registered Nutritional Consulting Practitioner, Food & Farm Activist, Chapter Leader for the Weston A. Price Foundation, Certified GAPS Practitioner, Mother and Grandmother.


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One comment

  1. Its like you read my mind! You seem to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something.
    I think that you could do with a few pics to drive the message home a
    little bit, but other than that, this is excellent blog.
    A great read. I’ll certainly be back.

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