Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ontario farmer found not guilty of charges related to selling raw milk

By The Canadian Press

NEWMARKET, Ont. - An Ontario farmer raised a glass of milk in celebration outside court today after being found not guilty of 19 charges related to selling unpasteurized milk.

Michael Schmidt, who operates a raw milk co-op, defended himself last year against the charges for dispensing milk straight from the cow.

"I hope that we can move into a dialogue where even more people enjoy raw milk," Schmidt said after the verdict, holding a glass of milk as his supporters cheered.

The Durham, Ont., farmer operates a 150-cow raw milk co-operative venture, which allows members to own a portion of the cow to acquire raw milk.

Schmidt was charged under the Health Protection and Promotion Act and the Milk Act after an armed raid by about two dozen officers and government officials at his farm in 2006.

Justice of the peace Paul Kowarsky, who ruled the cow-share program is exempt from the legislation, said the case was part of a "search for contemporary justice."

While raw milk is legal to drink, it's illegal to sell in Canada, since health officials consider it a health hazard.

Schmidt said he never intended to "circumvent the law but to work with the law to provide people with what they need."

"It was never a war but a Shakespearean drama," he said.

In his ruling, Kowarsky said the cow-share members are "fully informed that the milk is not pasteurized," adding the milk is not marketed or sold for consumption to the general public but only to members.

Kowarsky said his own research showed cow shares exist worldwide.

At trial, Schmidt argued that government officials and food scientists cannot guarantee the safety of any food, and suggested informed consumers should be able to buy raw milk if they so choose.

Food scientists and health experts testified that mandatory pasteurization laws are needed to protect public health.

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