What is the current legal situation in BC surrounding farm-fresh, unprocessed milk? Unfortunately, the current law forbids distribution of a product which is legal in 43 US states plus England, Ireland, New Zealand, and all European nations.
The sale of raw milk is currently illegal under a 1991 Federal regulation plus under the provincial Milk Industry Act. Herdsharing has been illegal in BC since Social Credit Health Minister Peter Dueck issued the Health Hazard Regulation (see PDF) thirty years ago, back in 1988. This law, now section 2(a) of the Health Hazards Regulation under the Public Health Act, unfairly defines all unpasteurized milk as a “health hazard.” A 2010 court injunction defines the offence as “packaging and distribution.” In her reasons-for-decision, Justice Gropper states:
“… my only role is to determine whether the respondents have breached the legislation. There is no dispute that Ms. Jongerden, doing business as Home on the Range, has breached the Public Health Act and its regulations. It is not my role to excuse the respondents from the application of the law or to grant them the remedy which they seek. The remedy for the respondents is to convince the government to change the legislation.“
BCHA is therefore working to change this law, because the law is unsupported, obsolete, and ineffective.
- The law is unsupported because no evidence or documentation exists to support either its passage in 1988 or its continued existence now. The government has no records from 1988 justifying its passage (see Freedom of Information request PDF). QMRA studies show that raw milk is a low-risk food. And finally, outbreaks cited by the CDC to vilify raw milk are often caused by illegally-imported Mexican “bathtub” cheese and contaminated milk produced by industrial methods by confined-herd dairies, i.e. milk that need to be pasteurized in order to be safe, not milk from grass-fed micro-dairy herdshares with RAWMI-trained agisters.
- The law is obsolete given that the Raw Milk Institute (est. 2011) has developed an on-farm food safety training program for raw milk production and our trained farmers are getting excellent test results. BCHA offers this training to agisters in BC. Our “B.C. Fresh Milk Project” proves that raw milk can be produced pathogen-free.
- The law is ineffective given that many commercial dairy farmers are selling their surplus “out the back door” or distributing raw milk to employees, friends, and family. It is ineffective because anyone with one Jersey cow or a few goats can supply the dairy needs of over a dozen of their neighbours — and they usually do! It is ineffective because many residents of southern BC regularly purchase raw milk in Washington State while cross-border shopping. It is ineffective because consumers are demanding raw milk and dozens of herdshares – well over 100 – are flourishing B.C-wide.
Other laws also govern raw milk. 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 law under this Natural Products Marketing Act gives the BCMMB complete control over all cows’ milk produced in the province, even milk produced by a family cow. Unpasteurized milk is regulated under 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. In Canada, unlike the U.S., there is no legal distinction between “private” and “public” commerce — all commerce in Canada is regulated. Note that this means that “private buying clubs” cannot operate and sell raw milk as some do in the U.S.
Consumers in B.C. deserve to have legal access to farm-fresh unprocessed milk. Eighty-nine percent of Canadian dairy farmers drink their own farm-fresh milk according to a 2010 study by Guelph University, so we know that fresh milk is safe.
Just as in eleven U.S. states, herdshares can be legalized in Canada without legalizing sales. It will take a simple change to one regulation, the Health Hazards Regulation. Health Minister Adrian Dix could do it with the stroke of a pen.
We are working toward dialogue with government, with the goal of trying to modernize B.C. law to legalize micro-dairy herdshares. Change will not happen overnight, but forming this organization and reaching out to those who write the laws are first steps. Please support BCHA by volunteering, donating, or helping ask government to change the law. And please write to or email Health Minister Dix and ask him to please change the law. His contact information is here.
- See our newsletter for an update on progress with government talks.
- See also this “Raw Milk Policy” information website, created by one of our members.
From Report of the British Columbia Royal Commission on Milk 1954-55:
|“I have no hesitation in recommending that the Legislature enact laws providing that all milk intended for human consumption … should be pasteurized. There would, of course, have to be certain exceptions. I do not suggest that a person who really wants to drink raw milk and is prepared to accept the risk of doing so should be deprived of that privilege. There is undoubtedly a market for raw milk, and I think that farms producing milk which is intended to be sold for human consumption without pasteurization should be subject to special inspection, as is presently carried out on a number of farms on Vancouver Island, and should be given a special grade such as triple A.” – the Honourable Justice John V. Clyne, Judge of the Supreme Court of B.C., Commissioner.