Raw milk dispute still simmering

Raw milk marked ‘Not for human consumption.’  - Jenna Hauck/ Progress File
Raw milk marked ‘Not for human consumption.’
— image credit: Jenna Hauck/ Progress File

Health protection officials at the Fraser Health Authority are silent so far on what action will be taken, if any, after a search was conducted of a Chilliwack farm last month where unpasteurized milk is being distributed to members of a “cowshare” operation.

But Gordon Watson, a co-founder of the farm at the centre of the “raw milk” controversy in B.C., said he is considering legal action against the health authority for “misleading” a justice of the peace to obtain the search warrant.

“It’s not about whether somebody’s ever got sick from our milk,” he said, but protecting the province’s dairy industry.

Watson is also questioning why a regulation of the Milk Industry Act that provided for the sale of raw milk “from approved raw milk dairy farms” has been repealed.

He is asking Abbotsford-South MLA John van Dongen, former B.C. Agriculture Minister, for a meeting to “discuss how this untenable situation can be resolved quite easily.”

“Your administration would then be seen as listening to the people, rather than cobbling-together laws to suit corporate interests,” he said in the email.

van Dongen did not respond to a Progress request for comment.

A ministry spokesperson said the regulation was repealed in June to ensure the Milk Industry Act is “consistent with a regulation” of the Public Health Act that describes human consumption of milk unpasteurized by a licenced dairy plant as a “health hazard.” The act bans the sale of raw milk for that reason.

Watson said it is “preposterous to change an act because of a regulation” and pointed out that regulations can be amended without a vote by elected MLAs.

NDP agriculture critic Lana Popham also did not return Progress calls for comment.

But Gwen O’Mahony, a local NDP candidate in past provincial and federal elections, said she is proud of Canada’s health and safety standards, “but there has to be allowance, especially in today’s market for consumer choice, especially when it comes to organic or raw foods.”

“If the tobacco industry were subject to the same scrutiny as the B.C. raw milk producers, it would be illegal to sell cigarettes,” she said.

An FHA spokesman told The Progress last month that nothing was seized during the Aug. 25 search of the farm on Prairie Central Road, but pictures taken were being reviewed to determine if a permanent court injunction issued last year is being obeyed by the current farm owner.

The injunction banned distribution of raw milk, but Watson said the “assets” of the farm are being distributed to “cowshare” members - not as food, but as a line of cosmetics called Enzymatic Bath Lotion.

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