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Raw vs. the Law
January 21, 2010 11:52 AM   Subscribe

Michael Schmidt has been found not guilty of selling raw milk in the province of Ontario. Schmidt owns a dairy co-op where consumers can purchase shares in a dairy herd and receive a portion of the raw milk those cows produce in return. His farm was raided and his equipment seized at gun point back in 2006. Experts are predicting this decision could have wide ranging effects on the rights of consumers to choose what they purchase and eat.
posted by talkingmuffin (57 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
What udder nonsense.
posted by Muddler at 11:55 AM on January 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm of two minds about this - on one hand it's possible to sell safe raw milk, on the other hand without really extensive testing and very tight compliance it's pretty risky stuff. Schmidt may be doing everything right for now, but there's no guarantee that other people will or that he won't make a mistake. Also, dairy farming is regulated by a production quota system in Ontario (for those not familiar with it) so this guy is working around a state-mandated production quota. Whether production quotas are silly or not they're unlikely to go away soon as a small farmer's quota is worth millions of dollars and the dairy board can't have people blowing off the system just because they feel like it.

What I'd really like is proper regulation at a reasonable level for farms like this as opposed to treating them like gigantic industrial operations making them illegal. It would be bad if this decision allows small farms to operate without any regulation at all.
posted by GuyZero at 11:57 AM on January 21, 2010 [6 favorites]


What udder nonsense.

It's a multi-million dollar industry and one of the few remaining commercial farming industries left in Ontario that supports both huge farms as well as a lot of small family-run operations. Puns aside, it's a big deal.
posted by GuyZero at 11:59 AM on January 21, 2010


This previous thread discusses some of the health risks of raw milk.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:01 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


What I'd really like is proper regulation at a reasonable level for farms like this as opposed to treating them like gigantic industrial operations making them illegal.

I'd wonder how we can accomplish this - sufficient quality control for raw milk is clearly expensive, and I'm not sure how a small farm can afford it.

It seems that selling unpasteurized milk would be reserved only for large operations that can afford the significant overhead.
posted by OwenMarshall at 12:14 PM on January 21, 2010


The other complicating factor is that since it's raw the shelf life for raw milk, even refrigerated, is pretty short. Big business/large farms aren't interested in it because they can't charge a lot more for it and the market is pretty small and geographically limited based on the short shelf life. Small farms end up paying a lot for testing overhead.

Having drank raw milk on an uncle's dairy farm as a kid let me say that you're not going to be doing a heck of a lot of that since it's pretty rich and strongly flavoured. Cheese production is a whole separate issue that would presumably be regulated separately from direct consumer sales.
posted by GuyZero at 12:18 PM on January 21, 2010


If people really want raw milk because they think there's something awful about pasteurization, well, whatever. This seems like a reasonable court decision overturning some pretty heavyhanded nonsense. (Gunpoint? Really?)

But mass market pasteurized milk in Canada is pretty good stuff, especially the fine-filtered stuff that lasts longer in your home fridge. We don't use rBGH and other artificial growth hormones -- they're banned outright -- and the use of antibiotics is strictly regulated. Any cow receiving antibiotics has its milk dumped for at least 2 days after they stop getting medication, and milk is tested at the dairy and the processing plant to ensure it's free of antibiotics.
posted by maudlin at 12:19 PM on January 21, 2010 [6 favorites]


Thank goodness! Free at last! Now once more the people of Ontario can be free to exercise their human right to freely weigh the risk of Staphylcoccus aureus, Campylobacter, Salmonella, e Coli O157:H7, Listeria, Yersinia, Brucella, and tuberculosis against the rich mouthfeel and lack of any proven health benefit of wonderful raw milk. Best of luck to the unvaccinated children who can now enjoy raw milk again.
posted by rusty at 12:22 PM on January 21, 2010 [19 favorites]


Any cow receiving antibiotics has its milk dumped for at least 2 days

Because of the quota system in Ontario every milk farm overproduces so milk dumping is an everyday occurrence. Not to any huge extent, but it's not really white gold like those ads say it is.
posted by GuyZero at 12:25 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Having drank raw milk on an uncle's dairy farm as a kid let me say that you're not going to be doing a heck of a lot of that since it's pretty rich and strongly flavoured.

