Contaminated Milk In Chilliwack

Last modified on January 6th, 2010

So, this is actually a timely story, given my recent efforts to purchase more local food. The British Columbia Centre for Disease Control has recently shut down a local Chilliwack company that produces raw (i.e. unpasteurized) milk due to contamination with faecal matter. I won’t argue whether or not that faecal matter is of concern, since I don’t know the levels that were found or how they relate. The owner of the business is obviously upset with the government interference:

But Home on the Range owner Alice Jongerden said the health agency has never contacted them with concerns, or gave them the chance to do their own testing.

“They’re missing the point. If public health had real concerns about public health they should speak to us directly — but they never did,” she told in a telephone interview.

Selling raw milk is illegal in Canada, but raw dairy coops like Home on the Range sidestep the law by allowing members to buy into their organization – making them part owners of the animals.

The coop’s 365 shareholders believe that raw milk consumption offers superior health benefits that far outweigh any potential health risks. Its products were distributed through depots until mid-December when the outlets were given cease and desist orders by Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health.

The depot shutdown has changed little for those who believe in the benefits of raw dairy, Jongerden said.

“Customers just have to drive out to the farm to get it. Shareholders are still drinking it and want to be drinking it and even though the CDC has issued warnings. Nothing is going to change. Our shareholders aren’t going to change.”

None of the farm’s customers have been sick from consuming its products, Jongerden said. She received word from a customer several weeks ago saying the milk tasted slightly “off.” After one of the farm’s 20 Jersey cows tested positive for high somatic cell counts – indicating potential bacteria – it was removed from the premises.

At the heart of this issue is whether or not the government should be able to interfere with what people eat or drink. I wanted to open up the discussion to see what people think — what do you think?

7 responses to “Contaminated Milk In Chilliwack”

  1. Tia says:

    This has been all over the news for the past 2 weeks, and last I’d read it was Fraser Health threatening action, but the CDC hadn’t stepped in yet. It’s a really tough call – on one hand, when I consume items in a restaurant/buy from a store, I want to be sure that what I am getting meets safety regulation standards. Health inspectors are there for a reason, and after working in food and beverage and the grocery industry, I can tell you some hair raising tales. That said, I don’t want to be told by the Health Authority/Government org of your choice that I cannot elect to procure/produce my own food from a farm or back yard. If I own a chicken coop, I don’t want FHA showing up and fining me for eating my own eggs, brimming with salmonella. If I am a share-owner in a cow, I don’t want to be told that I’m not allowed to do this, as it contravenes the law.

    Raw milk is a beautiful thing. If you can get your hands on it, it’s magic. It’s sad that it’s considered criminalistic to distribute it.

  2. I’m definitely in favour of government regulation of food. At least with regards to selling it to the public, but I agree with Tia that I should be able to produce and eat whatever I like if I do it myself.

    However, I think the current way the government (american and canadian) regulates food is horrendous. It only works for mass produced factory farming types of operations and over the past few years has proven to not work in the slightest. How many north american wide ecoli and salmonella outbreaks have there been in the past few years on foods like peanut butter, spinach, and tomato’s? The way the system is currently setup allows for a single point of failure to destroy the food supply of the entire country.

    The only way it can work and be sustainable is to decentralize the food industry and get more independent growers. Of course issues with food quality will pop up, but the issues will be localized and the small farm owners will have more incentive to not let it happen as their 365 person clientele would easily be able to find and use other producers.

  3. Andrea_R says:

    I ant to be able to buy my neighbour’s eggs if she has extra, without government interference. If I’m smart enough to do so because I think it has extra benefits, I’m smart enough to understand the risks of it being unregulated.

  4. Lisa says:

    I’ve never had “farm fresh” unpasteurized milk because I’m a city girl, but I can understand it’s appeal to some people.
    However, I do trust the government to shut down a restaurant if it’s dirty and the food could be contaminated, because I can’t see what’s going on behind the scenes. I would also trust the government to shut down a grocery store or similar for the same reasons. Which is interesting, since I hate pretty much everything else they do.

    Oh what the hell, if people understand that their milk might have poo in it and they are OK with that, then let them have it. Can’t say I would buy the milk again after hearing that though.

  5. Duane Storey says:

    Well, all milk and most meats have poo in them as well — they are just at the levels of poo deemed acceptable by CDC.

  6. Lisa says:

    Really? I didn’t know that there was acceptable levels of poo. But then, apparently around 17% of all American money has fecal matter on it, so I could see how food could. Especially a rump roast.

    I’m all for buying local though, I mean, it helps the place in which you live to become a better place. I would think that this business, considering it removed contaminated cows before, would be OK with making sure the levels of contaminants were suitable? I mean, unless it’s impossible to do without pasteurizing the milk?

  7. There are also acceptable levels of insect parts and all sorts of other things — because there is no way to free food entirely of that stuff. We live in the world, after all, not a plastic bubble.

    The primary reason we create governments is to keep us safe in all sorts of ways. We can discuss what that means, and where the lines need to lie, but that is their job. Regulating the production, distribution, and sale of food is part of that: a big part, because food-borne illness is what used to kill and sicken a lot of people, and still does. But I think this is an example where, as Scott noted, the regulations are set up based on an industrial food model, and they don’t work for small-production local models.

    So to answer Duane, “should the government should be able to interfere with what people eat or drink?” Yes, just as it should be able to interfere with the kinds of vehicles we purchase and ride in, the kinds of people who can call themselves physicians and nurses, and who is allowed to own and carry weapons, among other things. Is this raw-milk escapade a good example of how it should work? No.

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