A search warrant was executed by health officials last week at the Chilliwack dairy farm at the centre of the raw milk controversy in B.C.
Nothing was seized during the Aug. 25 search, but Fraser Health Authority spokesman Roy Thorpe-Dorward said photographs of the farm on Prairie Central Road are being reviewed to determine if a permanent court injunction issued last year against distribution of raw milk is being obeyed by the current farm owner.
He said the search did not arise from any complaints, but a warrant was obtained after FHA officials were denied entry for a “routine inspection” on Aug. 12.
Last year, after co-op co-founder Alice Jongerden was found in contempt of court for disobeying a court injunction and distributing raw milk labelled “Not For Human Consumption” to shareholders, operations of the “Home On The Range” farm was handed over to Michael Schmidt, a raw milk advocate from Ontario, and re-named “Our Cows.”
He continued distributing raw milk to investors in the “cowshare” co-op – not as food, but as a line of cosmetics, which falls under federal regulation.
“We take dividends from our jointly-held asset in the form of fluid milk labelled Enzymatic Bath Lotion,” co-op co-founder Gordon Watson said in an Internet blog.
But in a telephone interview he said the herd is private property, owned by the shareholders, and what they do with the milk is none of the health authority’s business.
“The FHA will say they anticipate that people will drink it,” he said. “I say it doesn’t matter what they do with it.
“They can paint with it – or they can drink it, if it suits them.”
Watson made no bones about what he does with his milk.
“I do drink my milk,” he said.
Watson said he doesn’t want a court fight, but he would “welcome” a prosecution, if it’s held “in open court and done properly.”
“I’m convinced what I’m doing is legal,” he said.
Watson argued that B.C. health authorities issue only a public “alert” when health hazards like tainted seafood are discovered, but shut down operations like raw milk cowshares in which members are fully aware of the risk.
Raw milk is sold legally in Washington state, he pointed out, “but up here it becomes a biohazard.”
“It’s not about health, it’s about the milk marketing monopoly,” he said.
B.C. Milk Industry Act regulations describe milk that has not been pasteurized at a licensed dairy plant as a health hazard, and the Fraser Health Authority is responsible for enforcement of the act and its regulations under the B.C Health Act.
There are cowshares operating legally in Ontario, but legislation differs in the two provinces, according to a B.C. Supreme Court justice.
“Raw milk is deemed to be a health hazard by regulation, and section 15 of the Public Health Act ‘prohibits a person from willingly causing a health hazard,’” Justice Nathan Smith said in his reasons for judgment in the Jongerden contempt of court case.
He said the injunction was “not directed solely at distribution to people Ms. Jongerden knew would use it for human consumption.”
“The injunction is this case was issued to prevent conduct deemed a health hazard and was clearly intended to prevent the distribution of raw milk in circumstances where human consumption is known to be a real and substantial possibility,” the justice wrote.