PEOPLE – In The Raw

02 Jul 2004

Remember HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point)? Hiding behind this impressive acronym was a dangerous mass offensive carried out by the farming industry lobby towards small traditional cheese producers. This was carried out using EEC Regulation 92/46 regarding the production and sales of dairy products. If this law had been applied to the letter, most mountain pasture cheeses, local typical products – true representatives of a culture – would have disappeared by now.

When the regulation was adopted at a national level in 1997, widespread public opinion spoke out against the obtuse attitude of hyper-hygiene supporters, especially in France and Italy. As a result they obtained an official list of cheese products exempt from this regulation.

The phobic mistrust of raw milk is, however, still deeply-rooted in the mentality of most of the northern and Anglo-Saxon world today (it is no coincidence that Slow Food has created a Presidium to protect raw milk cheeses in the USA).

In Norway the adoption of the European law was controversial, since in 1994 a Norwegian popular referendum had voted against joining the EU. Regulations for dairy products were adapted to those valid in Europe except for raw milk, which has been subjected to stricter monitoring.

It goes without saying that in these circumstances local raw milk producers are few and far between. They work in extreme conditions due to the environmental situation but also for another reason: only two cheese dairies have obtained authorization in the whole country. One of these is Underdal Stølsysteri, managed by the determined, courageous Pascale Baudonnel, who also founded Norsk Gardsost (an association of Norwegian cheese farmers).

Pascale wrote to us to tell us about Gustav Koot, who has been forced by the courts to pay a 1200 euro fine plus legal fees for selling unauthorized raw milk and derivative products. But the damages for Koot are much greater: in two years he has lost 116,000 euros, a considerable sum, due to the obstacles created by the health administration for his farm. Here is his story.

“Gustav Koot, of Dutch origin, has produced biodynamic milk and sold raw milk cheese for thirty years in the Holmestrand area south of Oslo,” says Pascale. “In Norway, raw milk products are subject to very strict sales conditions while selling raw milk for consumption is practically prohibited, except to farmers – who can only drink the milk from their own cows.

The Koot affair began in 2001; for many years he lived on the profits of his small farm, selling milk or cheese to a few local clients. In 2001, when business began to improve and the good reputation of his products began to spread further afield, he tried to obtain official authorization from the regional veterinary services. He was then asked to carry out a series of structural modifications in the cheese dairy, which he did, with the greatest care and considerable financial investment – except for one thing: pasteurizing the milk.

Despite the perfectly adequate conditions of the dairy (tiling in the cheese-making rooms, stainless steel equipment, no testing of the milk or cheese outside the regulations) for this single reason the health authority pronounced the situation ‘alarming’ and ordered immediate closure of the dairy. Koot was therefore forced to sell half his livestock. With the support of his clients he sent a petition to the Ministry of Health but the Ministry confirmed the closure of the dairy without even coming to check the premises.

In an attempt to sidestep the law so as not to lose their trusted supplier, Koot’s clients (many of whom suffer from allergies but can drink Gustav Koot’s biodynamic raw milk) set up a private company and each bought “cow parts” enabling them to drink the milk of their own cows as permitted by law. But the health authority reported Koot to the judicial authority for ‘illegal sales of milk and dairy products’. Following trial, the sentence was passed.”

Through her company Norsk Gardsost, Pascale Baudonnel is trying to use this emblematic case to raise awareness among the Norwegian public and create a campaign in favor of Gustav Koot. She has also involved two famous Norwegian chefs (Edgar Ludl and Trond Moi) and the Slow Food convivium leader Ove Fosså.

“First we are asking for contributions to help pay Koot’s fine” says Pascale, “through bank drafts to a solidarity account set up by Norsk Gardsost. Then I have asked international organizations like Slow Food and EAT (European Alliance for Artisan and Traditional Raw Milk Products) for their help. But I don’t know if we can do anything.” She adds sadly.

Paola Nano works at the Slow Food Press Office.

Adapted by Ailsa Wood

If you wish to make a contribution to Gustav Koot’s solidarity fund:
v/ Pascale Baudonnel
5746 Undredal
Bank: Den norske Bank
A/C for international payments:
NO36 3745 1051 238

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