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The lid on the jar of raw milk that Gordon S. Watson carries reads: “Cleopatra’s Enzymatic Bath Lotion”. Below it, in much smaller type: “Cosmetic Skin Treatment Only. Our Cows Share Member Dividends. Should Not Be Used For Human Consumption”.
In Canada, unpasteurized milk is illegal to distribute unless it is to be consumed by the owner of the cow. But Gordon Watson, along with a group of individuals dedicated to providing the Lower Mainland with an alternative to mass-produced dairy, has found a loophole through the development of an ingenious system known as the “Cow-Share”. Rather than buying milk, consumers of “Cleopatra’s Enzymatic Bath Lotion” purchase shares in the cows instead.
It’s an innovative system, but its development has not escaped the notice of health authorities.
In the mid 1800s, on account of poor dairying conditions, the consumption of raw milk became a health hazard, causing tuberculosis and even death. The solution: pasteurization. Heating milk succeeded in making it safe for human consumption and permitted dairy farmers to generate a profit even if their cows were not properly maintained. However, in so doing, it robbed the milk of much of its nutritional value.
The pasteurization process (heating it at 72ºC for 15 seconds [HTST]) eradicates any present whey protein, completely removes the natural enzymes in milk necessary for its proper digestion, and devalues the minerals. Most of milk’s remaining vitamins are lost in the skimming process when the fat necessary for their absorption is removed.
Watson, 61, began drinking raw milk in his thirties, and says that he now thrives on it. After moving to Vancouver, having spent time living on Vancouver Island where raw milk is easily-accessible from the area’s many dairies, Watson says he was surprised he couldn’t find raw milk in the Lower Mainland. He began to seek out local dairy farmers who might be willing to join him in developing a Cow-Share.
Enter Alice Jongerden. By 2007, Watson had launched and terminated several Cow-Shares in the Lower Mainland: “many farmers had trouble with the legality of it all,” he explained. Watson felt Jongerden, however, was the perfect candidate; young, healthy, and full of energy, with a passion for dairying.
Shortly after meeting, the two established Home On the Range, presently Vancouver’s largest Cow-Share (now under the name “Our Cows” Herd-Share). The Cow-Share, with its cows in Chilliwack, grew from one cow shared by only a handful of people, to twenty cows shared by over 450 in less than three years. The milk costs shareholders $19 per gallon (all-inclusive), and is dispersed at confidential depots throughout the Lower Mainland.
“The success of Home On the Range,” says Watson, “is a great example of how an idea becomes popular and then it becomes a movement and it just cannot be stopped.”
But in 2008 an officer of Fraser Health entered Home On the Range for a routine, unannounced health inspection, says Roy Thorpe-Dorward, spokesperson for Fraser Health. The subsequent testing did not fall in Home on the Range’s favour, with Fraser Health claiming they detected elevated bacterial levels in the samples. Despite appeals from Jongerden that “the milk tested was over 40 degrees Fahrenheit, which is well above the standard for properly testing milk,” the seizure resulted in a cease-and-desist order. She responded by adding a label to her jars that read: “Not For Human Consumption”.
Though The Milk Industry Act “does not prevent you from consuming un-pasteurized milk from a cow which you own,” admits John van Dongen, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, in BC there is an additional regulation that materialized on March 31st, 2009, under our updated Public Health Act’s Transitional Regulations, Section 7:
Milk for human consumption that has not been pasteurized at a licensed dairy plant in accordance with the Milk Industry Act is prescribed as a health hazard.
On and around December 18, 2009 Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health authorities dumped several gallons of raw milk from Home On the Range distribution points around the Lower Mainland.
Together with the seizures, Health Authorities told media sources that an infant, whose case of E.Coli they had been investigating, had consumed milk from Home On The Range. However, no evidence was ever produced, and even Thorpe-Dorward iterates that : “no one ever asserted that the case of E.Coli resulted conclusively from the consumption of raw milk.” Still, with new regulations enacted that deemed raw milk a health hazard, the Health Authorities decided to move forward with enforcement.
Fraser Health brought the motion to have Jongerden, Jane Doe, and John Doe (Gordon S. Watson) held in contempt of court. On September 14, 2010, rulings made were in favour of the Health Authorities; Jongerden and Watson can no longer involve themselves in the Cow-Share they founded.
Alice Jongerden can no longer milk any cows unless she immediately tosses the milk afterwards. Up until the 14th Jongerden, who grew up on a dairy farm North of London, Ontario, maintained and milked all of Home On the Range’s twenty Jersey cows.
“So as it stands, for the rest of my life, or until the law changes, I can not milk a cow – a complete abrogation of my rights. And to fight back I have to drop $10,000 in my lawyer’s pocket to start proceedings, while being unemployed.” Jongerden professes, “that sounds a bit harsh and bitter — not intended to sound so — at least not yet. I still have faith that somewhere along the line things will change and common sense will prevail.”
Michael Schmidt, a widely regarded raw milk advocate acquitted in his similar case against Ontario Health authorities, is now in charge of maintaining “Our Cows” Herd-share, with 150 new individuals on the waiting list to become shareholders.
As Gordon S. Watson recounts his story, there is not the slightest indication of distress. In fact, he looks rather pleased. Pleased to provide Vancouverites with their first taste of what he calls “real milk”, pleased at the way in which BC’s Health Authorities have helped to increase public interest, and pleased with his prospects for the future. He is again on the hunt for a dairy farmer, this time within the limits of the hundred-mile diet. “I’m going to set up my own Cow-Share locally,” he explains, “and tell the government to get stuffed.”
For more information, visit: www.freewebs.com/bovinity
To acquire raw milk, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Editors Note – Jan 13, 2001 14:21: In the original version of this article we incorrectly attributed the quote “in BC there is an additional regulation that materialized on March 31st, 2009, under our updated Public Health Act’s Transitional Regulations, Section 7:” to John van Dongen, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General.