I drank raw milk as a kid and I thought it was awful. There are also a lot of diseases one can catch from raw milk - the buyer really needs to beware with this stuff.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:25 PM on January 21, 2010


You know who really wins here? Cheese makers. If he can sell raw milk, we can finally look forward to raw milk cheese in Ontario.
posted by bonehead at 12:31 PM on January 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


For the past 15 years or so, I didn't like much of the milk found in a typical grocery store - until I found Snowville Milk. Local farm, no hormones, not homogenized. Delicious stuff. (I also was one of the kids who had access to raw milk - never liked it.)

The thing is, they do pasturize their milk, at the lowest legal temperature, and like skeptic said in that earlier thread that BP linked to, "there should not be any significant difference in taste between bacteriologically safe raw milk and pasteurised milk." So why the demand for raw milk, other than for cheese? I looked at some links, but all I found was some woo-woo stuff about supposed health benefits, which actual scientific study seems to refute.
posted by HopperFan at 12:33 PM on January 21, 2010


@HopperFan
So long as there is woo, there will be a market for woo woo products. Why do you think they sell nitrogen tire pumps?
posted by mccarty.tim at 12:53 PM on January 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


E. coli is no laughing matter.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:19 PM on January 21, 2010


I drank lots of raw milk when there was a farm in the area offering it. It was downright awesome.

What's really important, of course, is to drink it when it's fresh.
posted by dunkadunc at 2:01 PM on January 21, 2010


Also: Why do they always find it so damn necessary to do all these things at gunpoint? Is seizing equipment worth that level of escalation? Is the milk producer going to pull a gat on the cops?
posted by dunkadunc at 2:03 PM on January 21, 2010


Maybe the cops were worried he'd blow up the milk stills like old timey milkrunners did.
posted by mccarty.tim at 2:04 PM on January 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


This previous thread discusses some of the health risks of raw milk.

Can someone summarize those? I read about half that thread and skimmed the rest and only saw something vague about 25% of food-borne illness coming from raw milk back in the 1930s. What exactly are the risks?

I tried some raw milk a couple weeks ago. A friend of mine owns shares of a local cow and gets milk every week. He was out of town for the week, so I picked it up for him. I didn't taste much difference from the local organic milk I regularly consume (which is all much better than what I'd call "normal" milk), nor did I notice any difference in my health.
posted by scottreynen at 2:21 PM on January 21, 2010


I'm curious: is micro-filtered or fine-filtered milk available in the States as it is in Canada and the UK? It tastes fresh from the start and stays fresh significantly longer than standard pasteurized milk.
posted by maudlin at 2:36 PM on January 21, 2010


Ok, this struck me as really odd. Growing up on a small Danish dairy farm, I of course drank raw milk, as did the entire family. The cows are long gone now, but I relish the opportunity to drink raw milk from the neighbour's farm, whenever I visit. While commercial milk (homogenised and pasteurised) is very good here (0.5% organic Jersey for me!), the taste of raw milk from pasture cows cannot be beat. Do your farmers not continually monitor their cows' health, the quality of their milk, and keep the equipment clean? Seriously, I had never (prior to this post) heard of examples of people faring ill because of raw milk, though I'm ready to believe that poor hygienic standards could pose a grave threat. Granted, I'm probably in one of the most lactose-tolerant places on Earth, but still...
posted by bouvin at 2:40 PM on January 21, 2010


My vibe with raw milk (although I have no references for it) is that it's a little like drinking the (stereotypical) water in Mexico. The locals aren't affected by it because they've built up tolerance over time but everyone else is taking a risk. Also, shelf life. Also, the occasional really bad infection that gets caught by testing too late.

