Ontario raw milk farmer fined $9K

An Ontario dairy farmer found guilty of selling and distributing raw milk has been fined $9,150.
Dairy farmer Michael Schmidt, shown drinking raw milk outside a Newmarket court Friday, has been fined $9,150 for distributing and selling raw milk. (Jasmin Seputis/CBC)

An Ontario dairy farmer guilty of selling and distributing raw milk has been fined $9,150.

In September, an appeal court found Michael Schmidt of Durham guilty on charges related to the production and sale of unpasteurized milk.

It's illegal to distribute raw milk in Canada — unless it's to the farmer's immediate family.

Schmidt admitted he supplied raw milk to 150 families who bought shares in his herd of cows. He went on a hunger strike from late September until early November to protest the guilty verdict.

The farmer was given one year of probation for violating the Health Protection and Promotion Act. He also received an additional year of probation for operating a milk plant without a licence.

Schmidt remained defiant on Friday, toasting his sentence with a glass of raw milk. He said he plans to appeal within 30 days and will not pay the fine.

"I'd rather go to prison than pay the fine and that's a matter of principle," he said. "If I pay the fine, then this is almost like an admittance of guilt."

He has said previously that the fight is not about milk, but about respect for the individual's right to make choices without government interference.

It's legal to drink unpasteurized milk, but selling it is against the law because of the risk of E. coli, salmonella and listeria.

Charges laid after 2006 raid

The raw milk charges were laid after a 2006 raid on Schmidt's farm, and he was originally acquitted. But the government appealed and in September the Durham farmer was found guilty on 15 counts.

Schmidt has been fighting for years for the right to sell unpasteurized milk, even creating a "cow share" program so people who purchased raw milk had an ownership stake in the animals that produced it.

Schmidt argues that since his cows are part of the co-op, he can no longer be prosecuted.

"I don't own anything," the raw milk advocate said, explaining he has no way of paying the fine and no seizable assets.    

In the September ruling, the judge rejected Schmidt's argument that his cow-share operation exempted him from the legislation.  

Schmidt has intervened in raw milk cases in B.C. and Alberta, and developed a training and certification program for farmers called Cow Share Canada.

Schmidt will faces contempt of court charges in Vancouver on Dec. 5, in connection with a cow share in Chilliwack, B.C.

With files from The Canadian Press