The right to pour your own milk
Albertans looking to drink a glass of raw, unpasteurized milk hold empty glasses in the eyes of the law.
The pasteurization process was added to the Canadian Food and Drug Act in 1991, and detailed the prohibition of selling or buying raw milk. However, the Canadian Food and Drug Act does not say that drinking raw milk is illegal.
Dietician Ariane Fortier, of Dairy Farmers of Canada, says pasteurization has minimal impact to the nutritional value of milk, and is in the interest of protecting public health.
“Pasteurization is a heat treatment aimed solely at eliminating pathogenic microorganisms that can be found in raw milk,” said Foriter.
“Pathogenic micro-organisms can be present in raw milk and they can cause health problems ranging from ordinary headaches to abdominal pains, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.
“In extreme cases, miscarriage and death can result, as reported by scientific literature throughout the world.”
The Government of Canada has proposed changes to the current legislation with the introduction of Bill C-36, an act intended to respect the safety of consumer products.
Bill C-36 passed its second reading in the Canadian Senate Dec 2, 2010. A date for a third and final reading has yet to be determined.
This bill will have most impact to the Hazardous Products Act, but it will also affect the choices about what we set out on our tables at meal times and how it got there
“Bill C-36 proposes prohibiting the manufacturing, importing, advertising, labeling, packaging and selling of consumer products that represent an existing or potential danger to human health or safety,” according to the Government of Canada website.
Bill C-36 doesn’t mention any degree of industry involvement in the development of such procedures.
The government will have the power to ask manufacturers and importers for test or study results on their products. This fact ultimately means warrants won’t be required to confiscate products or enter a farmer’s property.
Yet, contrary to the proposed legislation a consumer-driven movement to return to ‘natural food’ is growing the demand for raw milk.
Cow Share Canada’s Michael Schmidt is lobbying the federal and provincial governments to legalize unpasteurized milk.
“Bill C-36 is a disaster,” said Schmidt.
“One needs to understand that there is a huge dairy industry that is restricted to the processing plan and that farmers are worried that they’ll lose their market share by selling raw milk.”
He predicts the matter will be solved in the court of public opinion.
“Either the government will back off and say on the one-to-one farmer level that they have no business as long as raw milk is not distributed through stores,” said Schmidt. “But if they want to grow the market like California and Germany, a compromise will have to be made.”
SAIT culinary instructor Michael Allemeier said the flavour profile of raw milk cheeses is different than cheese made of pasteurized milk, and he chooses raw milk whenever the opportunity arises.
“Every producer takes pride in what they do, and no one wants to take the risk of putting out a bad product and ruining their brand,” said Allemeier. However, the quality and procedures of producing unpasteurized milk should be regulated, he said.
“The discussion is so one-sided, so swayed towards government and mute to industry,” said Allemeier, who wants more producers involved in regulations discussions.
“The whole dairy industry is so subsidized,” he said. “It should be less government, and more common sense.
“There are a lot of frustrations in our food chain.”
Janice Beaton, owner of Calgary’s Farm restaurant and Janice Beaton Fine Cheese, believes in providing consumer choice.
“People are interested in raw milk instead of pasteurized as much as people are interested in different milk types to cope with lactose allergies or intolerances,” she said
Beaton said there is ambiguity amongst cheeses as to what pasteurized actually means, and there should be legislation to protect the uninformed consumer.
“To me, it’s all about milk quality,” she said. “If you dig back far enough, you can see that there are more cases of sickness with milk that has been pasteurized than not.”
She believes the proposed bill will remove the consumer’s choice in what they put in their mouth.
“It’s too Big Brother for me,” said Beaton.
“A lot of people don’t take responsibility for the choices they make.”
She believes in informing consumers to the risks and rewards of each product rather than removing that choice all together.
Federal minister of Health Leona Aglukkaq was not available for comment.