Small-scale ethical and sustainable farming is under pressure all over the world, especially where industrial agriculture is driving the food system. Despite this farmers keep farming because they get immense satisfaction from farming in harmony with nature. Customers love them for the nutrient-dense food they provide.
There are many conditions on the farm that the farmer can control but some cannot be helped. Farmers show amazing resilience despite fracking of farm land, land developers swallowing grazing land, regulators that make their lives hard and diseases like bovine tuberculosis threatening their livelihoods. Both the U.K. and New Zealand have TB problems. In the U.K. the badgers are the potential carriers and in New Zealand the native possums, pigs and deer are blamed.
This article shows why a systems change will help to ensure the continuation of small-scale, sustainable farming.
"Bovine TB is not the same kind of TB that humans can contract. In the past, there was
considerable debate as to whether the bovine form of TB is transmissible to humans by drinking milk from an infected cow. Most who have carefully looked into this problem have concluded that it is not, see this article. However, most agriculture officials believe that humans can contract TB by drinking milk from a TB-contaminated cow. Therefore, if you are producing raw milk, maintenance of a TB-free herd is an absolute necessity."
Bovine Tuberculosis in Australia
Australia has been free of bovine tuberculosis (M. bovis) since 2002 according to a Wildlife Health Australia fact sheet. The disease was eradicated as a result of an extensive eradication program that began in the 1970s. "Tuberculosis has never been diagnosed in Australia’s possums, even prior to eradication of M. bovis when possums were sympatric with M. bovis-infected cattle. Australia has had ongoing surveillance and monitoring programs to ensure that any incursion of bovine tuberculosis would be promptly detected."
An Australian Department of Agriculture document says that bovine tuberculosis was eradicated in 1997.
A Year on the Farm with Hook and Son
The BBC spent a year filming a new documentary series on four farms, see the trailer for the documentary series above. A Year on the Farm revealed the secret world of four British farms fighting for their way of life now in danger of being wiped out by industrialisation. These farmers struggle to keep quality over quantity produce on eaters' plates. Every week another British dairy closes, victim to economic pressures caused by mass production. Episode two is an educational journey into the issues facing a raw dairy farmer in East Sussex. The crew filmed at Hook and Son raw milk dairy.
The documentary showed how challenging and stressful the required annual TB testing is for dairy farmers producing for the raw milk market. Farmer Steve has been producing raw dairy for human consumption for ten years and all the milk from the 80+ cows are for raw dairy. The full episode can be found here but is not available to view from Australia.
In late October 2016 the farm's veterinarian visited the farm. East Sussex is a hotspot for bovine tuberculosis, which means the herd has to be checked every year. TB is a respiratory disease that can be passed from infected badgers to cattle. A micro dose of TB is injected into each cow and depending on how a skin test react, it reveals whether they are infected or not. The more a cow reacts, the more likely it is to
be infected. To learn more about the process read: Bovine Tuberculosis (TB) reactor animals.
As the crew filmed the testing procedure, a few lumps were found and five cows in total were isolated with I.R. (inconclusive reactor), which means they tested borderline for TB. These animals were quarantined to be re-tested in 60 days. This procedure leaves the farmers and all the staff with two months in anxiety over job security and over the fate of the farm. Fortunately the rest of the cows could be milked as per usual.
There are many things that can be controled on the farm but getting TB in the herd can bring a business to its knees. "On a normal dairy, even if one cow tests positive for TB, milk from the rest of the herd can still be sold. But for Steve it is catastrophic." According to the documentary, if he gets a reactor then he is banned from selling raw milk for human consumption for 4 months, which can potentially bankrupt a farmer in his particular circumstances.
In January 2017 the vet re-tested the five I.R. cows. Fortunately all were free of TB and were given the all clear for another year.
In December 2017 Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall visited Steve's stall at Borough Farmers Market in central London, where he sells raw dairy directly to customers. See the images below.
Land development threatens popular farms
A Year on the Farm's episode two also showed the tragedy of land developers threatening farm land. Hook and Son is currently doing a crowd fund campaign to make up for the grazing land being lost in the area due to a new housing development. Hook and Son is Britain's largest raw milk producer according to this documentary.
Another raw dairy farmer Charlie Wray's livelihood is under threat because of council plans to build up to 1,000 homes on green belt land. He manages a herd of 80 pedigree Jersey cows producing 200 litres of raw milk a day at Wayside Farm, Kings Langley, near Watford – he is one of only seven dairy farmers in the county of Hertfordshire. Charlie, who has farmed there
for 37 years, is concerned that his county council lifetime tenancy will be ripped up. He told the Farmers Weekly, “I have a lifetime farm tenancy agreement, which you would have thought would be worth something but if they (the council) want something for planning, that’s it. They could just give me notice like that. The village is up in arms about it.” More than 800 villagers showed up at a recent meeting and Charlie has a lot of support. Below is a video about Charlie's business from January 2016.
“Why destroy something that the village has come to enjoy? It would be a bloody shame.”
Pierrepont Farm shows resilience despite challenges
Mike and Beverly Clear have been on Pierrepont Farm in Surrey since 2006 and they have the important role of looking after this very special farm. It is in one of the England's wealthiest counties. The 130 acre farm is owned by the Countryside Restoration Trust who is the leading U.K. charity for wildlife-friendly farming. The Clears have a herd of 140 Jersey cows and most of their milk goes to European dairy cooperative Arla.
Raw milk sales via the vending machine
In June 2016 the Clears started to sell raw milk for human consumption. About 1.5% of the milk has been sold to the public through a DF Italia vending machine at the farm gate. Pierrepont Farm had been selling between 250 and 300 litres of raw milk a week with the aim to reach up to 500 litres. Visitors collected their own milk for £1.30 a litre or £2.50 for two litres. The vending machine was rigorously cleaned and refilled every morning, and was available for the public to help themselves seven days a week between 8am and 6pm. Milk was also sold at a local farmers market.
According to this article Mike explained that inspections are tougher for raw milk producers. "The Food Standards Agency (FSA) test the milk at least once a quarter and do a full dairy inspection a couple of times a year. They can also pop in randomly to take a sample, and our milk is tested regularly by Arla who could highlight something and bring in the FSA." On the FSA's random and unannounced farm inspections they test plate count test of bacteria and coliforms. In addition, the farm do private testing for salmonella, campylobacter and Listeria to ensure they are on track with quality. According to the article, in comparison, conventional farms are inspected about once every 10 years by the FSA.
Raw milk sales stopped
In February 2017 raw milk sales came to a halt because the Clear family's license was suspended after a routine annual bovine tuberculosis test. According to this article, three animals were inconclusive and the one failed the re-test. The animal was put down but a post mortem showed no lesions. Nonetheless, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) was still not saying the cow is clear of TB.
In the mean time the family did what was required of them and kept customers up to date via social media despite the frustrating experience.
On the 9th of September 2017 Pierrepont Farm announced on Facebook that DEFRA had lifted all TB restrictions from the farm. This enabled them to start the process of regaining their raw milk license. They were required to pass a dairy inspection and two milk hygiene tests.
According to this article a Facebook post announced: “Today we received some amazing news. DEFRA have lifted our TB restrictions after finding the cow we unfortunately lost did not have TB, as well as having a clear herd TB test a few weeks ago."
Raw milk sales via the vending machine resumed on the 29th of September 2017 to the delight of locals.
Dairy Farming for a Sustainable Future
In November 2013 The Countryside Restoration Trust published a beautiful educational video about all its activities called Pierrepont Farm - Dairy Farming for a Sustainable Future. It explains why British dairy farming is in crisis.
"Low milk prices caused by the near monopolistic control of the market by a small number of very large and powerful processors and supermarkets are driving farmers out of business. To stay competitive, many have intensified their operations with oversized herds, increased silage production and heavy grazing, which are turning dairy farms into wildlife deserts."
