Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund
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Ontario farmer convicted in raw-milk trial, seeks maximum penalty

Farmer asks court to impose maximum penalty

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An organic farmer found guilty Monday morning of ignoring a court order to stop selling unpasteurized milk asked the judge to give him the maximum penalty.

Michael Schmidt has run a co-operative organic dairy farm near Owen Sound, Ont., for more than 20 years.

Contempt charges were sought by York Region officials, who fear there are health risks for people consuming the raw milk, including the risk of spreading salmonella, E. coli and listeria bacteria.

Schmidt still faces 20 charges laid by the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Grey-Bruce Health Unit. In order to save money for that trial, expected to begin in early 2009, Schmidt defended himself in the contempt case.

Justice R. Cary Boswell is yet to deliver a sentence for Schmidt, but did not say when that decision would be made.

While the Crown was not seeking jail time, Schmidt told the judge at a courthouse in Newmarket, Ont., to impose "the highest penalty you can find."

York Region lawyer Dan Kuzmyk said he was unwilling to let Schmidt become a martyr and "throw himself on the sword of York Region."

Justice Boswell said the case was about whether Schmidt had defied a court ruling, not whether consumers had the right to drink raw milk.

Selling raw milk is illegal in Canada. In Ontario, it is not illegal to drink it if you own the cow, and many farmers drink unpasteurized milk.

Schmidt's legal battles have sparked a heated debate over the safety of raw milk. Advocates have extolled its flavour and health benefits, while health officials and the province's milk marketing board, the Dairy Farmers of Ontario, have argued raw milk isn't fit for widespread distribution.

Schmidt has previously said he has sold part-ownership in his animals — or "cow shares" — and argues he is selling milking and distribution services, not the milk itself.

Schmidt has stood by his actions since health officials carried out an armed raid of his farm in November 2006 and seized his milking equipment.

"The rich and sweet taste of unpasteurized milk would blow most people away," Schmidt has said.

"I bet that 90 per cent of the people who would have the choice by blind tasting would all go for raw milk because that is the taste of milk and not what you buy on the shelf," he said.



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