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Ontario raw-milk crusader loses conviction appeal

Farmer Michael Schmidt, shown in 2008, has repeatedly said he believes raw milk is not only safe, but offers health benefits as well.

COLIN PERKEL/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A farmer who has spent two decades fighting for the right to sell unpasteurized milk to willing buyers pledged to take his case to the country's highest court Tuesday after losing an appeal against his conviction for breaking public health laws.

Speaking minutes after the Ontario Court of Appeal ruling, an unbowed Michael Schmidt said he would continue with his milk operation and legal battle.

"Nothing really changes for me," Schmidt told The Canadian Press.

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"Our plan is to move right to the Supreme Court. That's the bottom line. We're not stopping here."

In its ruling, the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld a 2011 conviction against Schmidt that saw him fined $9,150 under provincial health-protection laws.

Ontario does not ban the consumption of raw milk and farmers are allowed to drink the milk produced by their own cows. However, the sale of unprocessed milk is banned on the grounds that it poses a significant risk to public health.

In its ruling, the Appeal Court said Schmidt's method of allowing consumers to buy an ownership interest in a dairy cow was little more than a way to circumvent the rules.

"The cow-share arrangement is nothing more than a marketing and distribution scheme that is offered to the public at large," the court said in its unanimous ruling.

"There is no merit in the appellant's contention that he is not engaged in the sale, delivery and distribution of unpasteurized milk and milk products contrary to (health-protection laws)."

Schmidt rejected that view as a "cheap way out" for the court.

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The cow-share arrangement was "never a scheme," he said, but rather "an attempt to work within the framework of the law."

To that end, the farmer from West Grey said he has made changes over the past six years in which people buy part ownership of the farm, rather than just the cows.

About 150 people are currently "farm-share" members — that is they own part of the entire operation, including the land, buildings, machinery and cows.

Schmidt insisted there's no evidence anyone has ever fallen ill from his milk, and he and his supporters argue raw milk offers health benefits.

Willing consumers must have the right to choose what they consume, he said, arguing the ban is a "clear violation of fundamental rights."

The Appeal Court disagreed, saying unpasteurized milk poses a risk to public health, and the sales ban is constitutional absent definitive evidence of any health benefits.

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"The impugned legislation prohibits the appellant from selling or distributing a product that certain individuals think beneficial to their health," the court ruled.

"Lifestyle choices as to food or substances to be consumed do not attract Charter protection."

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