Thursday 13 February 2014

Entering the Raw Milk Underground

This article was also published on The Art of Not Being Governed Blog.

This week I descended, unprotected by the solicitous watch of government, into Ontario’s raw milk underground. Well … I’ve yet to be fully initiated; I haven’t even bought any milk yet.
Not yet...

Like in any subversive marketplace, aside from a few vocal advocates, most players on the raw milk scene seem intent on maintaining a high level of privacy as a means of protection against punishment by the state. On Monday afternoon I had a rendez-vous with a “mooshiner” * (someone who deals in raw milk) at a southern Ontario Tim Hortons, trepidatious though they were about the encounter.

While I’ve always been a dairy lover, I’m not much of a foodie otherwise, and therefore never took too much of an interest in issues surrounding food and farm freedom. However, my amble into the raw milk underground began when I wrote about attacks on Ontario farmers by government, mostly from a property rights perspective and stemming from my interest in the expropriation case of Trenton Ontario farmer Frank Meyers.

After writing a blog post on the subject of farmers coming up against government, in which I mentioned the case of raw milk farmer Michael Schmidt, I received a message from someone asking if I was looking for milk, and suggesting that we should connect, if so. My interest was piqued, but after a little bit of communication, my first raw milk contact was spooked by the fact that I was publicly blogging and socially networking about raw milk, among other topics – too much exposure!

Drawn in by the creamy intrigue of the illicit milk trade, I posted on social media about my contact being spooked, and made an appeal for someone willing to sell me some milk. Eventually, a mooshiner did agree to meet me at a Tim Hortons, though they were cautious about what they could tell me, for fear that I may publish some information that would reveal their identity and connection to the raw milk trade. No milk sale was made at our first meeting – trust has to be established first.

We spoke for about an hour, and I learned a lot about the inner-workings of Ontario’s raw milk market, some of which I hope to share with you as I gain a better understanding of the milk landscape.

This mooshiner’s insistence on privacy and discretion, I learned, is based on a fear of reprisal by the government – the crown, local health boards and the CFIA -, the individual farmers whom they represent, as well as the Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO), the organization responsible for dispensing legal milk quotas worth hundreds of thousands, or millions of dollars to each farmer.

The mooshiner I met estimates that the majority of dairy farmers in Ontario – as many as 80% - engage in illegal “back door sales” of raw milk, and that almost all dairy farmers drink raw milk themselves. If that’s the case, then why don’t more farmers speak out in favour of raw milk legalization?

Under current legislation, most notably the Ontario Milk Act, dairy farmers are prohibited from selling milk outside of the DFO administered quota system. Quota-holding farmers are contractually bound to the DFO to produce a certain amount of milk to be pasteurized and centrally distributed for sale. Overproduction is penalized. Overproducing farmers are able to recoup some of the cost of production of the milk beyond their quota, as well as the associated penalties, by conducting back door sales. However, openly selling raw milk is a huge risk for quota-holding farmers, since being caught doing so would leave them without a quota that allows them to sell their milk to be pasteurized and distributed in the regulated marketplace, with fines and legal fees, and prohibited from selling any milk (raw or not) to provide them with a source of revenue.

I left the Tim Hortons without milk in hand, but on friendly terms with my new mooshiner acquaintance. Though more comfortable than at the outset, they were still concerned about what I might publicly divulge of our meeting, worrying that they might be identified.

It feels somewhat surreal to be operating in such a clandestine manner in order to procure something as seemingly benign as milk. I’m still learning about raw milk – so can’t speak too much to its health benefits or risks, but I’m sure that I’m not the only one who finds it ludicrous that I should have to enter into a “criminal” underground in order to voluntarily transact to buy food for myself, right?

Stay tuned for updates on my underground milk adventures!

*Try to come up with some milk and cow puns of your own for hours of fun!


