Not having access to raw drinking milk have been a painful experience for many Victorians since all raw milk for sale was ordered to be tainted with a gag inducing bitter agent to discourage consumption. This was on 28 December 2014 by Minister Jane Garrett, then new Victorian Consumer Affairs Minister (more here). Raw milk was previously sold as 'bath milk' and was labeled 'not for human consumption'. It was the only legal way for Melbournians and country Victorians who don't own a cow to access quality, unprocessed milk directly from the farm. It was clear to consumers that many of these dairy farmers knew how to produce high quality raw milk meant for human consumption because many of the brands had a long shelf life, sometimes up to three weeks. This milk had been available on the market in Victoria for around ten years. It was routine for many consumers to visit their local health food store or a farmers market to pick up their raw milk. The Australian Raw Milk Movement estimates that weekly sales of ‘bath milk’ in Victoria stood at about 17,000 litres per week in 2014 (source). That's a lot of milk!
It has been stressful for many consumers to be without what they considered a wonderful food for over two years. There have been some sources of raw milk on the black market in Victoria but due to government crackdown many had to stop selling.
ARMM still advocate for a regulated raw milk industry because not all raw milk is the same. Read Two kinds of raw milk. We want to be able to legally access safe, long shelf life raw milk.
Consumers want natural wholesome food from the family farm. They don't want unreasonable hinderances, unfair meddling or food safety excuses when they know that a raw cow's milk industry can work well in Australia. We have a raw goats milk industry in four Australian states that work well. We also want to make sure that a raw cow's milk industry is not over-regulated to the point where consumers and farmers are frustrated by nanny state interference (example). Consumers want to make sure that dairy farmers AND consumers benefit from regulation. These people don't want to be frustrated by government overprotection and industry bias against raw cow's milk (more here).
Since ARMM came together early 2015, raw milk supporters have seen a lot of educational articles and overseas experience with raw milk. We have learned many things:
Consumers already know that raw cow's milk was produced in Victoria under license up until 1990 and in South Australia until 2003 (source). This was known as a town milk license. This was only 13 years ago.
Consumers have seen many examples of raw milk industries from around the world. We've read personal stories about how raw milk save small scale dairy farmers. Being able to sell raw milk direct to the consumer means they can keep doing what they love despite the low farm gate prices for milk (more here). We now know that Australia is behind the rest of the world in creating legal avenues for access.
Consumers have seen the despair Australian small scale dairy farmers are in. Many cannot make a living selling their milk to the processor. Many have made heartbreaking decisions to sell off their beloved cows and walk off the farm (more here). We now realise the potential benefits of raw milk sales.
Consumers have watched closely as New Zealand created new raw milk regulations late 2015 with increased access and unlimited supply in mind (more here). We have watched the regulators, regulations and seen the New Zealand consumer's response.
Consumers have also learnt that Melbourne is said to be the food allergies capital of the world. They've learnt that research shows raw milk consumption reduces the risk of allergies, asthma, eczema, ear infections and colds when children drink raw milk (more here). Australian children now have the highest rate of food allergy in the world according to this article. Raw milk is obviously a valuable food when produced to highest standards.
What do Raw Milk consumers REALLY want? Part 1
Consumers mainly want to enjoy the benefits that naturally arise from having fair access to raw milk. This series of articles highlights a few considerations based on local and overseas examples.
Direct relationship benefits of Raw Milk
Consumers want to be able to have a personal, direct relationship with the farmer because of its benefits. The act of labelling a raw dairy product is simply not satisfactory. It does not enable the consumer to access the kind of information they seek. It does not enable them to participate or influence what goes into the creation of the product. Consumers want to know how and where the raw dairy product was produced so they can make value judgements on the quality. They want their consumer preferences to influence better farm management. Consumers have questions about animal welfare, sustainable farming and other ethical considerations. Consumers want to be able to ask for improvements like organic certification, a 100% grass-fed assurance, animal welfare certifications or the removal of soy or grains from the animal's diet. They want to know if anti-biotics, chemical fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides are used on the farm. Compassionate consumers want to hear and see for themselves the humane treatment of the animals and be assured that they are well cared for. Consumers want to attend events where dairy farmers teach children about where their food comes from.
Only the individual dairy farmer has this story to tell.
Consumers want to promote the growth of communities around future raw milk producers. We want "consumer connected" raw milk producers to take individual responsibility for providing the highest quality raw milk for our families.
