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Defending the rights and broadening the freedoms of family farms and protecting
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The Great Cow-Sharing Debate

By Kate Galbraith

Article from The New York Times Green Inc Blog

You want a piece of me? (Photo: Randy Harris for the New York Times)

It’s not as luxurious as time shares or private jet shares. But the idea of “cow shares” — that is, sharing a cow to get access to fresh, raw milk — has plenty of adherents in this age of natural living.

The idea of a cow share, according to realmilk.com, is that shareholders pay a farmer to keep the cow, and are able to consume its milk without paying an additional fee.

Many people find raw milk delicious; my colleague Emily Weinstein has raved about its creaminess on the Times’s Bitten blog.

The trouble is that unpasteurized milk carries health risks, especially of bacterial infection.

Last June, a California farm stopped its cow-share program after a number of people who had consumed the raw milk became ill, including one woman who was partially paralyzed (one family promptly bought a replacement goat, according to the Daily Triplicate, the Crescent City newspaper, which also reported on state officials’ investigation into the outbreak).

In addition to a Food and Drug Administration ban on interstate sales of raw milk, many states also ban its sale within their borders, and a few, according to realmilk.com, even ban cow-sharing (which can be construed as an attempt to get around the sales bans).

New York allows 19 farms to sell raw milk, but on their premises only, according to this 2007 Times article on the legalization question.

The cow-sharing concept is currently being debated in an Ontario courtroom. According to reports, a dairy farmer is on trial for charges of illegally distributing raw milk. He had established a “cow share” program and apparently circulated his products in that way.

Raw milk is illegal to sell in Canada, though not to consume.

Michael Schmidt, the farmer-defendant, is in a fighting mood, according to the reports: He drank deeply from a glass of raw milk during a court recess.


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