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Raw feelings at raw milk court hearing

Two-day court hearing brings raw milk activists together

A two-day court hearing in Ontario last week brought raw milk activists together to defend their rights.

It resulted in what they hope is a turning point in their fight for free access to the food they want to consume.

"We believe we scored a major victory," said Skip Taylor, a life-long raw milk drinker and member of Our Farms Our Foods, a 130-member consumer cooperative formed for the sole purpose of owning and drinking the unpasteurized milk of 28 dairy cows tended by a farming coop on a 300-acre farm near Toronto.

The farm was raided a year ago by police. In January, York Region and Ontario's health and agriculture and food ministries filed an application seeking an injunction against the distribution or sale of raw milk by the farm's managing coop, which include longtime raw-milk activists and dairy farmers Michael Schmidt and Elisa Vander Hout.

Schmidt was acquitted earlier this month of theft and mischief charges related to the disappearance of surveillance cameras found in a ditch near the coop's farm in Durham.

He and Vander Hout stormed out of this week's court hearing, daring provincial authorities to arrest them.

"I told the judge I didn't have time for this," Vander Hout told Canadian Grocer. "We have been asking government for dialogue on this issue for two decades. We're still not getting it."

READ: Got raw milk?

She said the farming and consumer coops now under attack by authorities were set up in what she called "a search for structures" to make the distribution and sale of raw milk compliant to Canadian law.

Though the production and consumption of raw milk is legal in Canada, sales of raw milk are banned under the Food and Drug Act.

It is also illegal for farmers to sell raw milk to anyone other than a processor for pasteurizing.

Several provinces, including Ontario and British Columbia, consider raw milk to be a public health hazard.

Vander Hout said she wants to be arrested so she can challenge the legality of the raw milk ban in court on the basis that it impedes people's right to get access to a food they want for any number of reasons, including health benefits, religious beliefs and tradition.

Taylor made similar arguments in his effort to be granted intervener status in the injunction battle.Though not a lawyer, he managed to convince the judge to concede his request.

READ: Public health officials raid raw milk farm

"It's a huge decision because for the first time it shifts the focus away from the issue of the legality of selling raw milk to one of basic human rights," Taylor said in a phone interview.

He compared the fight to get raw milk legalized to that of marijuana.

"We are a small aggrieved group," he said.  "We want justice."

Earlier this month, the Canadian raw milk lobby presented a petition to the House of Commons with more than 5,000 signatures.

The issue will now be the subject of a formal review by the federal government.

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