On Sept. 18, 2013 the Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed
that one person had died and several people in B.C. and Alberta
were ill from eating E. coli contaminated raw milk cheese produced
at a B.C. farm. As soon as the recall was announced, the media went
into full frenzy and the usual "debate" about the safety
of raw milk and raw milk cheese followed.
There is really no issue as to safety. There is a broad
scientific consensus that raw milk is not as safe as milk that is
pasteurized. There have been dozens of foodborne illness outbreaks
in recent years with many hundreds of people seriously ill and some
deaths clearly attributable to ingesting raw milk and raw milk
cheese. That is why in Canada the sale of raw milk directly to
consumers is prohibited by a variety of provincial provisions, and
it is a crime to sell unpasteurized milk in Canada under B.08.002.2
(1) of the Food and Drug Regulations. Because raw milk cheese is
less risky if it is given time to cure, our regulations allow for
the sale of raw milk cheese as long as it is stored at 2°C or
above for at least 60 days before being offered for sale.
The essential facts in this case are clear. The deadly bacteria
came from cow poop. If the milk had been pasteurized, the bacteria
would have been killed and the victims would be alive and well
today. Raw milk cheese that is produced by very reputable and
careful cheese makers, as apparently was the situation here, still
involves risk, as this case so clearly demonstrates.
Just because raw milk and raw milk cheese are not as safe as if
they were pasteurized doesn't necessarily mean that they should
be banned. That is why regulations around the world are so
inconsistent. The sale of raw milk is illegal in Scotland, but
legal in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (indeed, our future
king will drink nothing else, a fact that could be used by both
sides of the debate). South of the border, the states are roughly
evenly divided; 28 states do not prohibit sales of raw milk, but
they impose restrictions on suppliers.
While the food science on the safety risk of raw milk cheese is
clear, the policy response can still be variable. We allow the sale
of lots of other products that can be contaminated with E. coli
without requiring pasteurization. If people think that the supposed
benefit of raw milk cheese outweighs the health risk, why
shouldn't they be allowed to buy the product? And Health
Canada's website does provide a clear warning: "Health
Canada's ongoing advice to pregnant women, children, older
adults and people with a weakened immune system is to avoid eating
cheese made from raw milk, as it does present a higher risk of
foodborne illness than pasteurized milk cheeses. If consumers are
unsure whether a cheese is made of pasteurized milk, they should
check the label or ask the retailer."
But there's the rub. There is no legal requirement to label
raw milk cheese, and most retailers are uninformed. This is the
debate we should be having.
I checked the cheese counter at my local grocery store today.
Some cheeses bragged that they were made with raw milk, clearly
appealing to the foodies willing to pay a lot of money for whatever
benefit they think is obtained. I asked the clerk what other
cheeses were made from raw milk and she had no idea. How could she?
Several imported cheeses and many tiny portions labelled
"local" and "artisanal" may well have been made
with raw milk. The consumer who sets out to buy raw milk cheese for
the taste, or some cultural or other ideological reason, is making
an informed choice. For the rest of us, shouldn't we be
entitled to know that some cheese is safer than others? Canada
should require mandatory labelling of raw milk cheese.
There is a broad scientific consensus that raw milk is not as
safe as milk that is pasteurized.
This article originally appeared in Food in Canada and is
republished with the permission of the publisher.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.
Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.
The prospect of an internal investigation raises many thorny issues. This presentation will canvass some of the potential triggering events, and discuss how to structure an investigation, retain forensic assistance and manage the inevitable ethical issues that will arise.
From the boardroom to the shop floor, effective organizations recognize the value of having a diverse workplace. This presentation will explore effective strategies to promote diversity, defeat bias and encourage a broader community outlook.
Staying local but going global presents its challenges. Gowling WLG lawyers offer an international roundtable on doing business in the U.K., France, Germany, China and Russia. This three-hour session will videoconference in lawyers from around the world to discuss business and intellectual property hurdles.
Effective September 1, 2016, the Disposition of Surplus Real Property Regulation to the Ontario Education Act was amended with the intention to reduce barriers to the formation of health and community hubs in Ontario.
This appeal relates to two generic drug submissions for two different products: exemestane and infliximab. Both submissions cross-referenced the submission of another generic company that had received a Notice of Compliance.
Two recent decisions from the Supreme Court of Canada directly affect Quebec's farm businesses by confirming La Financière Agricole du Québec's discretion in the administration of the farm income stabilization program...
On October 6, 2016, the Ontario Legislature reintroduced the Patients First Act, 2016 as Bill 41. Bill 41 is very similar to its predecessor, Bill 210, which was introduced in June 2016, but makes some important changes to the previous bill.
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).