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Raw milk in Australia - the facts without the media hype

Have you been following the current controversy over raw milk in Victoria? Long story short, one child has tragically died and others in Victoria, Australia, have become sick with various food-poisoning, all of them consumed raw milk, but there is no proven link between the milk and the illnesses. Details in the media are few and a bit muddled.  Nevertheless, the Victorian government has already made plans to force producers of raw milk to add a bittering agent to their milk prior to sale, so that it cannot be consumed. Now the NSW Premier has joined the discussion, and its looking like this issue could become a problem for all states of Australia. All of this before a coroner’s inquiry has had a chance to officially determine the cause of death, which may not even be due to raw milk.

eight acres: Raw milk in Australia - the facts without the media hype
Molly has raw milk to spare
Even if you are not personally interested in buying and consuming raw milk, this story has implications for everyone's right to chose what we eat and drink. Most of the media show very little understanding of the complexity of raw milk and tend to portray it as “toxic” and those who would drink raw milk as “idiots”. Personally I have seen a huge amount of misinformation about raw milk in comments on news articles, and while I may be singing to the choir here, I’d like to take the opportunity to set the record straight.

 I’m going to start with basics, so skip ahead if you already know what I’m talking about. At the end of this post I’ve put a link to a petition to legalise raw milk in Australia, please take the time to sign this petition and stand up for your right to choose.

What is raw milk?
Raw milk is the unprocessed milk received directly from the cow, just like human breast milk. It is illegal to sell raw cow’s milk in all states of Australia, although raw goat’s milk can be sold in some states. All cow’s milk is pasteurised prior to sale for human consumption. This means that the milk is heated to kill bacteria in the milk. The history of this process is complicated and I have a few conspiracy theories myself, but as far as I can find out, the original reason for pasteurisation was the ability for milk producers to keep cows in unsanitary conditions and remove pathogens such as tuberculosis and cholera prior to sale.

These days, such diseases are not a concern, however we are told that pasteurisation is necessary to prevent food poisoning from bacteria such as E. Coli and Salmonella. I think that part of the issue is that the big milk processes want to keep their business, if we didn’t all believe that milk had to be pasteurised, we could buy it directly from farmers and cut out the middleman. (supported by this article from 1938

Also, health departments in Australia generally don’t keep any statistics relating to the number of people affected by food poisoning from drinking raw milk. If the problem was so serious, why isn’t it monitored?  A US government study of reported food-poisoning cases from dairy products concluded that of the 4,413 illnesses attributed to dairy between 1993 and 2006, only 36% were due to unpasteurised (raw milk) dairy products.  That means, statistically, you're more likely to get sick from pasteurised dairy!  And yet they recommended tougher restrictions on raw milk.

Who drinks raw milk?
Raw milk is consumed by most dairy farmers and most people who keep a cow. It is true that some people pasteurise their own cow’s milk (I’m not sure why they bother keeping a cow in that case, but each to their own). It is legal to sell and buy raw cow’s milk in New Zealand, 29 states in the US and most of the European Union (except for Scotland).

In Australia, because it is illegal to sell raw milk for human consumption, there are a few farmers selling “cosmetic bath milk”. This is clearly a popular product and there is demand in Australia for raw milk, and I don’t think anyone is bathing in it!

Why drink raw milk?
Raw milk is alive with beneficial bacteria, enzymes, vitamins and minerals, most of which is destroyed when the milk is heated for pasteurisation. Raw milk is considered to be a nutritious food and many people have found that it has helped them to overcome health challenges. More info on raw milk benefits here - with lots of references, I also wrote more about raw milk here.

The typical argument against drinking milk is that is strange to drink the milk of another animal. Maybe, but archaeologists have shown that milk-drinking allowed the first agricultural humans to survive crop failures, as they always had milk and milk products to sustain them. In fact, humans from Europe have evolved to be able to digest milk, so unless you have an intolerance to raw milk, its not really strange to drink it if you want to.

Why should you care?Whether or not you personally want to drink raw milk is not the issue here. I have a cow, I don’t need to buy milk, but I would like to be able to sell it (or even give it away, which is also illegal) to friends and family, especially when Molly first calves and we have 12 L per day!

Regardless of that, the things that really got me angry about this current debate are:

1. The misinformation in the media and coming from government organisations, mostly from people who have probably never in their life touched, let alone, milked a cow, and yet they profess to know more about the safety of raw milk than dairy farmers who are working hard to provide safe raw milk, or those who regularly drink raw milk.

