Dairy group fails to show for raw milk discussion

GUELPH, Ont. —Dairy Farmers of Ontario was a no show at a raw milk symposium held in Guelph April 21.


Two members of the organizing committee, Art Hill and Mansel Griffiths of the University of Guelph’s food science department, had the same response to the absence.


“They had their reasons.”


Ontario dairy farmer Michael Schmidt said he was pleasantly surprised with the symposium but disappointed at the dairy group’s absence.


The raw milk advocate has been attempting to find a legal means to market unpasteurized milk in the province for years.


Sylvain Charlebois, an economist at the University of Guelph, said Canada’s dairy industry suffers from a lack of flexibility.


“Supply management needs to be reformed and one reason is raw milk. It’s such a rigid regime that there’s no room for innovation,” he said.


“By not showing up today is really disappointing, but they didn’t come because it got political.”


Charlebois, who was raised on Quebec dairy farm, doesn’t view raw milk as a hazardous food. Having heard the various presentations during the symposium, he said there’s enough science to move toward sales in Canada.


The DFO did not respond to calls concerning its absence .


Catherine Donnelly, a nutritionist at the University of Vermont, said state legislators view the raw milk market as an opportunity for young farmers, local food production and economic stimulus.


However, she said the Vermont dairy farmers who supply the pasteurized milk market have a different view.


“They actually feel threatened by raw milk for cheese production and raw milk for direction consumption,” she said.


Donnelly said raw milk sales were banned in Vermont in 1987 when the Food and Drug Administration raised concerns about disease path-ogens. 


The decision was reversed in 2008, and quality and safety standards and marketing limits were introduced the following year.


Ben Chapman of North Carolina State University said the United States has no consistent policy about raw milk sales. 


Direct farmer to consumer sales are allowed in 30 states, some states have cow and goat share agreements and raw milk is carried in retail stores in 12 states.


He said he has heard of situations in which raw milk is sold as pet food to get around prohibitions.


Chapman said a recent survey in the U.S. found that 3.5 percent, about 10 million people, reported they had drunk raw milk over the past week.