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Too much moo-lah spent on raw milk court battle

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Why is raw milk such a contentious issue? I’ve gone through the big picture regarding raw milk in the previous link. But considering in British Columbia this affects a few hundred people, it seems that it’s out of line to spend over $200,000 in court fees.

I just spent a few days watching a court proceeding in the Supreme Court of British Columbia.
The case is for contempt of court – Fraser Health Authority vs. Home on the Range[i]. The matter is so confusing, I’m not even sure if the correct people are in court. As a disclaimer, due to the testimony and cross-examination, sometimes I’m just not sure what the facts are. I’ve attempted to be as accurate as possible, but there might be some mistakes. And this post may be long and boring. As always, summary at the bottom.

Story in chronological order:

  1. A cow share is a private venture with members purchasing a share in a cow and paying someone weekly to take care of the cow. The dividends of the share – milk, yogurt, cheese – were distributed as a dividend.
  2. In June, 2008 – the cow share, which was called “Home on the Range” was inspected and found to be producing raw milk for human consumption.[ii]
  3. There were tests done that showed that the raw milk had excessive bacteria content. Considering that there have been no incidents reported from the members, there is a high probability that the tests were done incorrectly.[iii]
  4. There was a court order to stop the distribution of raw milk in the interest of public safety.
  5. The laws were changed in 2009[iv]. The change to the Health Hazards Act[v] now states “milk for human consumption that has not been pasteurized at a licensed dairy plant in accordance with the Milk Industry Act [is a health hazard]”. This change in legislation was used in the injunction granted in December 2010. The Milk Act was also changed and an entire section regarding raw milk removed.
  6. The cow share was then closed down.
  7. Alice Jorgenden, formerly the agister of the cow shares, filed a constitutional challenge in February 2011 about the right to produce and consume raw milk.
  8. Michael Schmidt, as a consultant to the former dairy, opened communication with the Fraser Health Authority and Health Canada. Under federal laws, a new cosmetic operation was founded. A contract was made such that the share in the company would be terminated if the members consumed the cosmetics.
  9. Michael Schmidt asks that the lines of communication be kept open to look for a mutually beneficial solution to the regulation of raw milk.
  10. Late February 2011, Fraser Health declares that they will not be pursuing any more action until the constitutional challenge is done.[vi]
  11. Fraser Health obtains a search warrant in July and visits the farm to look for evidence of contempt of court.
  12. Fraser Health attempts to enforce the injunction on the now cosmetic company.

The case from the prosecution is that they are trying to force the injunction against the operation because the cosmetic company is simply a front and they are still producing raw milk for human consumption. The case from the defense is the opposite thesis.

Regarding the prosecution:

  1. Fraser Health Authority (FHA) doesn’t do any monitoring of other dairy farms.
  2. The inspector who did the last inspection with the search warrant was not an expert on raw milk. Or milk at all for that matter.
  3. There are no labs in BC capable of testing raw milk.[vii].
  4. The main inspector said in a phone call that they needed to ‘determine how to test the milk’. Given the above, I can only assume that means they have no expertise in how to test milk or raw milk for dangers.
  5. FHA didn’t obtain any evidence that this was not a cosmetics operation. From the evidence submitted in the testimony, the items at the farm were labelled as cosmetics and not for human consumption. There was no interviews with members and no testing of the items at the farm as to the ingredients or contents.
  6. The regulations governing the distribution of raw milk were removed and arbitrarily changed.
  7. Gordon Watson was listed as a defendant. I couldn’t figure out why he was there and treated as an operator.
  8. Michael Schmidt was brought up as a witness, but was not listed on the case. Again, I’m not sure how he can be listed as an operator as he has only made several visits to British Columbia and given the corporate structure, I’m not sure what role he could play. The prosecution case rested on trying to prove that he was an operator from various news and website articles. This seemed rather a stretch.

Regarding the defense:

  1. The defense did not present any conclusive proof that they are a cosmetics operation. There were posters, labeling, and letters to Health Canada that indicate that they did indeed pursue the cosmetic operation.
  2. When they were talking to Health Canada, Health Canada stated that due to the corporate structure and that no cosmetics were going to be sold to the public, it was private only, there was no need to register the operation. Voluntary registration may have been handy.
  3. No contracts between shareholders and the company were presented, but they were alluded to. Or maybe I missed it.

Back to reality. I was utterly baffled as to how this could make to court.

Regarding common sense:

  1. Who was harmed? FHA was trying to enforce the injunction for public safety. Unfortunately, as Health Canada pointed out in the cosmetics registration, no one from the public is involved, so no registration was required. For instance, it’s like someone having a piece of land and paying a farmer to grow some food on the land and deliver the products. How is this a matter of public safety? What would the difference be if the person did all the work themselves?
  2. Regarding private consumption, 90% of dairy farmers in Canada drink milk from their own cows. Clearly, the animals and milk are healthy enough[viii]. If anyone knows where the original survey is and/or the wording, I’d love to see it.
  3. There were no reported cases of illness over the 5 years of the operation. Still not sure why FHA is involved.
  4. Why were the regulations changed? Raw milk was declared a “health hazard” through regulation. The prior legislation was in effect for about 40 years and had provisions for obtaining raw milk. This raises tons of red flags. Firstly, from the timing, it appears the regulations were changed for the express purpose of this case. Secondly, from FHA’s testimony regarding lack of labs, no inspections of other dairy farms, they have demonstrated no expertise in milk. If it was done by the province, why would there be such a drastic change in position after a long time? And finally, how can raw milk be blanketedly declared a “health hazard” without any conditions on sanitation or cow health? From what I’ve seen so far, there is no evidence to show that this position has scientific validity.
  5. Why wasn’t this settled out of court? The last statement from Michael Schmidt was to have FHA contact him if their position regarding the injunction changed. Why start a court battle unless it’s a matter of last resort? Was there clear and present danger? The present position of the prosecution is that because they sought an injunction originally, they needed to enforce it. The former position was more reasonable, that they would not try to seek to enforce the injunction until the constitutional challenge was heard.
  6. Not one shred of evidence gathered regarding the actual cosmetic product. After getting a search warrant, why didn’t the inspector take any sample with him to determine if it was raw milk? Why was there no member interviews to ask if they consumed the product and see if the cosmetic contract was enforced. In fact, there is nothing I would consider rock-solid from either side.
  7. Cost. From polling various parties on the cost of a court case, the estimates of the cost vary from 200k to 250k[ix]. The operation in question only provides milk-based products to 450-500 people. I could think of a lot of different ways to spend that money.

So to summarize the above points, a government agency spent anywhere from 200k to 250k trying to prevent the distribution of raw milk in a private enterprise to approximately five hundred people while, so far, not demonstrating any knowledge or expertise about milk.

tl;dr – Fraser Health Authority – please stop wasting my money.

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  7. Was told by another court room attendee, didn’t hear it myself []
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  9. Lower bound obtained through the Freedom of Information Act []
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