APRIL 2018 • COUNTRY LIFE IN BC Raw milk advocates take case to Victoria

US institute, crowdfunding will fund three-year research project


advocates met with the province’s agriculture minister and her staff in late February in the ongoing effort to legalize sales of raw milk in BC. Mark McAfee, an organic

dairy farmer and founder of the Raw Milk Institute in Fresno, California, along with Joanne Whitehead of the Centre for Biomedical Research at the University of Victoria, policy analyst Brianna Lake, and farmers Alice Jongerden and Catriona Dits gave BC agriculture minister Lana Popham a binder of data three inches thick supporting the safety of raw milk. “[We] spent over an hour

speaking with staff [and] the agriculture minister,” McAfee said while speaking to a gathering of about 30 people organized by the BC Herdshare Association at UBC’s Faculty of Land and Food Systems. “She took us very, very seriously.” The meeting isn’t the first meeting with the agriculture ministry regarding raw milk. Jackie Ingram, co-owner of Home in the Range Organics in Vancouver, collared former BC premier Christy Clark in a restaurant in 2011 and landed a meeting with then-minister Don McRae. McRae encouraged the

creation of the BC Herdshare Association, which occurred in 2014 and a meeting with former agriculture minister Norm Letnick followed. The association also met with the BC Dairy Association, which expressed support for raw milk sales “if herdshare farmers were trained in on-farm food safety systems such as CQM [Canadian Quality Milk], so that outbreaks would not occur.”

Jongerden, whose Chilliwack farm was in a running battle with Fraser Health Authority between 2007 and 2010, said the data Popham received showed that unpasteurized milk is safe. “We showed them the science that it was low risk,” she said. “When we’re talking about milk meant for consumption that’s handled properly, it’s a very safe food.” The next step will be

delivering local research, something UBC researcher Xiaonan Lu has agreed to do. “We have professors now

that are going to be working with us and funded through the Raw Milk Institute and fundraising coming through you,” McAfee said. A crowdfunding page for the BC Fresh Milk Research

Project was set up in August 2017 with a goal of $150,000; no funds have been raised to date.

Research Current plans call for a

three-year research project demonstrating raw milk’s safety. It builds on existing work with Jongerden’s farm, which was the first dairy in Canada to register with the Raw Milk Institute, follow its food safety protocols and remit regular test results documenting bacteria counts. Three other dairies in

Canada participate in the program, all in Ontario, as well as 11 in the US. There are four in Europe set to join. McAfee established the

Raw Milk Institute in 2010 and in partnership with California state authorities developed a food quality protocol for raw milk producers. “We created the first international standards for raw milk,” he said. Raw milk remains tightly

controlled, with sales across state lines prohibited and containers required to bear a consumer warning, but business is such that McAfee’s dairy – Organic Pastures Dairy Co. – has become the largest raw milk dairy in the US. It makes 95% of its revenues from raw milk, which commands $150 a hundredweight, and the remainder from sales of butter, cheese and other products. A milking herd of 570 animals pastured on 500 acres supplies the raw ingredient, which McAfee claims is completely different than milk intended for pasteurization. “There’s two types of raw

milk: raw milk for pasteurization and raw milk for human consumption, and they’re not the same,” he said. “These guys over here have no test for pathogens at all; they don’t care; it’s going to get cooked. … With us, you’ve got some kid over here that’s going to be drinking this tonight and you don’t know what their immune system is like and you’d better be on your game.” Organic Pastures flash-chills its milk shortly after harvesting to improve storage life. McAfee says clean raw milk can stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to three weeks before it sours. Cleanliness is also

important. Organic Pastures separates its cattle into groups of 20 and samples are taken from each group. The milk is held until lab tests assess its cleanliness. Clean milk then


Raw milk advocate and dairy farmer Alice Jongerden with a contented cow. FILE PHOTO

proceeds to bottling while any milk with low-risk pathogens is used for butter or cheese. Any milk that tests positive for bacteria such as E. coli O157:H7 is sold to an organic dairy that buys milk on the spot market and pasteurizes it. “[It’s] very expensive, not

cheap, but we nailed it,” said McAfee. “If there is a problem, it doesn’t get out because we’ve got it contained. Because we already know before it goes.” However, that’s not always

the case.

The lab the dairy employs found no trace of salmonella

in milk that state authorities recalled in 2016. A few months earlier, inspectors discovered campylobacter during a routine inspection of the dairy. The bacteria also triggered a recall in 2012, while E. coli was the cause of a recall in 2011. McAfee is undaunted,

saying raw milk speaks to a desire among consumers for connection. “We don’t sell raw milk. We

sell a relationship,” he says. “It’s a relationship of healing and trust and love and all those other things that come together in a big package.”

This is where the value lies

for producers who are facing tough times in the US. Declining fluid milk sales in Canada point to declining value here, too, he said, describing raw milk as a trusted, viable alternative to corporate products. “There’s hundreds of little

microdairies in this province providing milk under moonshine conditions,” he said. “It’s time to do it legitimately and stand up and be proud of world-class raw milk, and you can do it as good or better than anybody else.”


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