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Prosecutions of New Zealand raw milk farmers continue; where it appeared that the government had initially filed criminal actions against nine different farmers, mostly for violations of the country’s raw milk laws, that number has increased to as many as sixteen total. As far as is known, none of the cases has actually gone to trial. At least five farmers settled their cases by agreeing to pay fines; in two other court actions where the farmers had pled guilty to violations of the raw milk laws, judges discharged the cases without convictions. Of these seven farmers, only one remains in the business of selling raw milk for human consumption. (See Wise Traditions, Spring 2021 issue for more background.)
The catalyst for the prosecution against the dairies was the issuance of the 2015 Raw Milk for Sale to Consumer regulations (the “2015 regulations”) by the New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI). In addition to having to register with MPI, dairy farmers faced the following requirements:
- Having to sell the raw milk no more than thirty hours after the commencement of milking for the oldest milk in the lot. One farmer said the thirty-hour limit left him unable to bottle his Saturday and Sunday milkings.
- Requirement of a time and date stamp on each container of milk. This requirement alone cost dairies customers—having to set a “consume by” date of only four days after the commencement of milking for the oldest milk in the lot.
- Requirement to test milk for five different pathogens every ten days, a cost estimated to run about seven hundred fifty dollars per month.
- Farmers had to register each depot (drop-point) where they distributed milk. MPI did an audit of each depot twice the first year after registration and once every year thereafter at a cost to the farmer of twelve hundred dollars per audit.
- Any customer wanting to pick up milk at a depot had to register as a transport operator. There were even record-keeping requirements for individuals picking up milk for their own family.
Many farmers, believing that they would not be able to afford the cost of compliance with the new rules, distributed milk through contractual arrangements such as limited partnerships and herdshare agreements—arrangements they thought would exempt them from the new rules. When MPI saw that not many farms were registering, it launched a sting operation, “Operation Caravan,” against the unregistered raw milk farmers leading to the ongoing criminal prosecutions.
Today there are few, if any, unregistered farms producing and distributing raw milk. The 2015 regulations were designed to put raw milk farmers out of business and have little to do with science and protecting the public health. For MPI, they have been a big success; shortly before the ministry issued the new regulations, there were upwards of two hundred dairies selling raw milk—today there are around twenty-five.
The best illustration of the absurdity of the government actions would be one of the farmers that had his case discharged after pleading guilty to one count of violating the raw milk regulations. A factor in the decision of the judge hearing the case was that the farmer was a long-time coach of underwater hockey in international competitions; the judge noted that a conviction could bar him from traveling to countries holding the competition. In his court opinion, the judge also pointed out that the farmer held the liquor license for a golf club of which he was the bar manager and that a conviction might affect the license.
An attorney representing one defendant could not find any evidence that any of the accused farmers had made anyone sick with the raw milk they had produced. Most of these farmers, whether or not they had to pay fines, owe tens of thousands of dollars in attorneys fees. WAPF will be setting up a fundraiser to help the accused farmers pay their legal expenses. It’s a way to give back to those who provided healthy food for their communities and many of the two hundred fifty thousand New Zealand raw milk drinkers.