Dairy Trade Editor Weighs in on Raw Milk Controversy

This guest blog post is in response to Hartke is Online!’s request for blogs about the Michael Schmidt legal trial.

Cow Painting by Colorado artist Lee Lee

Cow Painting by Colorado artist Lee Lee

The Government of Canada Reminds Canadians
About the Risks of Drinking Raw Milk

by Anthony Kovats, Western Dairy Farmer

His name is Georgio. A wild haired Roman with an infectious smile who used to be an architectural photographer for Vogue.

We had just arrived in Rome not four months ago.

And for more than a week he was our guide, our landlord and a fast friend.

The modest basement flat we rented from Georgio’s family was anything but. Tiled in ceramic and marble with décor straight from an Ikea catalogue, my family was greeted by a welcoming basket of wine, pasta and sauce, fresh bread and coffee and three beautiful lemons form Georgio’s mother-in-law’s own tree.

It was during our second day in the flat. Georgio wanted to ensure we had a good night’s rest and everything was to our liking when he cast a furtive glance around, narrowed his eyes and came closer, his voice barely a whisper.

He asked if we would be interested in a litre of raw milk — unpasteurized and fresh from a farm just a few kilometers from the ancient city.

He had no idea I was the editor of the Western Dairy Farmer. No idea I grew up west of Pigeon Lake, mind you, he had no idea where Pigeon Lake was anyway, and that I drank raw milk most of my life.

We acquired our milk from a nearby dairy. I remember making the drive every two or three days with an empty ice cream pail and returning home with milk so fresh it warmed the container. Peeling back the lid, one could skim the thick cream from the top, or stir it in depending on what you wanted. I still remember fresh raspberries drowning in fresh cream on a hot summer evening.

Of course, I said “yes” while providing him with my business card. He smiled. Asked me if I was sure and upon my agreeing nod — pocketed said card.

He soon walked with us to the early market where sardines fresh from the Mediterranean were just stalls away from fresh bread, cheese, meats and a rainbow of fresh produce.

But the next morning Georgio was back with a soft tap at our windowed door and a litre of creamy, cool milk.

My daughter had it on her cereal that morning. My wife had it in her coffee and I heartily downed a glass. I drink my coffee black.

The milk was thick and reminded me of my youth. But it was different too. Richer than I remembered. Perhaps it was the diet. The region. But it was so good.

Of course, unpasteurized milk is a no-no in Italy hence Georgio’s paranoia. It is here too.

But what brings about this fond memory is Health Canada’s recent announcement reminding Canadians not to drink raw (unpasteurized) milk because it could, could, contain bacteria that can make you seriously ill.

Health Canada warns that several different kinds of bacteria can be found in raw milk, such as Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria, which have been linked to food-borne illness.  These bacteria can lead to very serious health conditions ranging from fever, vomiting and diarrhea to life-threatening kidney failure, miscarriage and death.

Because of these health concerns, the Food and Drug Regulations require that all milk available for sale in Canada be pasteurized. Pasteurization kills the organisms that cause disease while keeping the nutritional properties of milk intact.

The government agency also contends that raw milk has not been treated to make it safe, nor is it fortified with vitamin D.

There’s no question there have been cases of illness and death from drinking raw milk on the off chance a bacteria had infected that day’s production. But how many countless generations over countless centuries of domestication were weaned on raw milk?

How many untold millions continue, globally, with the same practice of their forefathers?

From the Steppes of Mongolia, to the Highlands of Scotland, to the dairy producer just outside of Wetaskiwin, raw milk remains a daily staple.

Now, the sale of raw milk is strictly prohibited under the Food and Drug Regulations, but raw milk cheese is allowed for sale and considered safe because the cheese manufacturing process helps to eliminate many pathogens found in raw milk.

But I would rather trust raw milk from a local dairy that I know of, as opposed to, most of the mass-produced and artificially enhanced food products we’re now dependent on.

After all, raw milk from a source you know is safer than, say, California spinach.

Anthony Kovats

Anthony Kovats

Anthony Kovats, is editor of the Canadian publication, Western Dairy Farmer. Anthony is a multi-award winning journalist with both national and provincial accolades. He is 40 years old, a former rancher and horseman who believes stewardship is not just a word, but a philosophy he teaches his eight-year-old daughter; respect the environment, use it, but do so with sustainability always in mind. This opinion editorial ran August 26, 2009 in the County Market.

See Anthony’s recent article on a trip to Rome, where he witnessed a revolt of the Roman dairy farmers against the quota system.

To see more of Lee Lee’s paintings about the “environmental unsustainability of the food machine,” click here to visit Lee Lee’s Art Studio online. Lee Lee recently finished a series of paintings inspired by the American Food Machine, and the environmental impacts of conventional agriculture. The work is inspired by her 13 month old son. When he arrived, the preservation of the natural world became a pressing concern to her as an artist. As she started feeding her baby son, she became very frightened at how America “nourishes” our children. These two concerns have become intertwined and inseparable.  Her “Reap” series is set to be shown in October in St Petersburg, FL. She sent this link to Hartke is Online! because she aspires to have the images engage a wider audience. Please contact Lee Lee if you would like to arrange a showing of her work.

This post is part of the Real Food Wednesday blog carnival, to see other bloggers ping, patter and twitter about real food, visit Cheeseslave blog.


  1. Sam Burns says:

    I am going to Wisconsin & Michigan and would like to visit some good cheese makers along with sausage makers. If any one could give me some suggestions, it would be greatly appreciated.

  2. Kimberly Hartke says:

    Posted on the WAPF Facebook page by Lorraine Robinson Carlstrom, with her permission, I am adding it to this blog:

    I have been following the Michael Schmidt case involving the raw milk cow-share program. I was shocked to hear that our Canadian government used such force and spent tax- payers dollars on such a case. We need to re-examine the legalization of raw milk in this country. This is an issue of freedom of choice and the right to farm.

    What we really need to do is to get back to locally and properly raised animals that are on organic grass fields. Then we combine this with our sanitary milking practices. Then we offer Canadians a choice to buy raw or pasteurized. We can buy raw chicken, spinach, oranges, pork and eggs. Why not milk? Are Canadians really free?

  3. Nancy Webb says:

    Be a local hero, buy local food. The planet and the people would both be healthier if we lived by that quote. What young prairie child didn’t grow up drinking fresh milk? The vegetables came from the garden, the meat from the barnyard, and the bread from the oven. As a family, we worked hard, but life was simpler. A trip to the grocery store was once a month, not every couple of days. You lived within your means and nobody went hungry.
    Our pre-packaged environment comes at a cost to everyone. The packaging pollutes the earth and the additives and chemicals pollutes us.
    Take a step back and realize that the best foods don’t come in packages, they don’t come from factories and mass production. The best foods don’t have labels. They don’t have ingredient lists.
    This article was beautifully written and gets to the heart of the matter.
    The market sounds like something everyone should have on the corner. We may not have access to fresh sardines but we all have access to a local farmers market. And if that is not local enough, we can all grow a tomato plant on our patio. Time to get back to the earth, the times when you knew what you were eating, you knew where it came from. We need to take ownership of our diets, our health and our planet.


  1. […] in Rome, get raw milk from landlord Jump to Comments This account of raw milk drinking in the city of Romulus and Remus comes to Bovine readers via Kimberly Hartke’s blog and is written by  Western Dairy Farmer […]

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