Behind the News: Raw-milk supplier Owen Crawford
As the Department of Agriculture decides whether to ban or regulate raw milk, one farmer talks about why he drinks and supplies it on his farm in Co Tipperary
Raw nature: Owen Crawford – with his partner, Mimi Pierson – has started delivering bottled raw milk
Owen Crawford drinks up to a pint of raw milk with his breakfast every morning. “It’s so much thicker and creamier and almost sweet. Although I’m not a medical expert, I think it’s easier to digest because of its natural probiotics. It’s a superfood really,” he says.
Like any good salesman, the Co Tipperary farmer lives his message, but Crawford believes that raw milk – that is, milk that has not been not pasteurised or homogenised – needs to be regulated to ensure high production standards and high-quality milk.
“The problem now is that any dairy farmer, even those with 300 cows kept indoors, can produce it. Raw milk needs to come from healthy herds of cows on a grass diet.”
The Department of Agriculture banned its production in 1996, but in 2006 EU hygiene laws overruled that prohibition, opening the doors for farmers to sell raw milk again. Now primary legislation specific to the State is the only way to reintroduce a ban. Earlier this week the Department of Agriculture said it was “assessing the options available to it to counter the risks associated with the sale of unpasteurised milk for direct consumption”. Introducing regulatory standards for the sale of raw milk is one option under consideration.
The Department of Agriculture’s chief concerns about raw milk are of contamination with disease-causing bacteria such as E.coli and salmonellosis. With the recent abolition of milk quotas, the Department of Agriculture is wooing new, non-EU markets, such as China. Bad publicity about contaminated milk is one thing it doesn’t need
Crawford says, “It’s like any other food that can be contaminated if not treated with respect. It’s about good animal husbandry. The cows need to be clean before they are milked, and the processing area needs to have high hygiene standards.”
His herd of dairy shorthorn cows are tested twice yearly by a vet for common diseases, and Crawford has begun to send samples of his raw milk for testing in a laboratory.
Inspired by Stephen Hook, an English farmer who features in the documentary film The Moo Man, Crawford is now converting his 12-hectare mixed farm to meet organic standards.
He sees raw milk as one of his main products to expand. “I produce about 60 litres of raw milk a week in peak season. We chill it rapidly to prolong its life, so it lasts at least three to four days.”
The location of his farm, near the ecovillage in Cloughjordan, means he has a keen group of customers on his doorstep. “We sell milk in bulk for central distribution to members of the ecovillage. It’s held in buckets with taps on them, in a fridge, and people come and take what they want.
“Some of them also use it for making cheese for their own consumption. We have also recently started door-to-door delivery of raw milk in glass bottles, at a cost of about €1.40 a litre.”