With proper training and strict risk management procedures, raw milk farmers can meet or exceed the most exacting safety standards set for pasteurized milk production.
So why is raw milk banned in Canada?
Two Types of Raw Milk
Published studies of milk produced by conventional dairies show frequent positive tests for pathogens. Laws are based on the assumption that it is therefore impossible to produce raw milk that is safe for human consumption. However, the recent development of production methods designed to ensure safety in raw milk for direct human consumption shows this assumption to be false. When we talk about raw milk, we MUST distinguish between raw milk intended for pasteurization and raw milk intended for direct human consumption.
Conventional Milk Produced for Pasteurization
At CADA, we do not advocate anyone drink unpasteurized milk from a conventional dairy farm. Unfortunately, it is true that this milk may be unsafe to consume. This milk might be produced where there’s lots of manure, inadequate udder preparation, or a less-than-spotless milking parlour. With even one of these factors, there’s a higher risk of contamination. For example, many conventional dairies don’t wash and dry udders or strip out fore-milk prior to milking, but only apply teat-dip. This not only leaves udders contaminated with manure, but also contaminates the teat dip. To be clear, CADA is not advocating that this type of raw milk be legalized.
Raw Milk for Direct Human Consumption
Canada is only one of five countries worldwide and the only G7 country to have a total ban on raw milk. This means that the vast majority of countries worldwide have found ways to produce raw milk to an acceptable level of risk. All foods have some risk.
In Europe, Germany has developed particularly effective safety regulations. In the United States, the non-profit Raw Milk Institute (RAWMI) was founded in 2011 to advance the cause of safe raw milk by bringing together a collegium of experts to determine the most important factors in ensuring raw milk is prepared so it is safe to consume by humans. This group of medical doctors, epidemiologists, nutritional consultants, veterinarians, food safety scientists, raw milk farmers and raw milk consumers developed the Raw Milk Institute Common Standards, first released in 2012.
Safety Standards for Raw Milk
NOTE: RAWMI uses a ratio based on the equivalencies from the Canadian National Dairy Code to convert individual bacteria count (IBC) to standard plate count (SPC), a conversion factor of 0.41. For instance, 12,000 IBC = 5,000 SPC.
Evidence of Safety
Tests of raw milk samples and population-level outbreak statistics are evidence that raw milk can be safe to consume provided appropriate production methods are followed.
California has just over 39 million inhabitants; almost the same as the entire population of Canada. There, raw milk is sold in grocery stores, at farm markets, and from farms directly. California has not had a raw milk outbreak since 2016. And the last “outbreak” of illness from raw milk in 2012 consisted of fewer than one illness per 1,000,000 persons.
Data from the CDCs National Outbreak Reporting System (NORS) shows that per-capita raw milk-related outbreaks have been steadily declining.
Since 2011, when raw milk training began to be available, up to 2021, there’s been a 68% decrease in outbreak rates.
Test results from RAWMI-trained farmers show that with proper training and strict risk-management procedures, raw milk farmers can meet or exceed the most stringent safety standards set for pasteurized milk. In other words, raw milk can be as safe to consume as any other food.