In the video the Trust delights in being able to establish that it is possible to run a commercially viable dairy operation while also caring for wildlife, sustainability and making animal welfare high priority. The farm was donated in 2006 by Jo Baker. Click here to watch the beautiful video.
Exposure of TB fraud?
In September 2016 a New Zealand documentary asked why over 80 million dollars, including farmers and taxpayers hard earned cash, is spent eradicating a disease, that by world standards, has already been beaten? According to the video Richard Prosser, who is a spokesperson for New Zealand Agriculture and Primary Industries said that he was one of those who previously believed the anecdotal wisdom that TB testing was incorrect in about 20% of cases. He now says that number is "really understated".
"We've always known... everyone's known that the TB tests weren't entirely accurate."
He said that figures that the Primary Industry collected "of all cattle that test positive following a skin reactor test - And all the cattle that test positive following a blood test - 3 out of 4 cases turn out to be false."
"We're talking about a testing regime that to my mind is manifestly inadequate."
"It doesn't seems to make any sense for a country like New Zealand that depends so heavily on primary exports to be using a test for TB that is quite frankly unacceptably inaccurate."
New TB systems required
In November 2017 a new bovine TB test invention was announced. It can detect live bacteria in blood or milk in just six hours allowing infected cattle to be identified quickly. In addition, it does not involve injecting cows with a micro dose of TB bacteria like the existing skin test does.
According to the article University of Nottingham's Dr. Cath Rees explains “The existing skin test is based on the animal’s immune response, and takes three days to produce a result."
"Our new test is unique as it is the only test that directly detects live bacteria in blood or milk and is fast, specific and highly sensitive.”
Holy Cow shut down with a 6 year ban from raw milk
A micro dairy of 26 Jersey cows in New Zealand was shut down June 2016 after just one cow tested positive for TB. The MacNeilles from Holy Cow had been selling raw milk from the farm gate for over a decade (since 2003) and never had an incident before. They were told the New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries required the herd be TB-free for five years before raw milk can be sold again (a six year raw milk ban in total). New raw milk regulations came into effect on March and November 2016.
Grosmont Wood Farm's TB reactor
Emma and Robert Robinson of Grosmont Wood Farm who have been selling raw milk at the farm gate and at farmer's markets unfortunately had a TB reactor in September 2017. They have never had TB in their herd before. It was a devastating experience for the family. Monmouthshire in Wales is considered a high-risk area. The pedigree herd is a closed herd and the family have farmed for over 100 years. The raw milk business had to close. The farm was put under restrictions, including the initial four month raw milk ban. They were waiting for another test to be carried out in December 2017 to determine a way forward. Fortunately customers have been very patient, with only pasteurised milk being sold. Click here to watch an emotional BBC video interview with Emma.
"It's an incredibly anxious time."
On the 14th of December 2017 they posted an update. Three cows tested inconclusive. She said: "it's been a long haul all feeling tired and weary". On the 31st of December they announced that the three cows tested negative. The next step for the dairy is to obtain a clear TB test in February 2018, in order to start new milk quality testing, in order to apply for a license to sell raw milk again.
These examples show how essential it is to abandon the existing TB testing regime, as it proves to be utterly unreliable and a huge burden for dairy farmers.
Make way for new reliable testing systems.
Brucellosis blamed on raw milk takes a surprising turn
In November 2017 there was a violent media frenzy as many news reports blamed Udder Milk in New York state, which is a private co-op, with news headlines like:
Many news reports were very aggressive, despite using phrases like "potentially tainted raw milk" and "may have been infected". The media whirl was turbulent... but it could not be more surprising than the turnaround of 30 November 2017. According to journalist David Gumpert's article, Pennsylvania raw dairies received a letter from the state's Department of Agriculture signed by two officials—David Wolfgang, director of its Bureau of Animal Health and Diagnostic Services, and Lydia Johnson, director of its Bureau of Food Safety and Laboratory Services.
"In effect, the letter seems to shift blame associated with at least two recent cases of brucellosis in humans from dairy producers to the vaccine itself."
Regulators have blamed Udder Milk, a distributor of raw milk in several northeast states, for one of the illnesses and threatened the firm with shutdown.
