© 2010  Karen Selick

An edited version of this article first appeared in the September-October, 2010 issue of the Vista magazine.
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Raw Milk May Be Healthier

Raw, unpasteurized milk is a hotly debated subject these days.   Health authorities in Canada and some U.S. states insist it is dangerous—likely to be contaminated with salmonella or other toxic pathogens.  Yet Dr. Joseph Mercola—publisher of a highly popular online natural health newsletter—insists that it’s the only kind of milk worth drinking.


In Canada, selling raw milk has been illegal for several decades.  But you can legally drink it, provided you happen to own the cow that produced it.  A recent study revealed that 88.7 percent of Canadian dairy farmers or their families do indeed consume their own cows’ milk raw.  


In many other countries, raw milk is legally available to the public.  France and Germany, for instance, have programs that permit public health authorities to  inspect and certify individual farms as trustworthy sources of safe raw milk.


Ontario dairy farmer Michael Schmidt has approached provincial authorities on several occasions, offering to assist them in establishing European-style safety standards and certification programs.  His efforts have always been rebuffed. 


Schmidt himself has been producing raw milk for human consumption for about 20 years, making it available to a small group of Ontario consumers through arrangements called “cow-shares” or “cow-leases”.   Not a single consumer has ever become ill. 


In fact, Schmidt argues that raw milk contains health benefits that are lost when milk is pasteurized.  A study of almost 15,000 children in Europe showed significantly lower rates of asthma and allergies among those raised on raw milk.


Pasteurization also destroys lactase, the enzyme necessary to digest the milk sugar lactose.   Many people who consider themselves lactose-intolerant find that they can drink raw milk without discomfort, because the lactase their own bodies lack is supplied by the raw milk. 


Pasteurization likewise destroys phosphatase, an enzyme that the body requires in order to properly absorb milk’s calcium, magnesium and phosphorus to build healthy bones and teeth.


Ontario authorities disapproved of Schmidt’s cow-share arrangements and charged him with 19 counts relating to raw milk distribution.  A court pronounced Schmidt not guilty in January, 2010.  But provincial authorities appealed, and he faces another court battle later this fall.  


Schmidt is not suggesting that all milk should be unpasteurized, or that farmers should be permitted to deceive consumers by selling unsafe or unlabelled raw milk.  He’s merely arguing that Canadian consumers should have the same freedom of choice that consumers in other countries have.


Karen Selick is the Litigation Director for the Canadian Constitution Foundation and is Michael Schmidt’s lawyer in the appeal court.


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       November 28, 2010