2. The knee-jerk reaction of politicians who refuse to wait for an official inquiry to be completed. So far there in no proven link between raw milk and the child who died. It remains very difficult to prove whether raw milk was the cause, as many foods can harbour food-poisoning bacteria, including washed carrots and lettuce.

This issue is broader than raw milk, it is scary to see how the government can make decision about what you can and cannot eat or drink. If you value your freedom to make your own choices about your health and safety, you should take an interest in this discussion.

What can you do?
Raw milk supplier Rebecca Freer has started a petition on Change.org “Make Raw Milk Legal for Human Consumption”. All you have to do is click on the link and sign the petition (fill in the boxes on the right-hand side of the page). At the time of writing, there are already 2671 supporters, add your name to that list.

Email your local member and tell them that you support the right for those who want to consume raw milk to make that choice for themselves

Contact Jane Garret, Victorian Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation, and tell her to wait for the outcome of an inquiry before jumping to change regulations.

Tell all your friends (and any random strangers who will listen) the TRUTH about raw milk to counteract the misinformation coming from the media.

Share this post and the others that explain the facts (and I can’t find many, so please add more links in the comments).

Homemade Healthy Happy - Raw milk: an open letter Jane Garrett

Tammi Jonas - raw milk in Victoria - a letter to Minister Jane Garrett

Sustainable Table - Why are some people drinking bath milk

Greening of Gavin.com - Raw milk madness (from 2011, but still relevant)


What do you think?  Do you drink raw milk?  Do you want better regulation of a safe raw milk market and no more hiding behind "bath milk"?  (I don't mind discussion, but I will delete comments that are offensive)



You might also be interested in my series on getting started with homestead dairy

Comments

  1. Hi Liz, just a few observations and thoughts. During the 70’s mum used to buy raw milk directly from a dairy, as did many others, until the farmer was forced to stop selling at the “farm gate”. This was when I was a child and the only trouble I had with the milk was from my older siblings because I used to get up early in the morning to drink the cream from the top rather than stir it into the milk. I have absolutely no regrets doing that – richest milk I have ever had.

    There is no link established between the death of the child and the consumption of raw milk at this stage, but what if the coroner’s findings turn up a connection?

    You wrote that today such diseases as tuberculosis and cholera are no longer a concern. Perhaps that is correct, I don’t have any knowledge of those diseases. However I worked with a woman who was born in Queensland and had never been overseas and she had tuberculosis and in situations requiring first aid she said she was unable to give mouth to mouth resuscitation, because she had had that condition. Also last year in hospital one of the rooms I stayed in at the hospital was referred to the nurses as the tuberculosis room as it was set up to accommodate patients with that condition.

    I don’t know any dairy farmers personally but it would seem logical that they drink the raw milk from their own cows. So if raw milk was such a health hazard why don’t we hear about dairy farmers becoming ill from it? Doesn't really add up for me.

    Perhaps a crowd funding campaign to raise funds to run an ad on TV that explains the facts about raw milk the benefits and the hazards? By hazards I mean the supplier would need to be scrupulously clean and the customer if they were buying at the farm gate would need to have scrupulously clean containers for the milk to be carried home in. But for the average person to become informed the best way is TV advertising and a marketing campaign.

    In Sarah’s (Homemade Healthy Happy) open letter Minister Jane Garrett, she writes that a concern is food freedom. But is food freedom on the agenda of the government? Aren’t the government agenda’s mostly set by the professional lobbyists?
    This is a very long comment. But it is a very thought provoking subject. Please feel free to edit at will.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Sherri! I could have written twice as much, but I had to try to pick out the most important points, so I'm glad you've raised some more.

      I think we need to wait for the coroner's findings to get the full story, and maybe they will find a definitive link, and then the government should take appropriate, considered action. Personally I think that should take the form of legalising and regulating raw milk supply, to make it as safe as possible, people are going to continue to seek it out and buy it no matter what the government does!

      As for tuberculosis, I should have said bovine tuberculosis. Previously it was a problem that cows would be sick and pass this to humans, however, Australia was declared officially free of bovine tuberculosis on 31 December 1997 after an eradication program lasting more than 20 years.

      https://www.daff.qld.gov.au/animal-industries/animal-health-and-diseases/surveillance/tuberculosis/bovine-tuberculosis-overview

      It is very difficult to spread the word about raw milk because we are basically fighting against huge corporations and government bodies that have so much more money to develop campaigns. If they just left people alone to eat and drink what they wanted, it wouldn't matter, those who wanted to be informed would find out what they needed to know.