Concerned consumers in Australia also want to make sure that we permanently dispose of a middle man. The Wyoming Food Freedom Act state that food may be sold as long as there is only a single transaction between a producer and informed end consumer, no middleman allowed. The raw milk system in the UK is good example of how regulation have ensured that the dairy farmers and the consumers have a direct relationship and both parties enjoy the benefits of it. The direct sales invite trust in the quality of the individual dairy's products. The result is loyal, happy customers and contented, informed dairy farmers. Grosmont Wood Farm is a fine example.
Crawford's Farm in Ireland is a another fine example of how this direct relationship can evolve and become deeply rooted in meeting the particular needs of the consumers. Organic Pastures dairy in California is another example. The owners of the dairy are deeply involved with their community via farmers markets, educational programs, on farm activities and other social interactions. Raw milk producer Mark McAfee, who have been producing it for 17 years and whose raw dairy is sold in 700 retail stores in California say, quoted from this article:
“It’s a living, breathing complete food chain, from grass to glass, and it’s important for us to manage all elements of that food chain because we don’t want somebody right in the middle of it to take the profit, or the nutrition, or the feedback we get from consumers.”
“I see a trend being driven by consumers that demand whole nutrition. They are sick and tired of getting sick on milk and they want to get healthy on milk and that’s exactly what is happening now and it’s a trend that’s going to continue.”
Mark also says that a committed relationship with his consumers has continued to be the driving force in his business. Raw milk is not only good for the consumer, it is good for business:
“Let the business model be simply, ‘Let’s take care of people and connect to people,’ and that has grown into a very, very popular brand.”
“That’s what drives us at a very spiritual, deep level that we won’t ever give up because it is about the consumers, and about the farm to consumer relationship, and about how much value they have in this product for their families.”
“Get to know your farmer. Get to know your food.”
Organic Pastures dairy have also been doing their annual Camping with the cows event for the last 5 years. This year over 600 people converged on the farm to participate in farm activities like milk chugging contests, sack races and a chance to see the new milking operation and to learn where RAW MILK comes from. To find out more see this video and this article. Below is a truely inspirational video sharing the activities.
An Australian example of the direct relationship:
A farm in the Huon Valley in Tasmania landed in hot water in November 2016 for providing the opportunity and filling the demand for consumers to enjoy the direct relationship with the farmer and with what they consider real food. Huon Valley Caravan Park received a visit from Don Sandman from the Tasmanian Dairy Industry authority who handed them a document titled "Unauthorised Sale of Raw Milk". The self-sufficient farm had been involving the patrons of the park to enjoy farm activities like feeding the animals, milking the cow, sheering the sheep, a working dog demonstration or if they are lucky, the birth of a cow. On milking days they would offer the opportunity to have a small sample of fresh warm cow's milk, with parental approval. They love showing children where their food comes from. Rowen Carter, who runs the caravan park say that everybody is amazed at how sweet and how nice the raw milk is. He says they don't sell the milk because it is illegal in Australia. However now the Tasmanian Dairy Industry Authority deem they have been selling the milk by the fact that the tourists have paid to stay in the park.
Rowen is now at risk of losing his business. In the days following this story there have been a storm of criticism against government. Thousands of comments have been made in support of this farmer on social media. Tasmania Talks radio station's Brian Carlton was inundated with calls from Tasmanians frustrated and furious with government for their interference.
Consumers want to enjoy the experience of a direct relationship with the farmer and the great food that come from these small family farms.
Consistent quality and long shelf life
Consumers want quality controls on the production of their raw milk. They want production standards, testing procedures, educational resources etc. to ensure the small scale dairy farmer take responsibility to produce only the best raw milk possible. The cold chain should be preserved all the way to the consumer. We have great refrigerated technology that support the sale and delivery of raw goats milk in four Australian states that can be extended for raw cow's milk.
Consumers want consistent low bacterial counts and consistent supply from the farm. Seven days is a realistic shelf life for most high quality raw milk but a long three week maximum shelf life raw milk can be achieved under certain controls. If you want to learn how to maximise shelf life see this article under the heading 'shelf life'.
Rural revival and jobs
Regulating the sale of low risk raw milk will provide an effective avenue for small-scale farmers to access markets and sell their products directly to consumers. Australian raw milk supporters expect raw milk to bring new life to local economies because we have seen rural revival in many overseas examples. In this article Mark McAfee (chairman of the Raw Milk Institute) say:
"Whenever raw milk is produced for human consumption, life springs forth, jobs are created, and there are healthy, happy cows and people. Raw milk brings new immune strength, new life in the economy, and new hope for a better world. Consumers give farmers feedback about flavour and animal treatment. Pastures are green and farmers are well paid and loved. Well-paid farmers hire workers, invest in infrastructure and spend money locally."