Federal government ponders raw milk sales

Underground market continues | Ottawa urged to develop policy to protect consumers

GUELPH, Ont. — The door may be opening to lawful raw milk sales in Canada, according to a senior official with Health Canada.


“We see possible venues in the future of producing a safe product,” said Jeff Farber, director of the bureau of microbial hazards.


It could involve a regulatory approach at the provincial and/or federal level, he added. 


However, Health Canada’s official position maintains that the risk of drinking milk that has not been pasteurized outweighs possible benefits. 


Raw milk sales were prohibited in Canada in 1991, but there’s no restriction on drinking it. In fact, statistics show that it is consumed by families on close to 90 percent of Canada’s dairy farms.


Farber said consumer interest in raw milk was low in 1991 and rejected the argument that the decision to prohibit sales was an arbitrary one.


“It’s the food industry’s responsibility to produce safe food, not the government’s. The government provides oversight and verification,” he said April 22 during the Science to Policy: Raw Milk Case Study symposium hosted by the University of Guelph’s food science department.


“We did look at just leaving the status quo (in 1991), but we got a lot of pushback from health organizations and dairy farmers.… In today’s environment, it would be very different in moving forward and in looking at a lot of different options.”


Expressing a personal view, he said other food poses a risk for Canadians that is as great or greater. The risks can be minimized through labelling, education, hazard analysis critical control point protocols and shorter travel distances for raw milk, he added.


Farber was responding to comments about raw milk sales’ current black market status in Canada.


“The raw milk industry isn’t going to go away in Canada, no matter how many farmers go to jail, so why can’t we find a way to integrate it,” raw milk consumer Margo McIntosh said.


Added Dr. Catherine Donnelly, a nutritionist with the University of Vermont: “Putting raw milk sales underground is totally counter to protecting consumers.”


Ontario dairy farmer and raw milk advocate Michael Schmidt questioned the premise of the conference, which organizers had introduced as an examination of how science is developed into policy.


“What I’ve experienced is that there’s a policy, and the science comes to support that policy,” Schmidt said.


“The issue here is, can we develop a policy of making governing of this country easier by easing off the control factor and increasing the education factor?”


Schmidt said raw milk can be marketed in many American states and the European Union and cited health professionals from Germany and Switzerland who have said raw milk provides health benefits for children and pregnant women. He also said raw milk is routinely provided in some German hospitals.


Schmidt said he has developed a list of protocols on his farm that include: 


  • maintaining a closed herd that is free of bovine tuberculosis, brucellosis and Johne’s disease

  • regularly testing his milk for quality and the presence of pathogens

  • having his premises evaluated annually by an independent dairy inspector


Schmidt continues to produce raw milk for distribution on his farm near Durham, Ont., despite recently losing a decision at the Court of Appeal for Ontario concerning his cow-share marketing arrangement.

5 Responses

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  1. rawmilkmike on

    According to these 2 US government studies raw milk actually has a negative risk factor.

    1. Raw Milk Consumption among Patients with Non–Outbreak-related Enteric Infections, Minnesota, USA, 2001–2010 by Trisha J. Robinson, Joni M. Scheftel, and Kirk E. Smith

    An estimated 17.3% of raw milk consumers in Minnesota may have acquired an illness caused by 1 of these enteric pathogens during the 10-year study period. (That’s 1.7% per year.) or (1 in 59)

    2. About 48 million people (That’s 15% per year or 1 in 6 Americans) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year from foodborne diseases, according new estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    When you look at these 2 studies you can see that the US Center for Disease Control has inadvertently demonstrated that people who don’t drink raw milk are 9 times more likely to contract a so called foodborne illness. In other words raw milk prevents 1.3 million cases of foodborne disease and 90 deaths every year in the US.

    Anyone who has switched to raw milk knows it’s health benefits in a matter of weeks. It’s safety is proven in a matter of months because the average Canadian gets this dreaded illness 4 times a year.

    If you don’t experience any health benefit stop drinking it but you are not going to find any food, drug, or hospital with a better safety record.

  2. Richard Barrett on

    Thanks to the Western Producer for this. When Health Canada says that drinking Fresh Unpasteurized Whole Milk is high risk, get the facts and you decide. Dr. Ben Chapman, an Assistant Professor and Food Safety Specialist informed us that 700,000 Canadians drink it. When I went to Organic Pastures, California site, a Raw Milk dairy, they are producing milk for 90,000 people every week. It is a Raw Milk Institute Certified farm. Check the safety by going to: http://www.rawmilkinstitute.net/about.rawmi/ There are 6 farms now Certified. Another Certified farm has 150 cows that has all their milk consumed unpasteurized. I cannot find 1 recorded death in the last 10 years from drinking the unpasteurized fluid milk. If anyone can please send me the info at [email protected] For more information go to a Canadian site: http://www.rawmilkconsumer.ca

  3. sandra on

    a quick check with the Centers for Disease Control here turned this up. Not sure you could tease out the separate info in their Canadian Stats

    Yes. Raw milk can cause serious infections. Raw milk and raw milk products (such as cheeses and yogurts made with raw milk) can be contaminated with bacteria that can cause serious illness, hospitalization, or death. These harmful bacteria include Brucella, Campylobacter, Listeria, Mycobacterium bovis, Salmonella, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, Shigella, Streptococcus pyogenes, and Yersinia enterocolitica. From 1998 through 2011, 148 outbreaks due to consumption of raw milk or raw milk products were reported to CDC. These resulted in 2,384 illnesses, 284 hospitalizations, and 2 deaths. Most of these illnesses were caused by Escherichia coli, Campylobacter, Salmonella, or Listeria. It is important to note that a substantial proportion of the raw milk-associated disease burden falls on children; among the 104 outbreaks from 1998-2011 with information on the patients’ ages available, 82% involved at least one person younger than 20 years old.

    • Richard Barrett on

      The two deaths from raw milk was from cheese from Mexico that was made in a bathtub. Please do a Research on the number of people that are drinking Raw Milk from one of the Raw Milk Institute Certified Farms that had medical problems before they accessed the Raw Milk. Please let us know if even one of them has even gotten sick since they started drinking Raw Milk. The Majority of the 2,384 illnesses was from milk that was to be pasteurized and “at least 9 deaths from pasteurized milk and cheeses between 2007 and 2013.” (Not All Raw Milk is Produced Equally by Mark McAffee)

      • rawmilkmike on

        Richard, most if not all of their so called food-borne pathogens are not really food-borne. These bacteria are everywhere. Most are part of our normal flora. These so called associations are never proven. The more I learn about raw milk the more that I doubt any of those 2,384 illnesses were actually caused by raw milk.

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