© AgMedia Inc.
by SUSAN MANN
The trial of Durham-area farmer Michael Schmidt, who’s facing 20 charges related to selling and distributing raw milk, wrapped up in a Newmarket Court yesterday with the Crown Attorney’s final witness.
The judge’s decision won’t be made for several months, says Schmidt’s wife, Elisa Vanderhout. Final arguments also still have to be made.
Schmidt, who defended himself during the seven-day trial, wasn’t available for comment.
Vanderhout says they couldn’t afford a lawyer, which would have cost $200,000 to $300,000 for this case. In addition, “you become limited in how much you can actually argue because time is money.”
She says that Schmidt was “amazing” in presenting his case. At least 50 supporters turned out for the first and last days of the trial.
The charges against Schmidt stem from a 2006 armed raid on his farm involving Ministry of Natural Resources and other government agencies. Government officials seized equipment and computers.
Schmidt had been running a ‘lease-a-cow’ operation where people paid a $300 fee for six years for a share in a cow. There were four families per cow. Customers also paid a per-litre service fee. That money was for Schmidt to feed and milk the cows plus bottle and deliver the milk to people.
Vanderhout says they weren’t breaking any laws because only the people who owned a share in the cows got the milk. Laws in Canada don’t prohibit farmers from drinking the raw milk from their own cows.
In a written statement supplied to Better Farming, Health Canada says selling unpasteurized milk, also called raw milk, is prohibited under federal Food and Drug Regulations. That regulation came into effect in 1991. Before that some individual provinces had regulations in place requiring milk sold to the public to be pasteurized.
In Ontario, raw milk sales to the public have been prohibited since 1938 as part of the provincial Health Promotion and Protection Act.
In its statement Health Canada says it would only consider changing the law prohibiting raw milk sales if Health Canada scientists were satisfied that any new technology or technique replacing pasteurization is effective in producing safe milk for consumption.
Health Canada maintains that the only way to ensure milk is safe to consume is through pasteurization, which kills the organisms that cause disease. It advises consumers not to drink raw milk because it can make them seriously ill. Bacteria found in raw milk, for example, salmonella, E. coli and listeria, have been linked to food-borne illnesses and serious health conditions, from fever, vomiting and diarrhea to life-threatening kidney failure, miscarriage and death.
Any possible health benefits from drinking raw milk are far outweighed by the serious risk of illness, Health Canada says.
Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO), assistant communications director Bill Mitchell says they support the current health regulations. DFO thinks there’s good science behind the legislation and the “public is well served by the requirement that milk be pasteurized.”
Schmidt, Vanderhout and others disagree that drinking raw milk is dangerous. They say people should have the right to choose if they want to drink it. In other jurisdictions, such as California and Germany, raw milk sales are allowed. BF