Raw milk in Australia - the facts without the media hype

by Elizabeth Beavis
Have you been following the current controversy over raw milk in Victoria? Long story short, one child has tragically died and others in Victoria, Australia, have become sick with various food-poisoning, all of them consumed raw milk, but there is no proven link between the milk and the illnesses. Details in the media are few and a bit muddled.  Nevertheless, the Victorian government has already made plans to force producers of raw milk to add a bittering agent to their milk prior to sale, so that it cannot be consumed. Now the NSW Premier has joined the discussion, and its looking like this issue could become a problem for all states of Australia. All of this before a coroner’s inquiry has had a chance to officially determine the cause of death, which may not even be due to raw milk.
eight acres: Raw milk in Australia - the facts without the media hype
Molly has raw milk to spare
Even if you are not personally interested in buying and consuming raw milk, this story has implications for everyone's right to chose what we eat and drink. Most of the media show very little understanding of the complexity of raw milk and tend to portray it as “toxic” and those who would drink raw milk as “idiots”. Personally I have seen a huge amount of misinformation about raw milk in comments on news articles, and while I may be singing to the choir here, I’d like to take the opportunity to set the record straight.
 I’m going to start with basics, so skip ahead if you already know what I’m talking about. At the end of this post I’ve put a link to a petition to legalise raw milk in Australia, please take the time to sign this petition and stand up for your right to choose.

What is raw milk?
Raw milk is the unprocessed milk received directly from the cow, just like human breast milk. It is illegal to sell raw cow’s milk in all states of Australia, although raw goat’s milk can be sold in some states. All cow’s milk is pasteurised prior to sale for human consumption. This means that the milk is heated to kill bacteria in the milk. The history of this process is complicated and I have a few conspiracy theories myself, but as far as I can find out, the original reason for pasteurisation was the ability for milk producers to keep cows in unsanitary conditions and remove pathogens such as tuberculosis and cholera prior to sale.

These days, such diseases are not a concern, however we are told that pasteurisation is necessary to prevent food poisoning from bacteria such as E. Coli and Salmonella. I think that part of the issue is that the big milk processes want to keep their business, if we didn’t all believe that milk had to be pasteurised, we could buy it directly from farmers and cut out the middleman. (supported by this article from 1938
Also, health departments in Australia generally don’t keep any statistics relating to the number of people affected by food poisoning from drinking raw milk. If the problem was so serious, why isn’t it monitored?  A US government study of reported food-poisoning cases from dairy products concluded that of the 4,413 illnesses attributed to dairy between 1993 and 2006, only 36% were due to unpasteurised (raw milk) dairy products.  That means, statistically, you're more likely to get sick from pasteurised dairy!  And yet they recommended tougher restrictions on raw milk.

Who drinks raw milk?
Raw milk is consumed by most dairy farmers and most people who keep a cow. It is true that some people pasteurise their own cow’s milk (I’m not sure why they bother keeping a cow in that case, but each to their own). It is legal to sell and buy raw cow’s milk in New Zealand, 29 states in the US and most of the European Union (except for Scotland).

In Australia, because it is illegal to sell raw milk for human consumption, there are a few farmers selling “cosmetic bath milk”. This is clearly a popular product and there is demand in Australia for raw milk, and I don’t think anyone is bathing in it!

Why drink raw milk?
Raw milk is alive with beneficial bacteria, enzymes, vitamins and minerals, most of which is destroyed when the milk is heated for pasteurisation. Raw milk is considered to be a nutritious food and many people have found that it has helped them to overcome health challenges. More info on raw milk benefits here - with lots of references.

The typical argument against drinking milk is that is strange to drink the milk of another animal. Maybe, but archaeologists have shown that milk-drinking allowed the first agricultural humans to survive crop failures, as they always had milk and milk products to sustain them. In fact, humans from Europe have evolved to be able to digest milk, so unless you have an intolerance to raw milk, its not really strange to drink it if you want to.

Why should you care?Whether or not you personally want to drink raw milk is not the issue here. I have a cow, I don’t need to buy milk, but I would like to be able to sell it (or even give it away, which is also illegal) to friends and family, especially when Molly first calves and we have 12 L per day!

Regardless of that, the things that really got me angry about this current debate are:

1. The misinformation in the media and coming from government organisations, mostly from people who have probably never in their life touched, let alone, milked a cow, and yet they profess to know more about the safety of raw milk than dairy farmers who are working hard to provide safe raw milk, or those who regularly drink raw milk.

2. The knee-jerk reaction of politicians who refuse to wait for an official inquiry to be completed. So far there in no proven link between raw milk and the child who died. It remains very difficult to prove whether raw milk was the cause, as many foods can harbour food-poisoning bacteria, including washed carrots and lettuce.

This issue is broader than raw milk, it is scary to see how the government can make decision about what you can and cannot eat or drink. If you value your freedom to make your own choices about your health and safety, you should take an interest in this discussion.

What can you do?
Raw milk supplier Rebecca Freer has started a petition on Change.org “Make Raw Milk Legal for Human Consumption”. All you have to do is click on the link and sign the petition (fill in the boxes on the right-hand side of the page). At the time of writing, there are already 2671 supporters, add your name to that list.

Email your local member and tell them that you support the right for those who want to consume raw milk to make that choice for themselves

Contact Jane Garret, Victorian Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation, and tell her to wait for the outcome of an inquiry before jumping to change regulations.

Tell all your friends (and any random strangers who will listen) the TRUTH about raw milk to counteract the misinformation coming from the media.

Share this post and the others that explain the facts (and I can’t find many, so please add more links in the comments).

Homemade Healthy Happy - Raw milk: an open letter Jane Garrett

Tammi Jonas - raw milk in Victoria - a letter to Minister Jane Garrett

Sustainable Table - Why are some people drinking bath milk

Greening of Gavin.com - Raw milk madness (from 2011, but still relevant)
What do you think?  Do you drink raw milk?  Do you want better regulation of a safe raw milk market and no more hiding behind "bath milk"?  (I don't mind discussion, but I will delete comments that are offensive)

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