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Ont. dairy farmers urge appeal over raw milk

Citing “increased public health risks,” the Dairy Farmers of Ontario is publicly urging the province to appeal a local justice’s decision allowing distribution of raw, unpastuerized milk through “cow shares.”

“At this point, DFO expects the Ontario government will appeal the decision to a higher court, defend the legislation and take all steps necessary to protect the public by ensuring the safety of the food supply,” the provincial dairy farmers’ group said in a release Friday.

Ontario dairy farmer Michael Schmidt, who manages a “cow share” program for fans of raw, unpasteurized milk from his cattle at Durham, Ont., was acquitted Thursday by a justice of the peace at Newmarket, Ont., of 19 charges that alleged the raw product was being sold.

Paul Kowarsky ruled that Schmidt’s scheme is not a violation of Ontario’s public health rules or milk marketing regulations, as there is no selling or marketing for the product. The cow-share program distributes the milk to members of a co-operative who own shares of the cow.

Kowarsky’s ruling effectively exempts such schemes from provincial and federal laws requiring that milk sold commercially must be pasteurized.

Mandatory pasteurization laws are “vital to preventing the spread of communicable diseases,” DFO said Friday.

“At a time when all other public health developments are focusing on the critical task of continuing to improve food safety and public health, actions that put public health at increased risk are not in the public interest.”

Kowarsky, whose ruling was cited last week in a report from the Canadian Press news agency, was quoted as saying the legislation on pasteurizing was intended to protect vulnerable people, but the cow share program’s members were not vulnerable per se, and that they “consume the milk at their own risk.”

DFO said it had expressed concern over Kowarsky’s decision to the provincial attorney general and health and agriculture ministries.

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