by Hilary Butler
25 Harrisville Road, Tuakau 2121.
22 November 2011.
Food Policy Team
Biosecurity & Food Directorate
Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry
PO Box 2526
As an ex dairy herd tester and someone who spent many early years on a dairy farm, I know from personal experience that the unpasteurised milk, butter and cheese cannot compare in flavour, texture and nutritional value, to pasteurised products. The only useful legislation in terms of dairy farmers is the currently required standards of hygiene, and regular check testing of supply, but that’s been done for years now. So long as farmers meet those regulations, what is the issue.
I know all the theoretical “horror” stories of bacterial contamination…, and would like to point out that most of the problems, such as listeria in immune suppressed pregnant women and immune suppressed elderly in this country do not come from raw milk or cheese, but from delicatessens in commercial shops who have passed the so-called hygiene standards yet sell contaminated processed meat, fish and salads. These are products likely to have zero milk in them in the first place.
So why target raw milk on the basis of “safety”? As a dairy herd tester, I know exactly what is in milk. Out of personal interest, on the farms I tested on, I didn’t just test cows. I tested every sort of milk that farm had out of interest, and for comparison sake. So I got to test cows, goats, horses, humans and even… sheep. All are very different with different profiles, and all have a lot to offer raw. It’s also notable to me that in overseas countries which have human breast-milk banks, there is a preference NOT to pasteurise human milk. Why is that? Because some of the most useful and important ingredients in breast milk are destroyed as part of pasteurisation. The same applies to cow’s milk. Or any other pasteurised milk. Something that is deliberately overlooked in this discussion. Since it’s not something you will be particularly interested in, I will leave that topic alone.
In all my years in the past, as a dairy herd tester going once a month to different farms to test the milk, I never had to work in a shed which was so filthy, that the conditions lead me to think, “Eeuuuwww, I’d not want to drink THAT milk”. Farmers aren’t stupid. The farmers I worked for, want to have good reputations and make a living, and be respected in society. I can’t imagine that shed “hygiene” would be any less today, than it was in 1980, because every bad daily test costs the farmer money.
One of the cleanest sheds I ever tested in was a timeless walk-through shed with no yard, no fences, old Gerber machines, run by a retired couple of brothers. Their cows came by themselves, and walked up to milk on being called by name. I was amazed – and taken aback - at it’s “basicness” and simplicity, and yet – of all the sheds I went, this shed was the cleanest of them all. My only problem working there was slimey Jersey cows noses physically investigating everything around my car and trailer resulting in the need to fence off my car and trailer….
The one shed I hated testing in the most, was a very advanced rotary shed, where my chances of being “shat” on, was a regular nightmare.
But in health terms, pasteurisation, does not necessarily mean “better”. In terms of cheese for instance, pasteurisation certainly means to me, “bland” and “uniform”. And there is no doubt in my mind that the body is far more able to ”use” unpasteurised milk and cheese, than pasteurised. I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve met who can drink unpasteurised milk and eat unpasteurised cheese, but goods bought from the supermarket cause problems.
The reason I like drinking unpasteurised milk, and eating unpasteurised cheese, is because both taste so much better. By comparison, shop bought is “thin”, lacking body and character. Value for money it is not…., in my opinion. Pasteurised altered and mangled dairy “acceptable” to most, because they know no different. Some commercial milk is SO thin, and bears so little resemblance to “real” milk, that’s is a wonder how people get conned into parting with so much money for something that tastes like white water.
When we lived in the country, the children loved their unpasteurised milk and cheese, but when we shifted into a city, they could taste the difference, and would NOT drink milk. They only drank it “concealed” or, when we were able to access “the real thing”. It wasn’t until organic whole milk started to be sold (albeit it pasteurised – NOT homogenised…) that the children started drinking it again regularly.
Wherever I am, I give preference to buying unpasteurised dairy of any sort, and believe that any attempt to fetter the ability of people to go to a dairy farmer, and buy raw organic milk direct, would be a denial of freedom of choice enabling intelligent people to live their own lives in their own way.
I don’t believe there should be any limit placed on the quantities bought at any one time, because in order to make butter and cheese your minimum useful quantity is 20 litres.
That doesn’t matter for people on a lifestyle block with a jersey cow, because they can then collect milk every day, but if you are in a position where you have to go and get it from a farm every day, setting any limit lacks common sense.
Most of us who chose to go to farms and collect raw milk understand the issues and the benefits, which is why we chose to do this.
And a final question: How many of us raw milk drinking New Zealanders have you heard of, filling up the aisles of the publicly funded hospital system with diseases because chose to drink raw milk?