Ontario farmer prosecuted for selling raw milk says he will not stop

Source of Article: http://canadianpress.google.com/article/ALeqM5hOnqRqWlQBD_-E-nyHmIGTK9wXAg

NEWMARKET, Ont. An organic dairy farmer from southern Ontario vowed Monday to continue the illegal sale of raw milk, just minutes after being found guilty of contempt of court for ignoring an order to cease selling the product.

"Yes, we will continue with what we're doing," Michael Schmidt said following the ruling, as he and several supporters made a show of chugging back glasses of milk in front of the courthouse in Newmarket, Ont. It was unclear whether or not the milk was raw or pasteurized.

Schmidt has run a co-operative organic dairy farm near Owen Sound, Ont., for more than 20 years. York Region, north of Toronto, had accused Schmidt of selling raw milk, even after he was ordered by the court not to do so.

Selling unpasteurized milk is illegal in Canada because health officials say it can carry salmonella, E. coli and Listeria.

Raw milk advocates say they drink it for its flavour, organic properties and health benefits.

Justice Cary Boswell said his ruling had nothing to do with whether or not people have the right to consume raw milk, but rather whether Schmidt knowingly defied the court order to stop selling it.

The judge cited news articles in which Schmidt admitted he sold the milk and that he knew the consequence of ignoring a court order as the basis for his finding of guilt.

He told Schmidt he should stay within the rule of law in seeking to make the sale of raw milk legal and called his actions "not only illegal, but completely self-defeating."

A defiant Schmidt asked for "the highest penalty you can find," suggesting he is willing to go to jail for his crusade.

Outside court, he went so far as to liken himself to Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

"When Gandhi picked up the salt, he kept marching, and when Martin Luther started the Montgomery bus strike, he kept going until the law was changed," Schmidt said.

Schmidt said milk from his animals is regularly tested and that in 14 years no one who has consumed his products have been made sick. He said a recent series of foodborne outbreaks in Canada bolsters the public's desire for natural products.

"They're turned off by mass regulated food supplies," Schmidt said. "They'd rather look at a food source they can trust, and that means looking in the farmer's eye."

Bill Mitchell, of the Dairy Farmers of Ontario, strongly contests Schmidt's claim that consuming raw milk should be an individual choice.

"A lot of the organisms that can be transmitted through raw milk are transmissible," he said.

"Anytime we see legislation that's in place to protect the public health being enforced, it's a good thing."

Brendan Ferguson, of Toronto, is one of Schmidt's supporters, even though he is lactose intolerant and unable to drink milk at all.

"This is a historic case in terms of the rights and freedoms that the government allows its people to have," he said in explaining his involvement with the farmer's plight.

Schmidt, who defended himself in court to save money for representation at another trial scheduled for next year, had argued that the case against him was flawed.

The judge agreed Monday, noting that local health authorities had the power to test Schmidt's milk to see if was pasteurized or not, but failed to do so.

However, Boswell rejected the prosecution's argument that Schmidt was motivated by making money.

"This pursuit has cost Mr. Schmidt substantially," the judge said.

The prosecution is seeking a $5,000 fine for Schmidt and an order that he pay more than $53,000 in court costs.

In January, Schmidt faces an additional 20 charges laid by the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Grey-Bruce Health Unit, again involving the sale of raw milk.



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