An interesting read! Published in London’s Daily Mail on July 28th, 2014 by GRAHAM HARVEY. One can only hope that Australia will follow suit some time in the near future!
The conspiracy to stop us drinking real milk: Unpasteurised milk is tastier AND healthier, say devotees. So why has it been banned from our shops for so long?
Many people seek out un-heat treated, un-homogenised and un-skimmed milk, as it’s been drunk for thousands of years. A couple of times a month I make a short, slightly furtive trip from the hills of Exmoor, where I live, to the low-lying Somerset Levels. After the horrors of the winter floods, the Levels are now at their sparkling best. The fields are a lush green and the hedgerows ring with birdsong. But I’m not here to enjoy the view. I’m on a mission. I take a quiet lane and park outside a remote farm. With a pounding heart I slide open the door of a small shed and step inside. Feeling a little like spy George Smiley I push money into the box on top of the fridge and open the door. Inside are row upon row of bottles containing a white liquid. This is what I’ve come for, the purpose of my mission. I’m one of a small number of people who think this stuff is something of an elixir. But to buy it we’re made to enter a kind of subterfuge with the producer.
What I’m talking about is milk, cows’ milk. Not the cheap, white liquid you get in supermarkets. I mean the real stuff. Un-heat treated, un-homogenised, un-skimmed and generally un-mucked-about-with.Milk just as it comes out of the cow, apart from a little chilling. Milk as it’s been drunk for thousands of years. To the Government this stuff’s only slightly less dangerous than crack cocaine. For years they’ve done their best to stamp out the demand from poor, demented souls like me. Bottles of it are made to carry a health warning about the risk of harmful bacteria. Shops aren’t even allowed to stock it. To get hold of it we small band of devotees have to find a dairy farmer willing to sell it to us.
Bottles of milk straight from the cow are made to carry a health warning about the risk of harmful bacteria Since we make up just two per cent of the milk market we can hardly be said to constitute a keen demand. So there aren’t too many dairy farmers willing to go through the hassle of bottling up small quantities and selling it from the kitchen fridge. Not to mention the extra health and hygiene checks they have to go through.
The dairy industry – represented by Dairy UK – has expressed ‘disappointment’ over the relaxation of the rules, warning darkly that the wider sale of raw milk may cause ‘significant food safety issues’. However, the Government’s now had a change of heart. Following a public consultation, the Food Standards Agency says consumers should be given wider access to ‘raw’ milk. Soon shoppers will be able to buy it from shops right across the country. For fans like me this is good news. It’ll make buying what we consider to be a nutritious and healthy food a lot easier. But whether the Government knows it or not, the changes are likely to have more far-reaching effects. Freeing up the market for unpasteurised milk could give a real boost to dairy farming and improve the quality of the product. Ironically — as I’ll explain — it’s the draconian regulations on the heat-treatment of milk that have done much to degrade this once highly-valued food.
Not everyone’s happy about the relaxation of the rules. The dairy industry — represented by Dairy UK — has expressed ‘disappointment’, warning darkly that the wider sale of raw milk may cause ‘significant food safety issues’. For generations of public health officials the pasteurisation or heat-treatment of milk has been the bedrock of their belief system. The campaign to have all milk pasteurised is looked back on as one of the great public health advances of the 20th century. And it’s easy to see why.
In Victorian times milk could be pretty filthy stuff. Much of it was produced in ‘town dairies’, with cows shut up in cellars and fed on oilseed ‘cake’ and hay. Sometimes distillery wastes were added. Hygiene was virtually non-existent. In the streets milk was ladled out from open buckets. The magazine Punch grimly joked that London would have to wait ‘for a February with five Sundays to be able to get a clean glass of milk’. Health campaigners seized upon heat treatment as the solution. It would kill all harmful bacteria. The first city to get pasteurised milk was New York in 1893. A plant was built by Nathan Strauss, whose daughter had died from tuberculosis contracted from milk. When the process was introduced in London a few years later, it was claimed to have reduced by half the deaths of babies from infantile diarrhoea. But pasteurisation also had its critics. Heat treatment destroys vitamins, kills beneficial bacteria, ‘de-natures’ milk proteins, changing their chemical composition, and destroys the enzymes that aid digestion. Some saw it as a ruse by the dairy industry to stop infected milk — from cows kept in unhygienic conditions — going sour so it could be sold.