  1. Ah, I hate to say it, but I suspect that"This is not the raw milk you are looking for." As an intelligent consumer, there is no way you should be accepting unpasteurized IPP "intended for pasteurization and processing" milk instead of real raw milk "for direct human consumption." This person is trying to rip you off.

    Industrial CAFO milk, even if it hasn't been pasteurized, still will not provide you with the nutrition or health benefits that REAL raw milk will. What this person is offering to you is nothing but dirty slop. There is a good reason why industrial milk is pasteurized - because it often contains manure and a host of nasty bugs. Raw milk does not contain these things, because farmers take care from the outset on ensuring that hygiene is followed, "from grass to glass," and that there is no point along with way (and this includes educating consumers) where contamination is allowed to happen. Do you find this in industrial CAFO farms? No, and seldom do you find it for farmers who have come from industrial CAFO backgrounds, because these farmers have not been trained in raw milk production, and often have no idea how to do it.

    First off, for example, ask your farmer where he/she got their training in raw milk production. If he or she cannot state that his/her training came from Cow Share Canada, RAWMI, Tim Wightman of the F2CLDF, or a similar training program (or in Europe, producing Vorzugsmilch, etc.) and will give you the name and phone number of his/her instructor so you can follow up, walk away.

    And remember, with milk, what the cow eats, you ingest too. So, do you want your cow to be eating unnatural feeds such as grain and TMR ("total mixed rations"), or do you want your cow to be eating her natural diet, grazing on a proper grass and legume (clover, alfalfa, etc) pasture? Read Dr. Ton Baars work on the importance of grass. Adding grain to a cow's diet changes her internal flora, increasing "bad bacteria" e-coli which might then go into the milk. Cows on pasture have higher levels of Vitamins D, C, CLA, and beta-carotene in their milk (and hence the milk does not need to be fortified). Cows were not meant to be eating a diet of grain - it puts their bodies into a perpetual state of illness, which they then often need continual doses of antibiotics for.

    You also want a farm which has cattle tested A2 in genotype, not A1 - read up on Dr. Keith Woodford's work on this -- the A2 beta-casein protein is not only an opiate, but also is harmful to human health. Start with a farm raising heritage breeds such as Jerseys, Guernseys, or Canadienne cattle - they tend to have the old A2 gene. The farmer has Holsteins? Head the other way. Look for a microdairy-herdshare of 10 cattle or less, preferable on a biodynamic farm. See if the farmer milks each cow individually by hand and bottles the milk from each cow individually (good) or uses big milking machines and bulk tanks (not so good). Pipes going to bulk tanks, and bulk tanks themselves, are difficult to keep clean of biofilm, and you want to know that no biofilm exists on ANY surface that your milk will be touching. Is the farmer putting milk into plastic containers (bad), or into easily-sterilizable glass jars (good)? Did the farmer give you clear instructions on the transport and storage of your milk (good), or no instructions at all (bad)?

    Buying black-market IPP milk from a CAFO operation is not going to give you any benefits over pasteurized. It would be worth your while to continue your search for real raw milk, and not be fooled by someone trying to pedal his IPP milk as such.

  2. Also, don't you find it somewhat ironic that a DFO quota farmer would willingly offer you "raw milk," when the organization that he belongs to lists it as being dangerous? As one DFO press release states, "To put it in the strongest possible terms, raw milk is dangerous and its illegal sale is a clear threat to people’s health" "“There never was, and cannot be, a safe system for marketing raw milk. Unpasteurized milk has been one of the most dangerous sources.of food poisoning since recorded time" -

    So, why is this upstanding DFO farmer offering you raw milk when he and his colleagues publish materials claiming that it will poison you off? When they are anti-raw milk? Doesn't sound like the most ethical thing to do, does it, to put greed above the risk to human health? Or (to be sarcastic), is it that raw milk in all its forms is dangerous *unless* he himself provides it to you?

    Sounds like some hypocrisy here.

  3. As a consumer you may also want to take in a free RAWMI webinar regarding raw milk safety. Check out for the next one offered.