What is the current legal situation in BC surrounding farm-fresh, unprocessed milk? In a nutshell, tightly regulated.
The current situation is, that like all other provinces, all food products in BC are controlled and regulated from harvest to plate under the Natural Products Marketing Act (other provinces have similar legislation, just with different names). The B.C. Milk Marketing Board Regulation under this Natural Products Marketing Act gives the BCMMB complete control over all milk produced in the province, even milk produced by a family cow! The BCMMB however, has granted a “personal use exemption” for dairy animal owners:
” You can start up to 200 chickens or 50 turkeys every year, or keep any number of milking cows, as long as none of the milk is sold.” – (Farm Industry Review Board “Review of Specialty Production and New Entrant Programs Improving Access to the Supply Management System,” page 1).
Unpasteurized milk is regulated under several other laws as well, including section 6 of the Milk Industry Act and section B.08.002.2 (1)1 of the federal Food and Drug Regulation, both of which prohibit the sale of raw milk.
As in the rest of Canada, laws in BC prohibit the sale or distribution of raw milk to any destination other than to the milk marketing board, and only then if you have purchased quota.
British Columbia, of all provinces and states, is unique in that under BC law (specifically section 2(a) of the Health Hazard Regulation under the Public Health Act), unpasteurized milk is defined as being a “health hazard,” and to cause a health hazard is punishable by a maximum of a $3M fine or 3 years in jail. This, for a product which can be purchased in grocery stores and direct from farms in Washington State and California. An FOI request this June (see PDF at this link) revealed that the BC government has no evidence or documentation supporting the original passage of this law in 1988. One would expect correspondence, studies, consultations with stakeholders, reports, meeting minutes, and other records for such a important law which has had such devastating consequences for farmers — but none exist.
This current legal situation has created a “black market,” creating a climate of fear and putting both farmers and consumers at risk. Canada was founded by fresh-milk farmers, and yet this product, part of our history and heritage, is now illegal.
The B.C. Herdshare Association exists because we believe that, as in other nations, our farm-fresh unprocessed milk deserves to be legally available, farm to consumer, without the risks of a “black market.” We have a large and growing herdshare community in the province. From our surveys an interviews, we estimate that there are close to 100 herdshares across the province, as well as other farms producing fresh, unprocessed milk.. Eighty-nine percent of commercial Canadian dairy farmers drink their own farm-fresh milk, according to a 2010 study, so we know it is safe.
We are working toward dialogue with government, with the goal of trying to modernize our laws here in BC. Change will not happen overnight, but forming this organization and reaching out to those who write the laws are first two steps.