Farmers & Consumers Challenge Raw Milk Ban


In a last ditch attempt to save the raw dairy operation at Glencolton Farm, 21 Ontario farmers and consumers filed a constitutional challenge on February 8 in a Toronto Superior Court to the province’s ban on raw milk sales and distribution. One of the parties to the lawsuit is Elise Vander Hout, a WAPF chapter leader whose husband Michael Schmidt has been fighting for legalization of raw milk sales in Ontario for the last 24 years.

The petitioners (the term used in Canada is applicants) are asking for exemptions to the Ontario Milk Act, the Health Protection and Promotion Act, and the Food and Drug Regulations with the sum of the exemptions sought being “to allow the processing, sale and distribution of raw milk and/or raw milk products (raw milk) in containers having a detailed warning label advising of the risks of consuming raw milk directly to persons who wish to purchase and consume raw milk and/or raw milk products . . . .”

The 21 individuals filed the challenge in response to a January 5 decision by Judge P.W. Sutherland of the Superior Court of Justice in Newmarket who issued an order prohibiting all raw milk producers in Ontario from operating a raw milk plant without a license and from any distribution of raw milk by an unlicensed plant; under provincial law any raw milk produced by a licensed dairy plant must be pasteurized. See the “Quiet Dictatorship Strikes Again” for more background.

The main parties in the Newmarket case beside Schmidt and Vander Hout were the Agri-Cultural Renewal Cooperative Inc. (ACR) and Our Farm Our Food Cooperative Inc. (OFOF). In 2010 ARC purchased Glencolton Farm in its entirety, owning all the land, buildings, equipment and animals; former owner Schmidt still works on the farm but owns nothing of it. OFOF later purchased 100% ownership of the cows and hired ARC to care for the cows and manage the dairy operations at Glencolton Farm. The 143 members of OFOF invested $2,000 to join the co-op and have access to raw milk and raw milk products. Schmidt, Vander Hout, ARC, OFOF and the other defendants in the case have appealed Judge Sutherland’s ruling to the Court of Appeals for Ontario requesting that the judge’s orders and the appeal itself be stayed until the Toronto Superior Court of Justice has issued a decision on the constitutional challenge. Failure to obtain a stay would mean the end of Glencolton Farm’s dairy operation.

In an affidavit filed for the appeal Vander Hout describes the consequences of the Court of Appeal not staying Judge Sutherland’s orders:

    “To date (February 12) I have complied with the orders of Sutherland, J. However, we are struggling to maintain the closed herd of thirty-two cows which we will soon be unable to afford. We are faced with the horrifying prospect of taking the entire herd to the butcher. Already it has been necessary to butcher three cows named Alera, Vanessa and Lana, whom we said goodbye to on January 18, 2018. This is a big loss to our herd and we are devastated at having to take this measure. If the whole herd is butchered, it would be impossible to rebuild in our lifetime . . . . As a result of the Sutherland J.’s orders, we have also had to stop milking one-third of our cows.”

Vander Hout goes on to state that the end of the dairy operation would mean a loss of $175,000 annually for Glencolton Farm, income amounting to one-half of the farm’s total revenue. Also lost would be the genetics of the rare heritage breed “Canadienne” cows that Schmidt has bred for over the past 30 years.

Petitioners are basing the constitutional challenge mainly on two clauses of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. One of the clauses states, in part, “Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression….”

The other clause provides, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”

In her affidavit Vander Hout states, “Many consumers, friends and members of my community have had extremely positive health improvements due to consumption of raw milk. I cannot, in good conscience, enjoy consuming health-giving raw milk on my farm with my family (under the Ontario Milk Act only dairy farmers and their families have legal access to raw milk), while others are left to suffer their ailments which led them to seek out access to raw milk in the first place.”

The petition describes the consumer parties to the challenge as “individuals who for many years have purchased raw milk, consumed it themselves and provided it to members of their families for the health benefits they believe it affords. Each holds, as a matter of conscience or religion, that she or he should have the right to obtain raw milk from farmers in Ontario for that reason . . . . Contrary to the principles of fundamental justice, the prohibitions against the sale of and distribution of raw milk have deprived the applicant consumers of its health benefits which are fundamental to their lives and security of person.”

