Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund
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Defending the rights and broadening the freedoms of family farms and protecting
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Ready for raw milk battle

By Paul J. Henderson | Chilliwack Times

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

As if the neverending job of milking cows wasn't enough, Jongerden has to deal with the fact that once again Fraser Health has decided to crack down on her small Chilliwack raw milk operation.

On a visit to the barn on Dec. 23, Jongerden removed the milking device she had attached to the first cow and poured the milk into a transfer pump. The milk then was pumped to the next room, was filtered, put into jars immersed in ice water at which point the whole process was done.

The milk is flowing at Home on the Range raw milk dairy in Chilliwack, but not if Fraser Health has anything to say about it. Here, Alice Jongerden milks cows last week, but the distribution of that milk will be a challenge as Fraser Health has shut down all their commercial depots in the Lower Mainland.

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

Jongerden and her husband run Home on the Range Farms, a raw milk dairy in Chilliwack that Fraser Health is going to great lengths to shut down. 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 buys the milk from Home on the Range because people own shares in cows. Jongerden then distributes the milk through various depots in the Lower Mainland to shareholders.

In the fall of 2008, Fraser Health issued a cease and desist order to Jongerden and then a couple weeks ago went into their distribution depots and issued a cease and desist order to stop distributing raw milk for human consumption. Jongerden said Vancouver Coastal Health also shut down a number of depots, but the cease and desist order was for storing "unapproved food items."

Accompanied by the RCMP, a Fraser Health representative even came on to the farm, without a search warrant, and took photographs of the operation. She says she asked why they didn't have a search warrant and was told it wasn't needed "if we feel there is an emergency."

But Fraser Health never notified the farm, or the Times when asked, of any health emergency.

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

When asked why the crackdown at this particular time, Thorpe said they were acting on a report that the operation continued.

"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 will now take legal action against the dairy.

Thorpe said Fraser Health is seeking a court injunction to stop the distribution, since the cease and desist order has already been given.

But the whole issue could hinge upon what happens in Ontario with dairy farmer Michael Schmidt and his fight for the right to sell his milk to the public. Schmidt is backed by the Canadian Constitution Foundation that is willing to take the issue to the Supreme Court of Canada if it comes to that.

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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