The Raw Milk Renaissance
In 2011 in the U.S.A a "nutritional civil rights movement" was rising up. People awakened to realise that the American population were being made sick by highly processed, dead, sterilised, immune depressing, highly allergenic foods. The Weston A. Price Foundation contributed with educational efforts like The Campaign for Real Milk. Consumers started to search for farmers who can supply unprocessed, clean raw milk. In the search consumers became confused, because most farmers lacked training and education, and had little guidance on how to produce the low risk, pathogen-free raw milk consumers were looking for.
Farmers knew a lot about industrial dairy, but not about producing raw milk for human consumption.
Farmers and consumers started to forge alliances. It was time to embrace sound raw milk policies.
What was required?
Rational standards, farmer-friendly food safety plans and an organisational seal of approval were needed. Consumers and farmers needed the objectivity of a third party to oversee bacterial counts and food safety plans, read more about it here.
The Raw Milk Institute was founded in 2010 to develop and provide raw milk food safety standards, farmer education and farmer-to-farmer mentoring. RAWMI is a nonprofit organisation with a board that includes raw milk producers, PhD veterinarians and researchers from around the world. Americans can now enjoy having access to testing systems, expanded knowledge of biology, experience and a track record. RAWMI celebrates responsible raw milk production as America begins to repair its soil and rebuild American families’ health and immune systems.
According to the website: "The Raw Milk Institute (RAWMI) provides training and leadership through its common standards to safely guide the growing raw milk market. The process involves scientific research, farmer training, the publication of listed farmers’ test results, and continuous education.
The long track records and the fundamentals of raw milk food safety plan management, effectively demonstrated at commercial raw milk dairies, will now become available to all RAWMI-listed dairies and to consumers."
Since RAWMI was founded in 2010, the incidence of outbreaks and illness across the USA has dropped substantially. Even lawyer Pete Kennedy recently remarked on it in an interview. He confirms that raw milk consumption is on the increase and thanks to efforts to produce higher quality raw milk, incidents are considerably fewer. RAWMI has set a raw milk international scientific standard and an expectation for low risk, safe raw milk. RAWMI has become a community built from the ground up for the betterment of raw milk farmers and their consumers' safety. It is not the raw milk police though.
Risk Assessment and Management Plan (RAMP)
This concept is at the heart of RAWMI's mission. All farmers who go through the LISTING process with RAWMI prepare a RAMP plan for their farm. All the plans are different, taking into consideration the unique conditions of each farm, but the process of creating the RAMP plan is common to all. In October 2016, Mark McAfee (founder and CEO) presented a step-by-step webinar on how to write a RAMP plan, as well as the assessment process. This plan assures that, "from grass to glass", risks have been identified, explained and are continually managed, click here to learn more. Insurance carriers may even appreciate the risk management effort and allow renewal at lower rates. (Yes, this has happened for a few of the LISTED farmers.) Consumers can appreciate the added confidence, delicious flavour, long shelf-life, and the low risk profile of this kind of raw milk. It is also a standard that can be applied on any size dairy.
Test results: world class super low-risk bacterial counts
Every month RAWMI listed farmers submit their monthly “world class super low risk” bacteria counts which continue to build on previous years' data. This is the backbone of RAWMI.
One of the greatest goals is to establish a track record of excellence that can serve as a basis for peer-reviewed and published research showing that raw milk is a safe and low-risk product when done well.
All of the listed farmers have taken this challenge personally, and their test data reflects this high standard. Each year the irrefutable data mounts and grows. Another organisation, the British Colombia Herdshare Association, is following in RAWMI's footsteps by creating a track record of excellence with their B.C. Fresh Milk Project and the Grass-to-Glass Raw Milk Training.
As a fundamental resource for both the producers and consumers of raw milk, RAWMI has carefully considered and published the following guidelines and raw milk production standards. These Common Standards took more than ten months to develop and were considered, commented on, and edited by an international group of medical doctors, PhDs, veterinarians, epidemiologists, scientists, food safety experts, nutritional consultants, researchers, raw milk producers, and finally consumers.
These standards are not a guarantee of perfectly safe food. However, when followed diligently, these guidelines will dramatically reduce the risk of illness or outbreaks from consumption of raw milk and improve the safety of raw milk. The Common Standards serve as the basis for RAWMI farmer listing, and are a portal to a world of continued learning.
The production of safe raw milk is a long-term mission, never fully completed or fully perfected. There will always be something to learn and much to teach. As new information is discovered and technology evolves, these Common Standards may change to reflect that information and discovery.
In 2015 RAWMI's board of directors welcomed new member Dr. Ton Baars, A Dutch scientist with degrees in biology, social science, and grassland science. Since 2011 he has been a senior scientist for milk quality and animal welfare at the Swiss Research Institute for Organic Agriculture (FIBL). He currently spends much of his time in Poland at Juchow Farm, a 4,700-acre model farm for biodynamic agriculture, where he heads a research unit.
Dr. Catharina Berge, a veterinarian and epidemiologist based in Sweden, was one of the founding members of RAWMI. Her experience includes working directly in animal husbandry, large animal practice, veterinary animal and public health legislation, public health and scientific research. She spent 10 years in the United States performing research in dairy production on zoonotic bacteria such as Salmonella, Escherichia coli and antimicrobial resistance. Her mission is to improve animal welfare and health, while protecting public health. See her CV and publications for more information.
In addition, our own Australian dairy scientist Dr. Ron Hull helped to develop Mark's family business Organic Pastures Dairy's first food safety plan in 2007.
In 2015 RAWMI directors Mark McAfee and Dr. Cat Berge were were invited to speak at the annual meeting of the California Conference of Directors of Environmental Health. The group's members noticed the growing raw milk movement in their counties and wanted to know two things:
1. How can raw milk be produced safely?
2. Why do consumers want raw milk?
California raw milk markets have grown to be so large that the health department directors needed to have an explanation as to why consumers are not getting sick and how raw milk can be produced safely. The test data from RAWMI listed producers was presented and explained and gained raw milk the professional respect of the State of California and its directors of local health departments. It was a huge success! For more information, see Raw Milk Symposium 2015 - Mark McAfee video summary.
Mark also attended the Raw Milk Symposium in Guelph, Canada in 2016. It was a suitable conversation for producers, scientists, politicians and consumers alike.
RAWMI's presence is also strong at a variety of conferences to learn more and work with scientific communities. Mark recently attended the 14th annual International Milk Genomics Consortium held in Quebec, Canada. In this newsletter he presented some interesting take away points about the latest research into the microbiome; we need to "re-wild our gut" and biodiversity is essential to a healthy gut.
There are currently 15 listed farmers with the Raw Milk Institute. However it is important to note that there are many farmers all over America, Europe, Canada, New Zealand and even Australia who follow RAWMI guidelines but are not listed. Raw milk is now legal in 43 out of 50 American states, see the Raw Milk Nation Map and these farmers now have the tools at their disposal to provide low risk raw milk to eager consumers.
Learn more about The Raw Milk Institute:
For a more in depth presentation on the Raw Milk Institute and regulation, see the following articles:
Raw Milk Institute: