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Top court won't hear raw milk farmer's appeal

Top court won't hear raw milk farmer's appealFarmer Michael Schmidt talks to reporters on Thursday July 31, 2008 outside court in Newmarket, Ont. The Supreme Court of Canada will not hear an appeal from Schmidt who has long championed the right to sell and drink unpasteurized milk. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel

OTTAWA - The Supreme Court of Canada will not hear an appeal from an Ontario farmer who has long championed the right to sell and drink unpasteurized milk, but he says "it's not the end of the road."

The top court's refusal to hear Michael Schmidt's case — as is usual it did not provide reasons — means his 2011 convictions of 13 charges under the Health Protection and Promotion Act and the Milk Act that saw him fined $9,150 stand.

He will, however, continue his crusade to provide people who wish to buy raw milk with the unpasteurized product. The Ontario government maintains the unprocessed milk poses a significant risk to public health, but Schmidt insists there's no evidence anyone has ever fallen ill from his milk, and he and his supporters argue raw milk offers health benefits.

"I don't think it's the end of the road at all," he said from his farm in Durham, Ont., south of Owen Sound. "I think it was a ruling on a very specific case, a very specific situation. I think it will become much more a political issue now than a legal issue."

Ontario does not ban the consumption of raw milk and farmers are allowed to drink the milk produced by their own cows. Earlier court decisions have found that Schmidt's method of allowing consumers to buy an ownership interest in a dairy cow was little more than a way to circumvent the rules.

Schmidt has since changed the structure of his business, getting his approximately 150 customers to buy part ownership in the farm, rather than just the cows. The government has — so far — not prosecuted him in regards to his new operation, he said.

"I'm always open for surprises," Schmidt said, laughing. "But at the same time they know I'm committed and this issue will not die."

Schmidt has been locked in a decades-long battle with the province — including a hunger strike — over raw milk, arguing that willing consumers must have the right to choose what they consume. When Ontario's Appeal Court upheld his conviction it disagreed, saying unpasteurized milk poses a risk to public health, and the sales ban is constitutional absent definitive evidence of any health benefits.

"The impugned legislation prohibits the appellant from selling or distributing a product that certain individuals think beneficial to their health," the court ruled earlier this year. "Lifestyle choices as to food or substances to be consumed do not attract Charter protection."

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