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Discard raw milk from Home on the Range, public urged

Probe finds contamination; dairy says milk safe

By Karen Moxley | The Globe and Mail

Another battle is being waged over the safety of raw milk in British Columbia.

The BC Centre for Disease Control is warning British Columbians to discard any raw milk products from the Home on the Range Dairy in Chilliwack, after an investigation by public health officials found some of the farm's unpasteurized products tested positive for fecal contamination.

Alice Jongerden runs the dairy and believes her raw milk is very safe. However, she did acknowledge contamination might have occurred at the beginning of December, when she changed her cows' bedding from sand to a product called straw dust.

"We didn't have enough bedding for about a week's time," Ms. Jongerden said. "The cows were a little bit dirtier."

Ms. Jongerden received an e-mail from a milk customer about two weeks ago, stating that the milk tasted slightly off. Ms. Jongerden began testing at that time, and found one cow with high somatic cell counts - the number of such cells increases in response to the presence of pathogenic bacteria. That cow was removed from the premises.

Home on the Range Dairy has been operating for three years, and, according to Ms. Jongerden, this is their first health-related incident.

"It makes me really angry that if Fraser Health thought there was an issue, they dared to not tell me," Ms. Jongerden said.

"Raw milk is safe to drink when it's dealt with properly. But nobody wants to help make this a safe product ... they want to ban it completely, so we have to do everything on our own," Ms. Jongerden said.

It is illegal to sell unpasteurized milk in Canada. However, raw dairy farmers avoid this obstacle by enabling consumers to buy shares in their herds. Part-owners then consume the raw milk from the dairy.

At Home on the Range, shareholders pay a one-time fee of $125, and a weekly maintenance and boarding fee of $17.50. This guarantees the customer one gallon (3.8 litres) of milk a week.

Provincial health officer Perry Kendall said Fraser Health authorities began testing Home on the Range milk products after a child, who regularly consumed raw milk products from the dairy, suffered a gastrointestinal illness. The child tested positive for bacteria commonly found in raw milk, although the child's sickness cannot directly be connected to unpasteurized milk.

"Unpasteurized milk is illegal in Canada because you cannot guarantee it doesn't have bacteria in it," Dr. Kendall said.

"Some people drink raw milk because they believe it has nutritional benefits that the pasteurization process destroys," Dr. Kendall said.

"But there is no scientific evidence that states raw milk is better."

Gordon Watson, a 10-year advocate of raw milk and the original shareholder at Home on the Range Dairy, disagrees with Dr. Kendall.

He believes that raw milk is safer, more nutritious and provides health benefits not found in milk that has been pasteurized.

He also believes there is a co-ordinated effort across North America to smear the reputation of raw milk.

"Opponents of raw milk will say there are no health benefits, but they are 20 years out of date," Mr. Watson said.

Mr. Watson said he will not stop consuming raw milk from Home on the Range because of this incident.

Dairy owner Ms. Jongerden said she would let her customers decide for themselves whether to continue drinking raw milk from her dairy.

She currently has nearly 400 customers.

"I am confident 99 per cent of my customers will continue to drink our milk," Ms. Jongerden said.


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