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Ontario court rules against raw milk farmer

Michael Schmidt says he will continue his milk business as usual and plans to appeal the ruling.

Rick Collins for The Globe and Mail/rick collins The Globe and Mail

The future of Canada's most prominent raw milk advocate has turned sour.

Dairyman Michael Schmidt was found guilty of 15 out of 19 charges related to distributing unpasteurized milk from his farm in Durham, Ont. The verdict, written by Mr. Justice Peter Tetley of the Ontario Court of Justice, reverses a decision made last year by a justice of the peace, who acquitted Mr. Schmidt of the same charges.

It is unclear what the decision means for the future of Mr. Schmidt's farm, a cow-share operation in which raw milk and related products are provided to about 150 shareholders. Raw milk from the farm is not sold commercially.

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Mr. Schmidt has continued his business throughout his legal battle with health authorities, which began in earnest in 2006. Still, his rural property has seen several raids. For now, the German-born agriculturalist said he plans to appeal the decision – and keep milking.

"It's a call to arms," he said of the guilty verdict. "Now we know, there's a lot ahead of us to fight."

Indeed, Mr. Schmidt's legal battle now spans two provinces. Earlier this week, he was served with contempt of court charges that threaten a $55,000 fine. They stem from his involvement in Our Cows Inc., a Chilliwack, B.C. cow share that authorities attempted to shut down last year. Operator Alice Jongerden was charged with contempt for distributing raw milk, considered a hazardous substance under provincial health laws; Mr. Schmidt stepped in and figured out how to keep milk flowing to members by relabelling products as cosmetics "not for human consumption."

The move was a reflection of Mr. Schmidt's mastery of unearthing legal loopholes that allow consumers to obtain raw milk without violating the law. He and his members argue their fight with health authorities is, in essence, about civil liberties – the right to consume whichever food products they choose.

"Should people have the right to put their cow with a farmer who milks it for them so they can have their own milk? That is the core question here," Mr. Schmidt said.

Raw milk advocates await the final answer.

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About the Author
Global food reporter

Jessica Leeder is the Globe’s Atlantic Reporter, based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In previous roles, Jessica has reported for the Globe from Afghanistan and post-quake Haiti, assignments for which she won an Emmy and a National Newspaper Award, respectively. She has also written about the politics of global food, entrepreneurialism and small business, and automotive news. More

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