Documents submitted as part of the appeal show the detailed health, sanitation and food safety protocols the farm meticulously employs and further illustrate how the Ontario laws have nothing to do with protecting the public health but rather only have the intent to prohibit competition to the Ontario dairy industry. The petition notes that there is no law prohibiting the consumption of raw milk which wouldn’t be the case if the product was truly regarded as a health hazard. The only threat to health is the senseless loss of a great source of nutrient-dense food if the Toronto Superior Court rejects the constitutional challenge.

The petition states, “The values that underlie Canada’s political and moral traditions demand that the Applicants should be free to hold and manifest whatever beliefs and opinions their conscience dictates so long as such displays do not injure their neighbors or their neighbors’ parallel rights to hold and manifest beliefs and opinions of their own.”

The Toronto court has the opportunity to uphold freedom of choice something that the corporate/bureaucratic dictatorship wants to crush. For 26 years Michael Schmidt has provided raw milk to Ontario families; whether he will provide any more will likely come down to the ruling in this case.

Those supporting freedom of choice in Canada are encouraged to make a donation at GoFundMe.com/foodrights.

Top graphic snipped from “Food Rights” video, published 19 Oct. 2015 on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8UWf_A3uFs

Updated 3/14/18 – title revised from “Farmers and Consumers File Constitutional Challenge to Ontario Raw Milk Ban”

Victory in Virginia – Bills Threatening Herd Shares Now Dead

Joel Salatin said, “If this is not reminiscent of David and Goliath, I don’t know what is”, referring to the defeat of two bills posing a major threat to the future of herdshare programs in Virginia. Virginia Farm Bureau, Virginia Agribusiness Council, and the Virginia State Dairymen’s Association all supported the legislation but grassroots mobilization against the bills lead by the Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association (VICFA) won out with an assist from members of the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) and the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) and other food freedom advocates.

Herdshare agreements are private contractual arrangements in which someone purchases an ownership interest in a dairy animal (or herd of dairy animals) and pays a fee to a farmer for boarding, caring for and milking the animal(s). The owner has the property right to obtain raw milk from the animal(s). It’s legal to purchase ownership in a dairy animal and it’s legal to obtain milk from a dairy animal you co-own. Herdshare programs have been flourishing in Virginia for many years.

Last month legislators carrying out the agenda of industrial agriculture introduced House Bill 825 and Senate Bill 962 in the Virginia legislature. While the bills officially legalized herdshares [currently there is nothing in the Virginia Code on herdshares], they were an attempt to intimidate both consumers and farmers from either entering into or continuing on with herdshare agreements. Each bill provided that violating any of its requirements would be first degree misdemeanors with criminal penalties of up to one year in jail and $2,500 in fines; every day the violation continued would be a separate offense. Both farmers and consumers could have been found guilty of a crime for not turning over copies of their contracts to government agencies. Both bills stated it was illegal for anyone besides the party to the heredshare contract to receive raw milk; in other words, giving raw milk to family or guests would be a crime according to the wording in the bills.

To scare consumers away from signing contracts, there was a requirement in both bills that the herdshare agreements contain a clause stating that shareholders assumed joint liability if the herd or any milk produced by the herd was responsible for any injury or illness. HB 825 and SB 962 each required there be a label on all raw milk containers with a consumer advisory warning about the dangers of consuming raw animal foods. Why would shareholders need a label on their own property? Why should they be forced to trash their own property with an advisory?

Reaction to the bills’ filings was swift. Farmers and consumers bombarded legislators with phone calls, emails and in-person visits to the capitol. VICFA kept people apprised of the bills’ status and mobilized the local food community to attend the hearings on the bills. Herdshare farmers like Dwayne McIntyre of Goshen Homestead, Jacques and Kim Fuhrmann of Our Fathers Farm, the Wilkes family of Honey Brook Farm, Tim and Joy Alexander of Avery’s Branch Farm, and Scott Wilson of Full Quiver Farm all made a difference in building opposition to the legislation.

On February 1 the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources held a hearing on SB 962; around 100 opponents of the bill packed the hearing room. Senator Mark Obenshain, seeing the writing on the wall with the opposition to the bill, took out a number of SB 962’s more onerous provisions but opponents weren’t buying the revised version of the bill. Their message throughout the testimony opposing SB 962 was clear: no regulation, period!

VICFA member and herdshare pioneer, Christine Solem, began the opponents’ testimony by angrily warning the committee that she would “fight this all the way.” Twice, Solem took herdshare lawsuits to the Virginia Supreme Court in the 1980s with the court implicitly recognizing that herdshare agreements were legal.

Mark Wilkes of Honey Brook Farm commented in his testimony that the bill “was a solution in search of a problem.” VICFA president Anne Buteau backed up that statement in her testimony by pointing out to the committee that, in the 30 years of herdshares operating in Virginia, government officials investigating the one foodborne illness outbreak attributed to raw milk distributed through a herdshare did not go public with the information because, as they stated, “the nature of the herd-share programs are such that we were confident that we would effectively reach those who were truly at risk for illness.”

Herdshares are closed-loop arrangements with a high level of traceability. Virginia government officials have all the authority they need under existing law to conduct an effective investigation if there is a suspicion of foodborne illness.

Senator Richard Black agreed with Wilkes and Buteau, firing up the crowd when he remarked, “I don’t know what problem it’s addressing. People life a free life in rural areas and don’t want government peeking over their back and telling them what to do.”

Once the testimony was over, the committee voted 8 to 7 not to report the bill out of committee. Delegate Barry Knight, the sponsor of HB 825, knowing how difficult it was going to be to pass a more burdensome bill than SB 962 (HB 825, unlike the Senate bill, gave government broad rule-making power) moved to withdraw his bill; on February 5, a House Agriculture subcommittee struck the bill by an 8-0 vote.

VICFA’s mission “is to promote and preserve unregulated direct farmer-to-consumer trade that fosters availability of locally grown or home-produced food products.” VICFA co-founder Salatin, Solem and other VICFA members such as the late Katherine Russell, helped create a “don’t tread on me” culture that is present throughout Virginia when it comes to farmer-to-consumer unregulated commerce, particularly with herdshares. Those in the local food movement there don’t ask the government for permission to exercise their rights and they want the government to leave them alone.

VICFA operates on a shoe-string budget but members, like Buteau, Solem, past president Lois Smith, and Suzi Croes, will spend the time it takes to protect herdshares–the crown jewel of the local food system in Virginia. They continue to be effective in keeping herdshares away from any regulation; in 2017 VICFA helped kill an attempt by Farm Bureau to ban herdshares. When it comes to establishing and protecting unregulated direct farmer-to-consumer commerce, it is a model organization for those in other states to follow.

Click image below to watch the video from the 2/1/18 Senate committee hearing on SB 962 starting at time marker 0:45:40 (Note: Christine Solem stands to the right, behind Senator Obenshain)

Raw Milk Legalization — What Is New Jersey Waiting For?


The New Jersey Department of Health (NJDH) has been busy recently on the raw milk front. In one investigation NJDH sent cease and desist letters to various dropsites at private residences. The dropsites were allegedly distributing raw milk and raw milk products to customers of an out-of-state dairy. In another action NJDH was investigating a New Jersey based food buyers co-op sourcing raw milk from multiple out-of-state producers. The department was trying to determine which of the producers was responsible for an illness caused by the consumption of raw milk. The two cases represent an opportunity for the state to evaluate its law prohibiting the sale and distribution of raw milk and acknowledge that the law needs changing.

The cease and desist letters threatened the families operating the dropsites with fines for distributing raw milk. This isn’t the first time NJDH took this kind of action. In 2007 NJDH also sent cease and desist letters to individuals having dropsites at their residences. The difference from the investigation eleven years ago is that NJDH sent letters to considerably more dropsites this time around; not surprising since demand for raw milk has been consistently increasing for years. Otherwise law-abiding citizens will do what they have to in order to obtain raw milk in states like New Jersey where the sale is banned; whether NJDH will admit that or not, it’s the reality.

