Ontario farmer Michael Schmidt was acquitted Jan. 21 on 19 charges of distributing raw milk and raw milk products, but that is probably not the end of his legal troubles.
The provincial government is expected to appeal the decision by a justice of the peace to acquit Schmidt and overturn a $55,000 contempt of court fine levied against him two years ago for disobeying an earlier order to cease distributing raw milk.
While raw milk supporters celebrated the win, the justice upheld the Ontario Health Protection and Promotion Act and the Milk Act, the province’s laws banning the sale of raw milk. The government, backed by health experts, says unpasteurized milk is unsafe to drink.
Justice of the Peace Paul Kowarsky said Schmidt did not break the laws because the 150 people receiving raw milk from him are part owners of the 30 cows on his farm. They pay Schmidt a $3-a-litre fee to manage the animals.
The government contended during his trial in 2009 that the cow-share program is an attempt to skirt the terms of the law forbidding the sale and distribution of raw milk.
Schmidt has been fighting the government for more than a decade for the right to distribute raw milk. Both provincial and federal health officials have testified about the risks of contracting salmonella, listeria and E. coli from unpasteurized milk. He’s also had an ongoing battle with the provincial milk-marketing board.
Schmidt’s supporters say his farm is operated at high hygiene and sanitation standards and that pasteurization decreases the taste and health benefits of milk.
His case has been closely followed in British Columbia, where a similar fight is taking place, and in the United States. Raw milk advocates in several states are trying to overturn bans on raw milk sales.