The lack of Jerseys from Ontario's milk farms is also a real bummer but Holsteins are just that much more productive I guess.
posted by GuyZero at 2:52 PM on January 21, 2010


Man, I wondered what happened to him after he retired from playing third base for the Phillies.
Smuggling milk. I wonder if his Dodge Charger (the Lord Edmonton) has a black and white Holstein cow skin pattern with a Union Jack and Maple Leaf chevron on the roof and honks out "Ontari-ari-ari-o" when he jumps culverts, no name creeks and ravines ... I'll stop now
posted by Smedleyman at 3:00 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've actually been researching where to find raw milk here in my area, because i recently stumbled on instructions on how to make homemade mozzarella, which sounds heavenly to use on our homemade pizzas. That said, I'm not that interested in using it raw -- I've also been reading up on pasteurization, which apparently is as easy as "put on heat for a while", although with a few more guidelines than that. Apparently what I'm wanting to avoid for quality curd formation is homogenization, which often happens as part of the whole "process this milk" thing.
posted by hippybear at 3:28 PM on January 21, 2010


I'm generally not against raw milk consumption, assuming consumers are aware of potential risks, and as long as people producing the raw milk are doing so in small sanitary batches, but I also really don't see the point in drinking raw milk.

I'd prefer to see regulations on making sure bottled water has some minimal safety standards. I'd also prefer to see the government start raiding those massive unsanitary slaughterhouses that produce tons of bacteria-infested meat.
posted by jabberjaw at 4:18 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Because of the quota system in Ontario every milk farm overproduces so milk dumping is an everyday occurrence.

Umm where did you get the idea that a quota system causes milk to be dumped and that every farmer on a quota system overproduces? If that were the case then we wouldn't need "Incentive Days" when the whole province is under quota. Is milk dumped rarely in some quota systems? Sure, in the immature ones. Others run a quota derivatives exchange so that milk is never dumped.

The "new thing" in dairy farmer is feeding pasteurized milk to calves or acid treated soured milk to calves. The "new thing" for some consumers is to drink raw milk. I don't care how careful a farmer is, at some point their wash system will not work 100% and there will be a bacteria spike that will show up on the standard plate count test. Do you really want to be drinking raw milk on that day?
posted by sety at 4:25 PM on January 21, 2010


Bouvin, unpasteurized milk has been linked to many serious diseases in the past including high infant mortality (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1139684/pdf/medhist00068-0055.pdf), as well as various forms of food-born illnesses. In more recent history, raw milk being produced by small scale farms has lead to numerous outbreaks.

"Although the risk of milk-borne disease can be minimized by inspection and good hygiene at the dairy, these activities alone are insufficient for several reasons: there is no way of insuring the health of the animals between inspections; visual inspections cannot identify incubating cases or carriers; not all pathogenic organisms can be routinely detected; there is a delay of at least a week before the test results are known; sampling is usually done at the time of shipment, so that by the time the results are known the product has already been distributed; and errors by the laboratory are possible."

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1863339/pdf/canmedaj01368-0012.pdf
posted by hydrobatidae at 4:27 PM on January 21, 2010


My parents used to get the milk straight from the bow tank. It was very rich (lots of fat), and you had to shake it before pouring if you didn't want chunks of fat on your cereals. The cows were Holstein. It didn't taste significantly better than the store-bought milk.

I there is a larger difference between milk from Jersey cows (smaller cows who produce less milk, but with more protein) and milk from Holstein cows (huge beasts, champion producers, but less protein) than there is between raw and pasteurized milk. Can anyone confirm this?
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:22 PM on January 21, 2010


Hippybear: regular from-the-store milk makes excellent mozzarella (cheese curd, really, but there's no practical difference). You don't need anything exotic or to risk any nasty diseases. Seriously! The curdling process works on the milk proteins. None of the sterilizing techniques break it, I don't think. I haven't tried with ultra-pasteurized, but normal homogenized and pasteurized milk works great.
posted by rusty at 7:28 PM on January 21, 2010


I've had raw milk and I really can't say I was all that impressed with it. I could not distinguish it from pasteurized non-homogonized organic cream line milk available from my local dairy.
posted by humanfont at 7:41 PM on January 21, 2010


Mmmm, bovine tuberculosis.
posted by XMLicious at 7:46 PM on January 21, 2010


Can someone summarize those? I read about half that thread and skimmed the rest and only saw something vague about 25% of food-borne illness coming from raw milk back in the 1930s. What exactly are the risks?