Pasteurisation also has its critics. Heat treatment destroys vitamin and kills beneficial bacteria, they say. At a 1923 conference the physician to the Royal Family, Lord Dawson of Penn, warned that ‘pasteurisation could never make bad milk into good milk’. The late Queen Mother is believed to have insisted on raw milk from the Ayrshire cows of the royal herd at Windsor. Opponents of pasteurisation argued that a better solution to the disease threat would be to clean up production. This could be achieved by improved hygiene standards and better practices on the farm.
Enter an innovative farmer-inventor called Arthur Hosier. He devised a revolutionary system for producing healthy milk. He kept his cows out on pasture all year round, cutting the disease risks associated with keeping them in sheds for part of the year. He designed a mobile milking platform through which cows could be milked out in the field. It was equipped with generator, refrigeration plant and vacuum pipeline to take the milk direct from cow to churn without coming into contact with the air.
In the late Sixties there were more than 100,000 dairy farmers in Britain, most of them producing milk from grass-fed cows.
Hosier’s friends thought he’d gone off his head when he bought a big stretch of Wiltshire downland and covered it with cows; this at a time when many dairy farmers were going bust. But the intrepid pioneer went on to make his fortune by selling high-quality, unpasteurised milk direct to the public. Out in the open air, his cows stayed remarkably free of disease — including TB, which was rife among dairy herds of the time. His milk was certified so pure by the county medical authority that some was sent direct to London hospitals for patients too ill to tolerate everyday milk. If the whole industry had followed this lead we might all now be enjoying locally produced, grass-fed milk everywhere in Britain. Recent research shows this kind of milk is healthier and more nutritious than milk from cows kept in sheds and fed on maize and soya meal. But compulsory pasteurisation put an end to it. Whatever the quality of the milk, it could now be made safe by heat treatment. The way was now clear for industrial-scale dairying with ever bigger-herds kept in sheds. Arthur Hosier’s glorious revolution was airbrushed from farming history, except in America. In Fresno, California, dairy farmer Mark McAfee has reproduced Hosier’s system at Organic Pastures Dairy. As in Wiltshire, the cows stay on pasture all year round and are milked in the field. Despite a running battle with U.S. public health authorities, he now sells delicious, unpasteurised milk to 75,000 health-aware Californians through 400 stores.
He’s highly critical of the health authorities. He accuses them of magnifying minuscule risks posed by raw, grass-fed milk while ignoring the far bigger health threat posed by factory-farmed milk. Raw milk from cows kept inside and fed on grains is dangerous, he says, and needs to be heat treated. The high-energy grains that factory-farmed cattle consume raise acid levels in the cow’s stomach, he explains, which cause it to produce higher levels of dangerous bacteria in its milk. The milk of cows raised on pasture is safer, so it doesn’t need pasteurisation.
My own taste for this wonderful food came when, as an agricultural student, I worked on a mixed farm in Berkshire. The farm had a herd of dairy cows that spent most of the year grazing clover-rich pastures. I’ve never tasted better milk than the stuff we enjoyed straight from the bulk tank. At that time in the late Sixties there were more than 100,000 dairy farmers in Britain, most of them producing milk from grass. They and their families all drank milk fresh and unprocessed. I once met a retired organic dairy farmer who told me of an accident his teenage son had had many years before. The boy had broken his leg. At the local hospital, where the fracture was x-rayed, the doctors were amazed at his bone density. They had never seen stronger. The farmer put it down to his son’s habit of drinking un-pasteurised, grass-fed milk.
Tragically, since the Sixties 90 per cent of those family dairy farms have gone out of business. Those farmers who have survived struggle to make a living by producing milk at the lowest possible price to sell to big dairy companies.
Now the relaxed rules will mean a small farmer running cows on grass should be able sell the milk direct and unprocessed by putting vending machines in the local shop and village pub. In theory at least. Will this lead to a renaissance in family dairy farming across Britain just as Arthur Hosier envisaged?
I’d like to think so. If it does, we can all look forward to a healthier, tastier pint to pour on our breakfast cereal.