By Diana Mehta, THE CANADIAN PRESS
An Ontario farmer who has long fought for the right to sell unpasteurized milk said public health officials raided his farm northwest of Toronto on Friday but left after members of his farming collective gathered to express their outrage.
Michael Schmidt said about 20 officials from Ontario’s ministries of agriculture, natural resources and finance, as well as local police, arrived at his farm in Durham region at 10:30 a.m. Officials started removing equipment and computers when members of the collective showed up, he said.
“There was a complete standoff,” Schmidt said. “Finally the farmshare members negotiated a deal that everything stays here, and they’re leaving.”
The action on Schmidt’s farm came just days after public health officials in York Region obtained a warrant and seized raw milk products from a van belonging to the farming collective. The van distributes raw milk products, among other items, weekly to members of the farming co-operative from a location in Maple, Ont.
In that case, York Region’s director of health protection said a “raw milk investigation” was underway.
Schmidt’s farming collective currently produces raw milk products that are distributed to its members. He has maintained that he believes the operation is within the law.
“I was never hiding what we were doing,” he said. “I was always of the opinion that we need to sit down with the government to establish a regular scheme that allows people to have their own cows and that they get uninterrupted the milk from their own cows.”
Schmidt has fought for his cause for years.
The Ontario government maintains the unprocessed milk poses a significant risk to public health, but Schmidt insists there’s no evidence anyone has ever fallen ill from his milk, and he and his supporters argue raw milk offers health benefits.
Last August, the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear Schmidt’s appeal of an earlier decision which meant his 2011 convictions on 13 charges under the Health Protection and Promotion Act and the Milk Act that saw him fined $9,150 stayed in place.
Ontario does not ban the consumption of raw milk and farmers are allowed to drink the milk produced by their own cows.
Earlier court decisions have found that Schmidt’s previous method of allowing consumers to buy an ownership interest in a dairy cow was little more than a way to circumvent the rules.
Schmidt then changed the structure of his business, getting his customers to buy part ownership in the farm, rather than just the cows.
© 2015 The Canadian Press