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Unpasteurized milk producer fights Fraser Health shut-down order

By Paul Henderson and Randy Shore | Vancouver Sun

A dairy cow sticks out its tongue in a cowshed. Photograph by: Michael Dalder, Reuters

Alice Jongerden goes back and forth between washing udders, turning on her laptop computer, milking cows and answering her cell phone.

Jongerden removes the milking device she had attached to the first cow and poured the milk into a transfer pump. The milk then is pumped to the next room to be filtered and put into jars immersed in ice water at which point the whole process is done.

Cow-to-bottle, ready for consumption in less than 10 minutes.

But Jongerden's raw milk operation is accused of being in violation of the Public Health Act and Fraser Health has served the farm with a cease and desist order and is seeking a court injunction against her Home on the Range Farms to stop the distribution of raw milk.

Fraser Health spokesman George Rice declined to provide more detail on the action against Jongerden, saying "it's all before the courts."

An appeal of the cease and desist order has been filed.

Canda does not allow the sale of unpasteurized milk on the grounds that it may contain disease-causing bacteria. Milk is a rich medium for the growth of salmonella, E. coli and listeria.

But advocates of raw milk say it also contains friendly bacteria, minerals and enzymes that are destroyed by germ-killing treatments.

The dairy started with the family's desire to have their own milk, but it quickly spread as they had more than they could consume.

Now, they have 20 grass-fed cows that produce enough milk for more than 350 households. No one actually buys milk from Home on the Range, people own shares in the cows.

Jongerden distributes the milk to shareholders through about half a dozen small grocers and delis in the Lower Mainland.

Seven raw milk dairies operate in British Columbia, all as member-owned cow-share operations, according to raw milk advocate Gordon Watson.

In the fall of 2008, Fraser Health issued a cease and desist order to Jongerden to stop the distribution of raw milk

Earlier this month Fraser Health served a cease and desist order to each of their distributors ordering them to stop distributing raw milk for human consumption, technically for storing "unapproved food items."

A Fraser Health representative came on to the farm two weeks ago accompanied by the RCMP and took photographs of the operation. The visit was triggered by information that Jongerden was still producing milk in violation of the Fraser Health order, said Rice.

"We were checking back to the operation to see if they were in compliance," Roy Thorpe, a media spokesperson for Fraser Health said.

"Our role is to enforce the Public Health Act," he said. "As for the 'why?' There is no picking and choosing what part of the Public Health act we are enforcing."

Wojtek Szuminski and four of his children came all the way from Burnaby to visit the farm, see the milking operation, and to pick up about eight litres of milk. Szuminski grew up in communist Poland where the only kind of milk around was raw milk.

For him, there is some irony coming from a totalitarian regime to supposedly free Canada and public health officials are fighting his ability to access raw milk.

"It's completely ridiculous," he said. "They spend the taxpayers' money looking for a loophole in a legitimate right. Let me decide what is healthy for me."

Tim Shum, Fraser Health's regional director of health protection, says raw milk is a health hazard and that Fraser Health is seeking a court injunction to stop the distribution.

But the whole issue could hinge upon what happens in Ontario with cow-share dairy farmer Michael Schmidt and his fight for the right to distribute raw milk. Schmidt is backed by the Canadian Constitution Foundation that is willing to take the issue to the Supreme Court of Canada.

As for Jongerden, she isn't at all surprised at Fraser Health's zeal, as she is now used to it.

"There are a lot of things they could be doing better with their time," she said. "The question is: why are they doing it? A lot of people interested in our health and we want to have access to what is rightfully ours."

Jongerden has support from raw milk advocates and as for Fraser Health's threat of legal action, she is ready.

"I say bring it on. Let's get to court and let a judge decide if we can't even drink our own milk from our own cow."

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