This comment was insightful, in my opinion. Listeria, TB, and Brucella are all serious pathogens that can sicken and kill.

Raw milk does make excellent cheese, but doesn't enforcing a longer aging process help aid in controlling pathogenic bacteria?

Eating aged raw milk cheese seems to be a different matter from drinking raw, unpasteurized milk, so it seems important not to conflate the two products when discussing food safety.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:55 PM on January 21, 2010


I seem to remember that you need raw milk to make butter...but I don't remember if the milk was boiled first. I was very young when my hippie, commune dwelling, whole-earth reading parents decided we needed a cow. I do know that anything the kids drank was heated up and I think filtered through something before it was stored, so it's possible that the butter and cheese was also made from boiled/filtered milk as well.

I don't think anyone but the cats drank anything straight from the cow.
posted by dejah420 at 8:06 PM on January 21, 2010


I grew up on raw milk and any milk that is 2% or less tastes like chalk water.
When small farms supplied milk to the marketplace, sanitation at individual farms varied greatly. My Dad's milk always tested lower for bacteria at the farm than the normal bacteria level for milk in the market, after pasteurization. There were some farms back then that I wouldn't feed their milk to the pigs.
posted by Jumpin Jack Flash at 8:16 PM on January 21, 2010


I don't think anyone but the cats drank anything straight from the cow.

You must have had very patient and loving cows. Or else they had highly insensitive teats.

(Now I remember drinking milk from my uncle's dairy farm in Sherbrooke when I was a kid. We city kids couldn't stand the WARM milk, but I don't know how much it was processed. There was some sort of metal contraption for the milk in a shed separate from the barn, so the warmth may have been fresh-from-the-pasteurizer, not fresh-from-the-cow.)
posted by maudlin at 9:02 PM on January 21, 2010


But I like the pus.
posted by Evilspork at 9:41 PM on January 21, 2010


I had raw milk once, staying on a friend's farm. It was Holstein milk, and was the most wonderful milk I ever drank. I'm not much on drinking milk, and love the convenience of ultra-pasteurized milk that doesn't require refrigeration.

As for cheese, as far as I know, non-pasteurized is the norm here in Switzerland. I don't see the Swiss dropping dead from dairy-born diseases, and I suspect the Swiss eat more cheese than your average Wisconsonite.
posted by Goofyy at 9:48 PM on January 21, 2010


Cheese made from raw milk is usually considered safe from pathogens after 60 days. Nothing is perfect and people certainly have gotten sick from improperly handled cheeses, but, if done right, cheese more than 2 months old should be reasonably safe for consumption.

Lots of people don't like it, but raw milk cheese is legal for sale in Canada with that provision.
posted by bonehead at 10:02 PM on January 21, 2010


The issue that stands out for me in this case isn't whether raw milk will make you sick or not. It's the idea that farmers in Ontario are legally forced to treat their farms like factories.

I recently read about a farmer in Ontario who was selling free-range turkey, but he was limited to a small number of birds on his farm (50?). Any more that that and the law said he would fall under the edicts of the Turkey Farmers of Ontario and the birds had to be indoors for their entire lives.