In the case of the food buyers co-op, NJDH was having a difficult time trying to determine which dairy was responsible for making a member of the club ill with brucellosis. There were media reports discussing the NJDH investigation but none reporting that the department had identified the producer responsible for the illness; it is clear that NJDH was having problems with traceability.

If you combine the growing demand for raw milk among New Jersey residents along with the traceability issue NJDH has been having with out-of-state dairies it would be a good move for the state to consider legalization. A good first move for the state would be to allow by policy the distribution of raw milk through herdshare agreements; under herdshare contracts raw milk consumers obtain an ownership interest in the dairy animal(s) enabling them to obtain raw milk and hire the farmer to board, care for and milk those animals. Herdshare programs are closed-loop arrangements in which there is a high level of traceability if there is a suspected illness; something NJDH should appreciate after what it has been through.

New Jersey dairy farmers have lost millions of dollars in potential revenues to Pennsylvania raw milk producers (there are less than 70 Grade A dairies left in the state) but that never moved the state government to end the prohibition on raw milk sales and distribution. What could change the state’s position though is the difficulty its health department had in conducting an investigation of foodborne illness combined with the fact that demand for raw milk among New Jersey residents will only continue to further increase. Allowing the distribution of raw milk through an arrangement outside the stream of public commerce would be a good first step for the state.

They are Rounding Up the Raw Milk Drinkers

Republished by permission from Bernadette Barber, originally posted 25 January 2018 at Virginia Food Freedom.

Twin bills in the Virginia legislature, SB 962 by Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-26) and HB 825 by Del. Barry Knight (R-81) are the first steps in destroying the very farm operations that allow people to access cream line raw milk (farm fresh, unpasteurized, unhomogenized).

In the 1950’s it was common to purchase raw milk in VA. Over the course of time, industrialization forced smaller dairies out of the countryside. By the 70’s and 80’s people were missing that good old real milk. They sought it out and by default, since by then outright purchase was illegal, they found that it was not illegal to drink milk from your own cow. So it began, cow shares and herd shares sprang up in Virginia.

People chose raw milk for a myriad of reasons, taste, healthfulness and ability to know the farmer who milks the cow are three major ones.

To understand the gravity of the situation, one must understand the power hungry milk processors at the state level and the national level. They have well paid lobbyists. The lowly dairy farmer him or herself does not make a fortune on milking cows. They might make a dollar a gallon (it is measured by weight not volume). On the other hand the processors, who manufacture the creams, yogurts, butters, flavored milks, cheeses and more are making a fortune. Sometimes the margins are so slim on items they constantly must create new items to appeal to the masses. Over the course of time competing industries have interfered with profit margins. Enter protein and power beverages, designer teas, gatorade, coconut milk, almond milk, designer juices and more. They all command attention at the grocery store and the dairy industry is losing the customer base it once had.

Citing USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Data from 2012 to 2016, annual conventional milk sales declined by 8%, (that’s 4 billion pounds) and organic milk sales increased by 20%. The decrease in fluid milk sales transfers to an annual decline of $1.7 billion dollars as reported by the American Farm Bureau Federation.

So there it is, the bottom line. Fluid milk sales is a mult-billion dollar trade. And they don’t want to share. So in come the RINO republicans and industry advocates, Barry Knight and Mark Obenshain to kill off a small thriving community of cow-sharing- organic-raw-milk drinkers and farmers.

Do yourself a lovely favor this day, consider acquiring some raw cream for your coffee. And do some online research. In one search use the word CAFO and in another use the words cow share. See which model you would like to use for your personal food consumption. And ask yourself why Knight and Obenshain want to destroy small farm operations.

If you have more time, please call Del. Knight 804-698-1081 and Sen. Obenshain 804-698-7526 and ask them to withdraw the bills. Because they are both on the Agriculture Committees, they do represent ALL Virginians in that aspect, please don’t let the gatekeeper deny your voice. It will help some small farmers.

For more information on the issue and to get involved, please view and join www.vicfa.org 

Thanks for all your help,

Bernadette Barber