A recent decision by an Ontario court that sort of allows the sale of raw milk is a bad precedent for health and milk marketing. But it reflects an old battle that has been waged on and off between those that support orderly marketing and those that want unfettered free marketing. That battle isn’t only with milk, legal battles continue in the poultry and egg business.
The raw milk decision isn’t as much about the product itself. Raw milk, that is unpasteurized milk, has been consumed as long as cows/sheep/goats were domesticated. The raw product is also used to make specific cheeses and is legally traded in Europe. But there is more to the story.
Raw milk, like any perishable food commodity, can harbor food-borne pathogens like E.col, salmonella, listeria, camplybacter etc. The longer the time between production and consumption the more opportunity for contamination. Modern food processing tries to minimize contamination through refrigeration, sanitation, anti-bacterial compounds and other interventions.
Milk has a somewhat different history as it can carry other diseases that are transferable to humans. In the past, that was due to unsanitary milk production and the presence of livestock diseases that have now been eliminated. Over a hundred years ago it was discovered that pathogens in milk could be destroyed by heating it to a certain temperature – a process called pasteurization. It proved to be so successful in reducing food-borne diseases in milk that by the 1930s, most of the western world adopted government regulations that mandated compulsory pasteurization. Those laws remain in effect to this day.
There is one side effect when you heat, freeze, boil or microwave any food product. There is a slight change in the vitamins and minerals – the change for all intents and purposes is miniscule. However, there is a segment in society that has come to believe that raw foods are so much better for human health. That may well be – humans no doubt ate nothing but raw uncooked food before they discovered fire. But I expect their lifestyle and living conditions probably made them immune to a lot of diseases that today’s over-sanitized humans are susceptible to. Of course, our human primeval ancestors didn’t live much beyond 30 years of age.
At any rate, a few people who are raw food zealots have sought out raw milk convincing themselves that it is the elixir of life and will make them live forever. The problem for them is that unless they own their own cow, finding raw milk is impossible. That’s because government regulation prohibits the sale of raw milk to protect public health. On top of that milk production, processing and sale is rigidly controlled by powerful milk marketing boards in every province. A farmer needs permits and quota production to even produce milk in this country.
Because it seemed more money could be made in a limited way by a few sales of raw milk to the zealous, attempts are made to circumvent the system. In this case, a dairy farmer offered shares in cow ownership to the public. In this way a person legally owned the cow and could legally consume raw milk from his own cow. The government and milk marketing board could not tolerate this obvious scam to circumvent the law and took the rebel farmer to court. Eventually he won his case – it’s not a good precedent for health purposes.
If the decision is upheld on appeal, it could see a proliferation of dairy cows being owned by multiple owners just to get the raw milk. This could well have a legal impact on how the milk marketing boards market milk. All it takes is one small crack in the legal wall.
Notwithstanding all that – what happens when someone actually gets sick from consuming raw milk? No doubt, there will be howls of outrage from the urban media that the protection of public health has been compromised and the government should take draconian action. History, it seems, is ready to repeat itself with raw milk. Governments would be wise to stop raw milk sales immediately, no matter the legal technicalities.