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Raw-milk issue not going away

Politicians should regulate product for those who want to consume it

By Brian Lewis | The Province

As far as Alice Jongerden and those households that co-own her Home On The Range dairy are concerned, there's nothing illegal about the raw-milk production and distribution that takes place daily on the small Chilliwack farm.

Shareholders joined the micro, cooperative dairy by choice -- and with their eyes wide open, Jongerden says as she washes down the 20 Jersey dairy cows in preparation for a second daily milking.

The 365 share-holding members believe that raw, unpasteurized milk consumption offers superior health benefits that far outweigh any potential health risks that could arise from an unsanitary production environment.

Reader response to that point of view was surprisingly strong after I recently wrote about the Fraser Health Authority threatening legal action to close down this micro-dairy under B.C. Public Health Act provisions.

An overwhelming majority supported Jongerden, and some provided insight on how this issue is also growing in the U.S., where more than 30 states have now legalized raw-milk sales.

Not surprisingly, the right to market raw milk has reached U.S. courts, just as it has in Canada, and in both countries, a primary raw-milk opponent has been the established pasteurized dairy industry.

The single response I received that supported Fraser Health came from the B.C. Dairy Foundation. It said that like most uncooked, unpasteurized foods, raw milk can be a vehicle for nasty bugs and bacteria.

Fair enough, but any food improperly handled can pose a health risk and, lest we forget, this not-for-profit milk-advocacy group is funded by B.C.'s mainstream milk producers, who through Canada's marketing-board system enjoy total monopoly, quota and price control over consumers.

Raw-milk advocates say pasteurization, which was introduced years ago when dairies were not as sanitary, also destroys many of the good things in natural milk along with the bad bugs. And yes, both sides on this issue make strong supporting arguments.

However, many raw-milk advocates find that this latest response by Fraser Health "et al" reminds them of U.S. alcohol prohibition in the late 1920s, when axe-wielding federal agents smashed cases of bathtub gin. As history showed, that prohibition failed.

Ironically, in a similar fashion, local health authority officials reportedly dumped shareholder-owned bottles of Home On The Range raw milk down the drain when they recently closed several of the dairy's Lower Mainland distribution depots.

"I know B.C.'s dairy industry is big business and that some in the Fraser Valley consider us a huge threat," Jongerden says. But this baffles her.

"Raw milk isn't for everyone," Jongerden explains. "Its sales have been legal in California for 10 years now, but still only two per cent of consumers drink it."

Ultimately, I feel this issue is about market control versus the consumer's right to choose as much as it's about health. If raw milk is such a health hazard, what about sushi or raw oysters?

And why can't our governments certify and regulate raw milk as provided for under the Milk Industry Act until 1996? This would also promote small, family dairy operations.

Obviously, if the politicians had stronger backbones (drink more milk, boys and girls) it may yet happen, because, as Jongerden warns: "This issue isn't going away."

Yes, Virginia, sometimes Big Brother is really s-l-o-w.

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