Many more local farmers might want to join the free-range/organic/slow-food movement in greater numbers if the law wasn't telling them they couldn't at a volume where they might actually make money.
posted by thecjm at 10:29 PM on January 21, 2010


maudlin: that stainless steel thing was probably a bulk tank, which we called, in French, a "bow tank". In it, the milk is stirred and cooled until the milk truck comes.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:37 PM on January 21, 2010


I think the biggest deal with raw milk isn't that people can't get raw milk, but that the law blocks that lady down the road with the five cows from selling her milk around the neighborhood because she can't afford a pasteurizer.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:42 PM on January 21, 2010


dunkadunc: How is that a bad thing? To me, this just protects her neighbors from illness.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:44 PM on January 21, 2010


Those bulk tanks look interesting, Monday stony Monday, but they seem a lot larger and simpler than what I remember, which was a relatively small unit on a high shelf that was plugged in and Did Stuff. Probably a small pasteurizing unit, maybe 1/3 the size of this one. But I'm sure there were bulk tanks on the property, too, as my uncle had a pretty large herd and was producing milk for sale.
posted by maudlin at 11:10 PM on January 21, 2010


It doesn't seem woowoo to me to say that there are certain portions of milk that are drastically altered by pasteurization and homogenization.

Of course some of those substances are pathogens, but some vitamins, enzymes and the natural flora of the milk are also taken out.

There does seem to be an inverse relationship between allergies and infrequent drinking of raw milk as cited here

Another take on this, is there may be some, as-yet-unproven benefits to drinking raw milk, and if we take this choice away from people, where are we going to get any data?
posted by psycho-alchemy at 1:11 AM on January 22, 2010


You can make butter from pasturized milk. You just can't make butter from homoginized pasturized milk. A relative of mine has one milking cow and produces just enough for the family -- they send it off to be pasturized but not homoginized, and then the cream will still separate.
posted by jb at 4:40 AM on January 22, 2010


What I was really upset about is that another friend was forced to start pasturizing their apple cider. It changed the nature of the cider completely -- it would not ferment in your fridge any more, and so you couldn't get it to be sour and fizzy the way I loved it. It was like drinking thick sweet apple juice -- yuck.

Now i understand that there were some minor dangers from dirty apples, but these were very rare. Adults should be allowed to take some risks -- we allow cars on the road despite their deadly nature, we allow tobacco to be sold, but don't let an adult choose whether they want to drink unpasturised cider? I have no problem with big labels marking out all the risks. I might not give raw cider to a small child, though I drank it every year when little with no ill effects. But an adult should be allowed to have fizzy cider if they want to. (also, I'm thinking the acid might kill the bacteria -- it is turning to vinegar after all.)
posted by jb at 4:51 AM on January 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


It seems woo-woo because the supposed claims are still relatively unproven, but people act like it's a cure for numerous things, including cancer and autism.

For example, one of the claims is that raw milk has something called "competitive exclusion," where enzymes in it will hinder/kill pathogens. No one can seem to agree on the studies that have been done so far, see here and here for some examples.

Do I think people's access to raw milk should be denied? No, of course not - but like jabberjaw said above, "assuming consumers are aware of potential risks, and as long as people producing the raw milk are doing so in small sanitary batches."

Also, the pages promoting raw milk seem breathless and oddly similar to the "no vaccinations!" folks. Like this quote "It’s truly a nutritional superfood! All these different nutrients in real milk are together for a reason – because each piece of the puzzle fits together just how God intended in order for our bodies to best assimilate it all."

And now for the cats and cows...

"I don't think anyone but the cats drank anything straight from the cow.

You must have had very patient and loving cows. Or else they had highly insensitive teats."

No no no, the cats and kittens stand around meowing while you're milking the cow, and every now and then, you send a shot straight into their mouth. They love it.
posted by HopperFan at 5:13 AM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Experts are predicting this decision could have wide ranging effects on the rights of consumers to choose what they purchase and eat.

