Lawyers argue Ontario judge made errors in raw milk case
NEWMARKET - Lawyers for the provincial government are arguing that an Ontario judge made critical legal errors when he ruled in favour of raw milk crusader Michael Schmidt.
Last year, justice of the peace Paul Kowarsky threw out 19 charges against Schmidt related to selling and distributing raw milk.
The Health Protection and Promotion Act makes it illegal to sell unpasteurized milk in Canada because it's considered a health hazard. It is, however, legal to drink raw milk.
Kowarsky ruled that Schmidt's method of distribution -- a cow-share program he had started for raw milk consumers -- made him exempt from the legislation.
The year-long trial found that Schmidt's program, which elicited a raid by the Ministry of Health in 2006, did not violate provincial laws.
The Ontario government is appealing the ruling, but the Durham-based farmer and raw milk activist says Justice Peter Tetley won't release his decision until July.
"He has so much material he has to go through," Schmidt said after the hearing on Wednesday.
"It is an overwhelming task for him to go through all the documents ... there are many things he has to deal with in order to come to a proper decision."
There were more than 40 people in the Newmarket courtroom, many of them raw milk supporters, said Schmidt.
"The majority were people who basically are fighting for the right to consume raw milk, and I think they're very concerned about that," Schmidt said.
During Schmidt's trial last year, food scientists and health experts testified that mandatory pasteurization laws are needed to protect public health.
Schmidt argued that government officials and food scientists could not guarantee the safety of any food, and suggested informed consumers should be able to buy raw milk if they want.
He said the fight is not about milk, but about respect for an individual's right to make choices without government interference.
"Consider if they passed a law that you are only allowed to drink beer and don't have the choice to drink water," Schmidt said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.
"I think the principle of it is that people should be able to make a choice when it's related to their own health," he added.
At the end of last year's trial, Kowarsky acknowledged the growing trend towards the local food movement and said he found many cow-share programs existed around the world.