On 10 December 2014 a Campaign for Real Milk, which is a project of the Weston A. Price Foundation published an article by dairy farmer Julia McKay about her raw milk model in Australia. Julia's article documents her ethical farming practises on her organic farm in Bungonia, NSW on the southern tablelands. Her pastures were highly plant diverse and fertile and she was already doing calf at foot dairying like British pioneer Fiona Provan. She describes in the article that her unpasteurised milk was regularly tested and she notes the financial advantages of her revolutionary old-fashioned model.
In another article published just three weeks before the first "Killer Milk" article appeared in The Herald Sun, Julia shares more about her herd share model, a model that have become popular in the United States. Listen to her interview below:
Now the Australian system has destroyed her vision... A vision of doing dairy differently that is thriving in other countries but now prohibited in Australia.
Julia is in the news this week for being fined a total of $28,000 and ordered to pay professional costs of $25,000 according to this news article. What could possibly have justified such an excessive fine? More importantly, is it fair?
She was running a herd share operation until 2015 when NSW Food Authority investigated her organic farm and shut her down. According to the news article, the NSW Food Authority claim that the herd share arrangement can constitute food for sale under the Food Act and that the milk exceeded acceptable microbiological limits for standard plate counts and Listeria.
This is another classic example of why we need a regulated raw milk industry and why the lack of a system with production standards are setting raw milk producers up for failure. Consider the following:
Early 2014 the Food Safety Agency in the UK decided to acknowledge that there is a market for raw milk and strong support for consumers to be allowed to make informed choices. The FSA's preferred approach at the start of a public consultation was to strike the right balance between allowing consumer choice and protecting public health (source).
Today the regulations allow for the production, sale and distribution of raw milk to consumers via the farm gate, the raw milk vending machine at the farm gate, at farmers markets and also via courier service.
High standards and good testing regimes before the milk is provided to the consumer are at the heart of its success. This system is supporting both raw milk producers and consumers well and allows for innovation. For the last two years ARMM have published many stories demonstrating that it can be considered a fair and dignified system.
The FSA is also surprisingly involved in reconciliation with the ethical food community. At a recent event in Gloucestershire where ethical food advocate Joel Salatin and raw dairy farmer Christine Page addressed the audience, Nina Purcell of the FSA spoke on how the agency would like to hear from the public about what "pain-points" they have with the system. She spoke of perhaps setting up an expert advisory group to look at this sector to help get the regulatory change right. The FSA recognises that there are still some shortcomings. Watch the video here.
Food Safety Australia New Zealand and other state regulatory agencies in Australia are still very much in denial about raw milk for human consumption. They still maintain that raw milk may potentially contain dangerous pathogens. They consider raw milk a high risk food.
Surprisingly, New Zealand went against FSANZ recommendations and scaremongering and updated its regulations for the production and distribution of raw milk in March 2016. In the article below ARMM recommends that FSANZ withdraw its flawed risk assessment, and replace it with broader safety studies like those done by FSA.
The raw milk supporter
Demand for raw milk is not going away. The consumers mind is made up because they have become educated about raw milk. They have seen the overseas examples and many have had a taste of it. They want their dollar to vote for the food and the food production methods of their choice. Calls for it to be legalised and regulated will also continue because dairy farmers cannot make a living in the current Milk Crisis. Just this week the Country Women's Association Victoria called on state and federal governments to allow the sale of raw milk for human consumption (source).
Risk can be mitigated if regulated fairly
At last year's IAFP Raw Milk Debate Dr. Joseph Heckman and Dr. Ted Beals made it clear why no food can be made 100% safe. All food has risk. They also argued the injustice of targeting raw milk and expecting it to have a perfect safety record when all other food are allowed to have a manageable risk.
A few years ago pasteurised cheese was linked to the death of two adults and a child in Australia. Jindi cheese was up and running again after only a few weeks with the assistance of the health department. There are many regulated foods that cause illness or death but they are not met with the same scepticism or vitriol as raw milk. Why not regulate raw milk to mitigate the risk and make it available to those who choose to consume it?
Another example of how lack of rules or restrictive rules can set up a raw milk industry for failure is the state of Oregon in the USA. Oregon allow dairy farmers to milk three or less cows and sell the milk from the farm gate. Challenge number one is making a profitable, viable business with three cows as the limit. The other problem with this system is that farmers have no government guidelines on how to produce safe raw milk. It was all up to each individual to research on their own and learn the hard way, making expensive or dangerous mistakes. There was a virulent e.coli outbreak in 2012 that sickened 20 people from a dairy whose milking procedures and handling were described as filthy. It landed kids in hospital. It was played out in the media for months. The media went into a frenzy because they had justification to show that raw milk can be dangerous.
This was a valuable lesson for many Americans. As a result of this and other outbreaks from states with no government support structures, dairy farmers and consumers set up their own organisations to arm farmers with productions standards, an expectation of testing or best practise guidelines. One such organisation is the Raw Milk Institute. If raw milk rules are not done in a fair way it ends up creating fodder for anti-raw milk statistics and hurting the industry.
We need a fair regulated raw milk industry to protect producers and supply consumer demand responsibly.
An article by The Northern Star asks "is raw milk dangerous?" Instead we should be asking "why be in denial that it can be produced as a safe, low risk food"? Why should raw milk producers continue to be subjected to fines in the thousands of dollars? It is clearly possible and viable to create avenues that satisfy consumer demand and enable dairy farmers to take control of their own business.
Last year dairy farmers Mark and Helen Tyler were fined $17,500 for operating a herd share arrangement. Now Julia McKay, who is a former lawyer, is ordered to pay $50,000+. Dairy farmers can't afford to pay these fines. They have to look to others for kindness, generosity and assistance.
Perhaps some dairy farmers are the most disadvantaged people in Australia. Not only can many not afford to feed themselves on a daily basis, they also have astronomical debt. According to this article in the financial year of 2016-2017 the average dairy farm owed banks $937,600.
What is wrong with leadership in this country? Stop bankrupting our dairy farmers and create local economic growth with fair raw drinking milk regulations.
Edit: Julia's fine was significantly reduced to a fifth of the original fine.