This is a decision by a Justice of the Peace, and will certainly be appealed, so the operative word in that sentence is "could". A similar case is now in the BC Supreme Court. That decision will will be more authoritative.
posted by Neiltupper at 5:32 AM on January 22, 2010


Enjoy the taste of snakeroot in your milk do you?
posted by Pollomacho at 6:10 AM on January 22, 2010


Adults should be allowed to take some risks -- we allow cars on the road despite their deadly nature, we allow tobacco to be sold, but don't let an adult choose whether they want to drink unpasturised cider?

I think I agree with you on cider but in the case of milk there are some serious communicable diseases like tuberculosis that can spread if there isn't pasteurization and other public health measures.
posted by XMLicious at 8:19 AM on January 22, 2010


but I also really don't see the point in drinking raw milk.

Ever had a chance to smell a male goat? Whelp that's what the pasteurized stuff in the dairy section of the supermarket shelves tastes like to me after drinking it fresh from the udder. And, have to agree with pasteurized cows milk tastes like chalk water after drinking it raw for awhile.

I wouldn't worry too much about consumers en mass switching to raw, at $17.50 a week (plus 1 cow share) for one gallon of milk, people's wallets will make the choice for them.
posted by squeak at 8:22 AM on January 22, 2010


Around here unpasteurized cider can only be sold at the place where it is produced. Which makes sense to me, as the risk is from spoilage, which is made much more likely during shipping and storage for resale. It's a hassle for people who press their own cider, but it mainly just means you can't do unpasteurized cider on a large scale.
posted by rusty at 9:07 AM on January 22, 2010


Ever had a chance to smell a male goat?

You aren't milking the male goats again are you?
posted by Pollomacho at 9:14 AM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Whelp that's what the pasteurized stuff in the dairy section of the supermarket shelves tastes like to me after drinking it fresh from the udder. And, have to agree with pasteurized cows milk tastes like chalk water after drinking it raw for awhile.

In that case, I do see a reason to drink raw milk, and am somewhat titillated. I am aware of that chalky milk taste you reference, and can taste a difference between, say, organic and nonorganic milk. I think our local Whole Foods sells raw milk in glass bottle, so I may just try it.

I'll let you know if I get TB.

Hooray for informed decision-making. Sorry if you think I'm putting you all at risk.
posted by jabberjaw at 11:58 AM on January 22, 2010


Funny enough, organic milk is almost universally ultra-pasteurized to extend its shelf life. In terms of post-milking processing organic milk is almost universally more processed. (Note: I haven't seen every single bottle of "organic" milk out there but for grocery store organic milk it's true)
posted by GuyZero at 12:03 PM on January 22, 2010


I worry less about unpasteurized milk and more about limited source milk. As these issues go hand-in-hand, I think I will hold off for a bit on the raw.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:14 PM on January 22, 2010


You aren't milking the male goats again are you?

heh.

I'll let you know if I get TB.

sarcasm detector is on the fritz

I dunno ... the reality is even if x (produce, meat etc) is regulated with all its checks and balances there are no guarantees that I won't get sick from buying it at the grocery store vs a chance I will if I grow it myself ...

eh, life is risky.
posted by squeak at 6:50 PM on January 22, 2010


Around here unpasteurized cider can only be sold at the place where it is produced. Which makes sense to me, as the risk is from spoilage, which is made much more likely during shipping and storage for resale. It's a hassle for people who press their own cider, but it mainly just means you can't do unpasteurized cider on a large scale.
posted by rusty at 12:07 PM on January 22 [+] [!]


You are lucky then -- in Ontario we lost that freedom. The friends in question did not run a large orchard and only sold their cider directly - not from their farm, but from a farmers' market the day after pressing. But spoiled cider is just what I want -- lovely, fizzy, sour, spoiled cider.

Which is a completely different story from milk. I think I still might stand by the idea that adults should have the freedom to do risky things like buying raw milk (thinking again of alcohol, tobacco and driving), but certainly only with very large warnings so that they could no do so in ignorance of the threats. Selling raw milk unlabelled or with deceptive ideas of the danger should definitely be illegal.
posted by jb at 9:33 AM on January 23, 2010


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