Raw dairy crusader takes over troubled B.C. farm
Published Tuesday, September 28, 2010 11:52AM PDT
An Ontario raw dairy crusader who recently won his fight to distribute unpasteurized milk has taken over a legally troubled Fraser Valley cow-share operation in hopes of winning the right to sell the controversial beverage in B.C.
Farmer Michael Schmidt, who succeeded in overturning the ban on raw cow-shares in Ontario earlier this year, will take over the management of the Home on the Range farm in Chilliwack, B.C., while the operation goes through legal proceedings.
Owner Alice Jongerden stepped down earlier this month after the Fraser Health authority filed an application to find her in contempt of court. The agency says the farmer is guilty of continuing to distribute raw milk after she was ordered to stop packaging and distributing its products by a B.C. Supreme Court judge this spring. She will be back in court Oct. 14.
Schmidt, who has renamed the operation ‘Our Cows,' says milk will continue to flow for the 450 shareholders. He handed out raw milk in front of Fraser Health's Chilliwack offices Tuesday to celebrate the handover and demand proper legal action against the farm.
"The current proceedings are a slap in the face of fundamental justice," Schmidt told ctvbc.ca during a telephone interview from Chilliwack.
"We shouldn't have completely opposing legal rulings in B.C. and Ontario. This is a charter issue and we should be dealing with that. One way of dealing with this is going through the proper legal proceedings."
Schmidt wants to argue that the matter of selling unpasteurized milk is a charter issue and that the system has legal validity.
"You own the cow, you drink the milk and the government shouldn't have a say in that."
Schmidt was first charged in 2006 and fined $55,000 for contempt of court. He was acquitted on all 19 charges against him in January.
An Ontario justice said all of Schmidt's cow-share members were fully aware the milk they purchased from his co-op was unpasteurized, adding the product is only sold to people who are well aware of the health risks.
Fraser Health spokesperson Roy Thorpe told ctvbc.ca its regional director of health protection will speak with Shmidt about the handover to look at what the new operations will look like – and whether or not there are any procedural concerns.
He says a simple change of ownership at the Home on the Range may not be enough to satisfy the court in October that the operation isn't breaking the order not to distribute raw milk.
"The ruling in the spring really confirmed the distribution of raw milk is really against the public health act. The judge plainly stated that this is a health hazard," Thorpe said.
"They could take action against a new operator."
Jongerden, who is in the process of starting a new raw food business, calls the court action unnecessary and maintains that the fight is more about food choices than food safety.
"It's about what we put in our body. I could go to McDonalds 10 times a day and no one would care -- but I would die. But if I want to drink milk from my own grass fed cows it's a problem. This battle is ridiculous."
The court case
The legal battles over the Home on the Range dairy have been raging since February, when the farm was handed cease and desist orders and forced depots to dump bottles of its milk in police-style raids.
A B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled Jongerden breached the B.C.'s Public Health Act by "willingly causing a health hazard" by distributing the products, adding that because provincial regulations say it is a presumed health hazard, there was no opportunity to make its own distinction regarding health risks.
Justice Miriam Gropper dismissed any connection to Schmidt's court case, saying the provisions of the Ontario Milk Act he fought against are not translatable to the B.C. Public Health Act.
"While the cow-share program undertaken by Mr. Schmidt is the same or similar to that undertaken by Ms. Jongerden…, that is the only similarity to be found."
The sale of raw milk has been prohibited in Canada since 1991, with health agencies saying it is a known health hazard. Cow-share operations like Jongerden's have sidestepped the law by allowing members to buy into their organization -- making them part owners of the animals. Jongerden distributed her raw dairy products, including cream, yogurt and milk, to members through various depots in Metro Vancouver.
In the United States, where 29 states allow the sale of raw milk, scientists say the liquid is a serious health risk. Of 153 milk-related health outbreaks in the U.S. from 1990 to 2003, 50 were attributed to raw dairy – as were 1140 sicknesses.
Canada is the only G8 country where the sale of raw milk is illegal.