By the end of its letter, the PDA adds a second option for avoiding exposure to RB 51: discontinue immunising cows with the Brucella
vaccine. “This is especially important if theherd contains Jersey cattle,” the PDA letter says, since all the human infections thus far have “come from vaccinated Jersey cattle.”
According to writer David Gumpert, one Pennsylvania raw dairy farmer who does not vaccinate his cows for Brucella told him he was stunned by the PDA letter.
“I have never seen anything like it before in my dairy farming career. A state agricultural agency admitting that two cases of human illness have a direct identical bacterial link to vaccinations and advising raw milk farmers to stop immunizing their cattle because of this risk!”
It is very fortunate that the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture stepped up with its transparent assessment, where the CDC was blaming raw milk for the problem and saying the only solution was pasteurising the milk. Pennsylvania has enjoyed a thriving raw milk industry for more than a decade.
Brucellosis in Australia
Australia has been free from the bacteria brucella abortus (B. abortus), in both domesticated and wild animals for over two decades thanks to eradication success.
According to a Department of Agriculture online document bovine brucellosis was eradicated in 1989. That was 28 years ago.
Pressures lead to shut down of one of the largest raw dairies in Washington state (and others)
Pride and Joy Creamery is one of the latest in a series of raw dairies in Washington state shutting down. This article by A Campaign for Real Milk tells the story of Allen and Cheryl Voortman who have produced 100% grass-fed organic dairy benefitting the health of thousands for the last 10 years. Retail raw milk sales from cows, goats and sheep are legal in Wasthington state. According to the article, in February 2017, Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) and the Washington Department of Public Health accused the dairy’s raw milk of making two people ill with salmonella poisoning. A voluntary recall followed. Two other WSDA samples found shiga-toxin producing e-coli (STEC) but no evidence were produced that it was capable of making anyone sick. In September and October of 2017 more WSDA milk samples allegedly tested positive for salmonella. According to the article the Voortmans sent samples from the same batch of milk to an accredited laboratory in Idaho who found them all negative for salmonella. During this time, there were no reports of illness caused by the consumption of raw milk. In
November a Facebook post from Pride and Joy announced the end of the dairy's retail raw milk business. “The bureaucracy, financial burden and uncertainty of this business is now too much for us.”
"There is something wrong with the Washington regulatory system when one of the state’s most popular dairies is forced out of business even though its raw milk has arguably made no one sick."
The Weston A. Price Foundation and its Campaign for Real Milk have long been witness to the tactics employed by American authorities to disadvantage raw milk dairies.
"Pride and Joy is not the only Washington raw milk dairy to go out of business in recent months; since around the middle of the year three other dairies have turned in their permits. The four farms account for about ten percent of the total number of licensed Washington raw milk dairies."
Fracking of farmland
Recently a film crew went to Pemberton Farm to talk to Andrew (Andy) Pemberton about the fracking activities in the area and how it may affect the farming community in the near future. Andrew said that England is too small and too populated for fracking and that the area floods often which will cause pollution and disadvantage the local farms in the Fylde area, Lancashire. The fracking rig can be seen from the farm.
Farmers have been opposed to it for many years because there are many pristine interconnecting waterways and underground water that will be contaminated, which will quickly spread to other farms. Government seem to be completely ignorant of how this affects everyone. Even government bureaucrats, fracking operation owners and shareholders want to eat chemical-free food, right?
Consumers demand real food
Consumer demand for these foods will only continue to increase. It is now clear that new and fair systems for the production of raw milk are needed, particularly new TB testing. It is time for a reality check. It is time for breakdown and reconstruction.
We need a system change that does not disadvantage sustainable dairy farmers unfairly.
It can be challenging to understand why some have such a disregard for everything that is wholesome and balanced. Why do they try to stem the tide of positive change and the creation of new systems that benefit mankind? Why is the love of money, making profit and cutting out all potential competition the most important values for some people? Also, why are some unable to embrace a spiritual maturity and a unity consciousness that benefits everyone?