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Not for Human Consumption?

January 13, 2011 | by  |  Features

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.

Photo Credit: Emily McFadyen

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.”

Gordon S. Watson (Photo Credit: Emma Jensen)

For more information, visit: www.freewebs.com/bovinity
To acquire raw milk, email: ourcows@gmail.com

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.

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5 Comments


  1. As someone down with the taste of raw milk, particularly in Stichelton cheese, I’m all for loosening the regulations on libertarian grounds.

    However, the health claims made by raw milk advocates are not really true. The enzymes that may or may not be depleted in the pasteurization process (probably not) are bovine enzymes that don’t help humans digest anything. Second, the loss of vitamins, like B-12, is somewhere between 0 and 10%.

    Pasteurization ensures the elimination of potentially present pathogens like listeria and many others. Dozens of people take ill from drinking raw milk each year, albeit rarely seriously. The number is small, but then so is the number of people drinking raw milk. It is generally safer to drink pasteurized milk.

    Nevertheless, I plan to drink raw milk and eat cheese made from the same in the future. I engage in a lot more risky behavior than that.

  2. I certainly didn’t think ‘hand and udder’ when I first saw that top graphic.

  3. The assertion that new regulations materialized on March 31st, 2009 that deemed raw milk as a health hazard is a bit misleading. The Public Health Act Transitional Regulation seamlessly replaced the Health Hazard Regulation (BC Reg 181/88) – it had identical wording with regard to raw milk, and was in effect since 1988. I.e. a full decade before Mr. Watson and Ms. Jongerden started their business. Nothing sinister there.

    Also, thanks to Rich Williams – his comments hit the nail on the head. The only argument worth focussing on with raw milk is the libertarian one.

  4. as for the regulations around REAL MILK : the original Milk Industry Act made a way for a farm to be licenced to retail raw milk to the public from the farm. Those sections continued in that Act ’til 1996.
    When I queried the Minister of Health as to the rationale for the regulation in the Health Act outlawing raw milk, I was told ‘there is no material’. Point being : they hung a law on nothing.
    The law in 2008 concerning the definition of a ‘hazard to public health’ was clarified in the case of Western Forest Products / Sechelt, so as to require clear and present evidence of harm … not just speculation. So after serving us with an Order under the old Health Act, Fraser Health left us alone
    they then framed-up the regulation under the Public Health Act, specifically to outlaw our private dairycame. When I demanded through FoI all material used to justify that law, they pointed me to the Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta. What the CDC has on food poisonings imputed to raw milk amounts to nothing more than a collection of clippings from news papers.
    There are no proper actuarial tables comparing risks of harm from artisanal raw milk, to commercial “homo milk”. Thus, everything opponents of REAL MILK have to say is fearmongering
    this dispute is not really about health : it’s about the Campaign for REAL MILK embarrassing the Stalinist milk marketing quota system

  5. Don’t know of any true actuarial life tables that would compare the two, but there is certainly lots of evidence that illness from drinking raw milk can, and does, occur.

    http://bites.ksu.edu/sites/default/files/Raw%20Milk%20Outbreak%20Table_0.pdf
    http://www.realrawmilkfacts.com/PDFs/2010ALLdairythroughNOV13.pdf
    http://www.realrawmilkfacts.com/PDFs/CAMPYLOBACTERMILKOUTBREAKSupto2007.pdf

    RE: your use of the Western Forest Products case is not applicable to this situation. Unpasteurized milk is deemed to be a health hazard in the Transitional Reg, as it was in BC Reg 181/88. The definition you mention in WFP/Sechelt case is applicable to circumstances where the purported “health hazard” is not prescribed in regulation. Logging in a watershed is not prescribed as a health hazard, so the onus was on the District to demonstrate that it was(and they couldn’t). Another peculiar aspect of this case was that the District was legally acting as a Local Board of Health, but they failed to involve any public health experts to support their position. Politics aside, the Home on the Range case is completely different.

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  1. “Not for Human Consumption” — the tale of raw milk on B.C.’s lower mainland | The Bovine

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