      Thanks again for your comment.

      Delete
    2. The linkage between raw milk and getting tuberculosis from the cow was disproved in one research study I came across and can't remember where. Although there is a lot of research about that makes claim in both directions. I think it is a matter of knowing the herd from where the milk is sourced. There were a few other bovine diseases decades ago but they have now been eliminated thanks to a successful herd testing program.

      Our dairies are checked for food safety on a regular basis and farmers who supply milk to a distributer receive a report on each batch as to its quality and that is usually displayed in the vat room. House cow milkers usually have a vested interest in quality.

      Delete
  2. signed & shared from your link & not sure how many times i've done it now either, i keep signing them when they turn up on facebook.
    i've helped out on dairies in the past & even took home milk from them too, best cream ever & best milk, i don't drink milk anymore but agree that this should be the peoples choice. it's no guarantee that people don't get sick, many don't store foods right & get other contaminants in them, then wonder why they get sick.
    have a great day!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Selina, I agree, it all comes down to food handling and many different foods can make us sick if we aren't careful!

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  3. Thanks for this post Liz. I would hate to lose my access to raw milk. Have signed the petition.

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  4. I agree that everyone should have the right to choose. There are a hell of a lot more unhealthy foods (and drugs) than raw milk, provided it is properly packaged/stored/transported and of course labelled as such. I buy "bath milk" for my own consumption on occasion. While I don't see it as a nutritional cure all, I believe the places I buy it from are producing and selling it in a safe manner and any bacterial or other contamination is a low risk. I will sign the petition mainly because I believe people should have the right to choose the foods they wish to consume.

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  5. I've been watching the raw milk movement for some years now and I've always been concerned that certain small scale victorian farmers had been selling their product by using a legal loophole in that state (ie the sale of raw milk for human consumption is, and has been, illegal in all states - some vic farmers have been knowingly exploiting the loophole that allows the sale of raw milk if its for cosmetic purposes) --- I figured it was only a matter of time before the raw 'bath' milk was implicated in some public health issue and the suppliers (and thus the product) subsequently demonised and prosecuted...

    the raw milk conversations that have ensued have mostly been very muddled and increasingly hysterical (from both sides of the debate - more often than not going waaaaaaay off topic) --- I like that you have written a more sensible note!

    One of the things that has bothered me about the campaign to legalise raw milk (in the wake of the victorian experience) is that the impetus has been the attempt to close that legal loophole in victoria - Vic raw milk suppliers have openly shared the health benefits (etc) of raw milk consumption (and have known that customers have purchased their product with the intention of consuming it) while simultaneously hiding behind the facade of 'but its labelled not for human consumption' when things got a little bit sticky. For this reason, I have my doubts about connecting the raw milk movement to the operators of unregulated dairies (yes I know regulation is a whole other conversation - but that's my point)


    I welcome a push toward the creation of a legal raw milk market (those spiffy farm gate raw milk dispensers in europe are very exciting looking ventures... and I bet these folk have a lot of facts and figures about how to safely distribute raw milk...) but I accept that a legal raw milk market, like all other food-related activities, is going to mean adhering to regulations to ensure public health. I doubt that many folk currently interested in selling raw milk have the means to seriously comply with some of the most basic public health regulations... (ie daily milk quality lab tests)

    I'll continue to follow the conversation with interest --- you never know, we might end up one of the first legal raw milk farmers in this fair land :D xxx



    xxx

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment Ronnie, you bring up some interesting points. I know of dairy farmers who distribute raw milk completely illegally (ie don't even pretend that its not for consumption), so I think the people with a brand to protect are probably the safer option because they are at least selling in public! I did read in one of the media reports (so it may or may not be true) that the distributor of the bath milk in question had the milk tested weekly for pathogens. As a producer of food myself, I know I only give away or sell the absolute best quality of produce, I wouldn't ever want to be responsible for someone else becoming ill. I know that not every producer is going to think like I do, but under the current regulation, you really have to be absolutely passionate about raw milk to go to all the trouble of selling it, so I assume that these people also have high standards. Its really no different to any other food product that could be contaminated. Personally I think most dairy farmers would benefit from selling raw milk rather than being tied to milk producer contracts. There would be some extra costs to improve sanitation and do the extra testing, but then they can charge a premium for that milk, imagine getting $2/L in the hand rather than 20c! Certainly worth considering if it is every legalised.

