Premier defends appeal of raw milk ruling
The province is right to appeal a verdict in favour of raw milk crusader Michael Schmidt because of ongoing public health concerns, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Tuesday, while the farmer called the move another example of a government intent on interfering with personal freedoms.
"My understanding is that there's still an overwhelming consensus among medical experts that raw milk presents a real risk to public health and we feel a responsibility to take this to a higher court and give the judge there an opportunity to speak to this," McGuinty said.
The government is appealing last month's decision by a justice of the peace to dismiss 19 charges against Schmidt of violating the Health Protection and Promotion Act.
Schmidt and his supporters say the appeal amounts to persecuting a small group of individuals seeking the right to make choices without government interference.
"This raw milk debate is about basic rights, which we have lost and we are losing every time this government passes another regulation without considering the most important factors of liberty and individual rights," Schmidt said.
"People are starting to rebel against the nanny-state."
The Durham-based farmer and activist vows to fight the appeal, and isn't backing away from what he terms "the raw milk movement," despite receiving two death threats since his acquittal and being publicly assaulted.
He has formed Cow Share Canada to help establish cow-sharing guidelines, testing and inspection procedures, he said. Meanwhile, the Canadian Constitution Foundation has approached the new health minister about eventually legalizing raw milk.
The appeal, Schmidt adds, is a political rather than a scientific one.
"During the trial, they never presented any kind of research which actually proved their point ... they had no evidence to counter our claims that the milk we produce can be perfectly safe and actually has health benefits," Schmidt said.
"They take all their research based on milk which is designated for pasteurization, but never did any research on milk which is specifically produced for human consumption."
While raw milk is legal to drink, it's illegal to sell in Canada because it's considered a health hazard.
During Schmidt's trial, 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.
The yearlong trial found Schmidt's innovative "cow-share" program for raw milk consumers -- which elicited a raid by the Ministry of Health in 2006 -- did not violate provincial laws.
Karen Selick of the Canadian Constitution Foundation said she plans to re-open the constitutional issue at the appeal and ask whether the law in itself should be challenged.
Selick said she can't understand why the province would appeal the verdict, since the original justice of the peace gave a very careful decision and made clear his ruling applied only to Schmidt.
"The optics of this appeal are very bad and, frankly, it's going to stir up another hornets' nest that could have been left undisturbed," she said.
"I wouldn't be surprised if it doesn't come back to bite the people who made the decision to appeal."
The appellate judge will have the option to dismiss the appeal, allow some part of it to go forward, allow a new trial, or proceed with a new trial in the appellate court, she said.
A decision isn't expected for some time.