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Ont. raw milk co-op passes legal test

An Ontario dairy farmer managing a “cow share” program for fans of raw, unpasteurized milk has been acquitted of charges that alleged sales of the raw product, the Canadian Press reported Thursday.

Charges were laid in 2006 against Michael Schmidt of Durham, Ont., where he operates a program in which about 150 members of a co-operative own his dairy cattle. The co-op’s members are thus entitled to the animals’ raw milk.

According to the CP news agency, a justice of the peace at Newmarket, Ont. ruled Thursday that Schmidt, as the distributor of the milk, did not violate any law forbidding the marketing of unpasteurized milk.

Paul Kowarsky ruled Schmidt’s scheme is not a violation of Ontario’s public health rules or milk marketing regulations.

“The undisputed evidence of the defendant is that there is no advertising or selling,” CP quoted Kowarsky as ruling.

Legislation requiring milk to be pasteurized before it’s sold commercially was intended to protect vulnerable people, Kowarsky said, but he ruled that the cow share program’s members were not vulnerable per se, and that they “consume the milk at their own risk.”

CP quoted Brent Ross, a spokesman for Ontario’s ministry of agriculture, food and rural affairs, as saying the province, while “disappointed” in the ruling, will now review Kowarsky’s decision and consider its next steps.

“Grave danger”

In a pre-ruling release Jan. 15 from a group calling itself the Alliance for Raw Milk (ARM), Schmidt is quoted as saying this court case “is not an isolated battle” but rather “a global issue beyond our imagination.”

ARM quotes Schmidt as saying the public is “in grave danger of unconsciously consenting to the takeover of our well-being by government. This battle about raw milk is a battle about food freedom and our individual rights.”

ARM shares its media representation with Campaign for Real Milk, a project of the Washington, D.C.-based Weston A. Price Foundation, “dedicated to restoring nutrient-dense foods to the human diet through education, research and activism.”

The group cites another recent incident in British Columbia, where a Chilliwack operation, Home on the Range Farm, has seen its raw milk “accused of high bacteria counts in the press by health officials.”

The province’s Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) went public earlier this month with a warning to the public to throw out unpasteurized dairy products from the farm, including unpasteurized raw milk, yogurt, cream, butter and cream cheese.

“Of these samples, five tested positive for fecal contamination,” the centre said, which means the products “were contaminated with germs from the bowels of animals or humans.”

B.C. provincial health officer Perry Kendall added in a separate Jan. 5 statement that there is “no research to substantiate the claims that raw milk has better nutritional and medicinal qualities than pasteurized milk.

“As recent outbreaks demonstrate, even raw milk with a normal appearance from apparently healthy cows can contain bacteria with the potential to cause human illness.”

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