Maybe, just maybe, we’ve heard the last of raw milk crusader Michael Schmidt, who wants consumers to be able to legally buy raw milk so he and others can sell it directly to the public for $5 or $6 a litre. He’s been permanently barred from selling or distributing raw milk. That milk could be contaminated with bacteria, including Brucella species, Campylobacter jejuni and the like.
Soon after I started writing these column 32 years ago, dairy farmer Michael Schmidt was in the news charged with selling raw milk. The Durham-area (Grey County) farmer was determined to fight for farmers’ rights to explore niche-market opportunities for raw milk and consumers’ rights’ to choose. He’s been through the court system numerous times and just won’t adhere to the law.
Schmidt has musical talent and is a conductor and should have heeded the popular Bobby Fuller Four 1965 song titled, “I fought the law and the law won.”
And here’s another piece of advice that shrewd dairy farmers already know: You NEVER sell milk to strangers who stop by your farm asking to buy raw milk. It will get you in big trouble with the law. Of course, Schmidt and other like-minded raw milk advocates who sold raw milk were looking for the expected publicity and for support from the public.
What has been missing in news reports on why it’s illegal to sell unpasteurized milk is that the raw milk debate wasn’t started by Schmidt. It was started 129 years ago in 1889 by a brave woman whose child died from drinking raw milk.
It was the farm women in the early part of the last century in Canada who supported the move to require milk pasteurization. The Women’s Institute acted on the advice of farm mother Adelaide Hoodless. It is ironic that the Women’s Institute now has been silent on why it should not be legal to sell raw milk to consumers. They don’t voice an opinion or a concern.
Hoodless (Feb. 27, 1858 – Feb. 26, 1910) was a Canadian educational reformer who founded the international women’s organization known as the Women’s Institute.
She was born on a farm south of Kitchener, at St. George, Ont., the youngest of 13 children. When her infant son died in 1889 from drinking impure milk, she devoted herself to the betterment of education for new mothers. She learned that had she boiled the milk she gave to her son, he would not have died. She campaigned for the pasteurization of milk, became president of the Hamilton branch of the Young Women’s Christian Association and taught classes in home economics.
The Ontario government listened and mandated the pasteurization of raw milk. But not until 1938, almost 50 years later and 28 years after Hoodless died. It would be irresponsible if the government now allowed farmers to sell their raw milk directly to consumers just as they won’t allow ungraded eggs to be sold in stores.
I was raised on low-fat pasteurized milk. My mother, who was a nurse in Holland, always let a container of raw milk sit overnight in the refrigerator and then skimmed the cream off in the morning. Some of the cream was used for coffee. The milk was boiled in a double boiler.
We drank lots of milk and buttermilk and it was always home-pasteurized. We never drank raw milk. Mother knew drinking raw milk could be deadly. Unpasteurized milk has been one of the most dangerous sources of contamination since the beginning of time.
Some folks say they remember their father or grandfather milking cows by hand and saw brownish oozy stuff from the teats go down with the milk into the pail. People drank that milk, they’d say, and they didn’t get sick. They were used to it.
Yes, and why did people die at a much earlier age back then?
Raw milk advocates consider pasteurization an outdated practice. They claim modern management techniques and the big elaborate dairy barns have reduced risks of raw milk consumption to a safe level. Sure, farming practices have changed dramatically, but so have the pathogens that can lurk in raw milk.
Good husbandry practices do not guarantee the safety of raw milk.
Raw milk can be contaminated with bacteria, including Brucella species, Campylobacter jejuni, Coxietta Burnetti, Escherichia coli, Enterotoxigenic Staphyloccus aureus, Listeria monocytogenes, Mycobacterium bovis, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Salmonella species and Yersinia enterocolitica.
Better to be safe than sorry.
Maynard van der Galien is a Renfrew-area farmer and agricultural writer.