      Delete
    2. you mention in your post that if laws are changed you'd like to sell/gift your excess raw milk --- what safeguards do you think are appropriate to enable this? (this is the thing I think is mostly lacking in the conversations about legalising raw milk sales)

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    3. I think we would have to look to the systems in other countries that are already working. I'm most familiar with the New Zealand system, which uses a risk based approach at the dairy, only allows 5L to be purchased per person and must be from the farmgate. I'm sure there are other approaches that could work too. Its not like we would be starting from scratch, with a thorough review of what works in other countries and analysis of what could work here, I'm sure a robust system could be developed. I do agree with you that a system of checks is needed, you can't just have anyone with a few cows selling raw milk with no controls, but it also needs to be appropriate to the risks involved.

      Delete
  6. We love raw milk and agree with all that you have said. It really distresses me that I don't have the right to buy raw milk but any number of people have the right to buy and inhale cigarettes. Why, if they both can supposedly kill us, one is legal and the other not.Of course we know the answer, one creates a lot of money and the other doesn't.

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  7. Ridiculous really. How many dairy farmer's kids have grown up on 'raw' milk and are absolutely fine?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Our family drinks raw jersey milk everyday, bought from our neighbour. No one should ever be able to tell me what I can and can't put into my mouth! I could never go back to the supermarket milk!

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    1. great that you have access to a reliable supply!

      Delete
  9. Raw milk is the safest food for the human body, compared to the synthetic additives they sell as safe milk. The difference is in the regulation. One has a set of regulations, the other is outlawed. So there's more risk involved in selling raw milk - but its nutritionally better food for growing children.

    Unfortunately, there are more known carcinogenic poisons in processed foods, than in raw ones - and the government regulates for the safe sale of those goods too. Their little loophole is "safe" levels of exposure. There is scientific evidence determining those levels, only no way of determining if consumers will regulate how many poisons they eat according to laboratory conditions.

    The government's ship of protection for consumers, has long since sailed. It's all about continuing the dialogue of business as usual. While I still want the right to buy and consume raw milk, my thoughts are with the family of the child who passed away. I know of another young child who died recently, in a tragic accident involving a family weekend near a water recreational area. It was an accident and yet I'm sure the parents must blame themselves. As I'm sure it must be the case for the parents who are being told raw milk was a link, in their child getting sick and dying.

    Perhaps it was the case and perhaps it was due to another unknown cause - how tragic to have to bury a child under any circumstance. My thoughts are with them.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Shops are allowed to sell cigarettes...!!! And we can't buy or sell one of the most nutritious foods? Sorry, but I'm now convinced of the Govt conspiracy and no amount of public outcry will change anything. We do need to keep nipping at their heels though, but I'm afraid to say that's about all it amounts to though, in their eyes. I'll keep milking my two lovely girls and drinking the milk.

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  11. When they talk about raw milk and bovine tuberculosis in the sense of a so-called 'infectious' disease, this, according to my research is a myth. What seems to happen is that the milk is not infectious as such, but poisoned or contaminated. Let's not forget that in the war years, in the UK, farmers used to cut corners and in so doing the milk could sometimes contain raw manure and also may have been contaminated by a pesticide. Therefore the milk was not 'infectious', it was poisoned. TB isn't a so-called 'infectious' disease; it is an expression or a manifestation of the immune system. In a sense, TB is good news, it is like a first-aid mechanism, preventing or at least attempting to isolate the poison and create homeostasis. So the problem is not an infectious issue, it is a poison issue. If raw milk is clean and untainted and uncontaminated, then is the best milk in the world because it is alive and nutritious and full of friendly bacteria. The established science of infectious TB is totally wrong; this is what I am saying. If a cow has TB, then there is a cause and that cause will be found in the environment, in its diet or in contaminated drinking water, in pesticides, even caused by nuclear pollution on the land. TB Not Infectious, John Wantling, Rochdale, UK Badger Cull - TB not Infectious
    http://www.whale.to/c/tb_not_infectious.htm%27.htm

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Thanks, I appreciate all your comments, suggestions and questions, but I don't always get time to reply right away. If you need me to reply personally to a question, please leave your email address in the comment or in your profile, or email me directly on eight.acres.liz at gmail.com

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