Support Litigation Fund for Dairy Farmers
In one of the more draconian enforcement actions ever taken against raw milk producers, the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industry (MPI) brought criminal charges against the farmers of nine different raw milk dairies for violations of that country’s Raw Milk for Sale to Consumers Regulations 2015 (the “2015 regulations”). Some of the defendants have also been charged with violations of the Animal Products Act (APA). The raw milk charges assert that by engaging in the supply of raw cow milk “a direct or indirect risk to human or animal health would be created.”
The Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) is aware of specific charges against three of the farms (two of the three are operated by pensioners). Cedric Backhouse and his wife (WAPF chapter leader Susan Gales) of Alt Energy Farm are each being charged with 26 violations of the 2015 regulations and the APA related to the distribution of raw milk and meat through a herdshare agreement; the potential penalties for each defendant are up to 19 years in jail and $1.8 million (over $1.25 million in U.S. dollars) in fines.
Phillippa (Pip) Martin and John Martin of Manna Milk are each facing seven charges with penalties of up to 12 years in jail and $545,000 in fines (over $380,000 US) for alleged violations of the 2015 regulations and the APA related to the distribution of raw milk through a limited partnership agreement.
Paul and Christine Ashton of Lindsay Farms are each facing five charges with penalties up to eight years in jail and $320,000 in fines (over $225,000 US) for alleged violations of the 2015 regulations related to the distribution of raw milk through a limited partnership agreement.
A majority of the farmers charged were operating under a herdshare or a limited partnership business model as a matter of survival after MPI issued the 2015 regulations affecting raw milk production and sales (the regulations went into effect in March 2016). The ministry promulgated the regulations as a result of a 2014 foodborne illness outbreak associated (or blamed on) raw milk consumption where seven people became ill.
The number of dairies selling or distributing raw milk is a fraction of what it was before MPI imposed the new regulations. It is considerably more difficult for the remaining dairies to make a living than it was five years ago. MPI’s enforcement action against the farmers–in addition to putting the charged farms out of business–is designed to create a chilling effect on the remaining farms and on farmers thinking of starting up a raw milk business.
ACTION TO TAKE
WAPF, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is accepting donations to help pay legal expenses for the charged farmers. Donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent of the law. To donate, please use the link here (westonaprice.org/donate) and indicate the fund for ‘New Zealand raw milk’. (For those wanting to send a check, please specify that it is for “New Zealand raw milk”.)
Before the 2015 regulations went into effect, it was estimated that as many as 200 farms were selling or distributing raw milk in New Zealand; today there could be less than 20% of that number still left.
A. Compliance Barriers
The cost to raw milk farms to comply with the 2015 regulations was in the range of $10,000-$20,000 per year for each farm regardless of what the farm’s production volume was—an expenditure that many farms could not afford. Beyond that, there were several ways that the new requirements significantly hurt the farmers’ ability to make a living.
1. Depot Permits and Burdens
Before 2016, farmers were able to deliver raw milk to a central distribution point (also known as a “depot”), a necessity given the distance between most farms and their customers plus the substantial amount of extra time it takes to deliver door-to-door. The new regulations required a permit for each depot the farmers were delivering to; otherwise, sales were limited to on-farm and to customer premises. Given the estimated cost of permitting each depot, out of the 26 raw milk farms that have registered with MPI (registration was also a requirement in the 2015 regulations), only one has obtained depot permits. Any customer wanting to pick up milk at the depot had to be registered with MPI as a transport operator. There are numerous recordkeeping requirements for a transport operator even when that individual is picking up milk for his or her own family.
2. Sell-by and Use-by Constraints
The most damaging provisions for farmers in the new regulations were sell-by and used-by requirements for raw milk. The regulation for a sell-by time states the following:
“The sell-by time for a lot of milk is the time that is the 30 hours after the commencement of milking for the oldest milk in that lot. (For example, if milking commenced at 7am on Monday 4 June, the sell-by time is 1pm on Tuesday 5 June, even if milk from a subsequent milking is added to that lot.).”
One of the registered farms estimated that this mandate cost them 30% of their business since the farm was unable to meet the time constraints in getting the milk to its more distant customers.
The requirement for the use-by date for raw milk “is 4 days after the commencement of milking for the oldest milk in the lot.”
Another onerous mandate for the farmers is on testing. Dairies are required to test for five different pathogens, coliforms, plate count, somatic cell counts, and “inhibitory substances” every 10 days. Estimates for the cost of testing are around $750 per month.
Lastly, the regulations require that farmers not only keep customer names on file for MPI inspection but also every transaction with each customer as well.
B. Alternate Business Models
Many dairies, knowing they couldn’t afford the cost of compliance with the new regulations, went out of business before the new law took effect. Others–believing their only way to stay afloat was to not have to comply with the 2015 regulations–set up business models such as herdshare programs and limited partnership agreements, proceeding in good faith that giving their customers an ownership interest in their dairy livestock would exempt them from the new requirements.
C. MPI Raids
When fewer raw milk producers registered than MPI had anticipated, in 2019 the ministry launched “Operation Caravan”, an investigation of dairies that MPI suspected were not complying with the new regulations. The investigation included the extensive use of MPI undercover operatives. In December 2019 MPI obtained search warrants and raided eight raw milk farms and farmers’ homes around the country, seizing everything from customer lists to computer hard drives. Some of the raided farms shut down; others kept on going. After a year-long investigation, MPI filed criminal charges in December 2020. The Ashtons had registered Lindsay Farm with MPI months earlier, having been told by the ministry that any potential charges would go away if the farm was registered.
Backhouse and Galea are each charged with 17 counts of selling or offering to sell illegally home-killed meat; each count lists the amount allegedly sold as under $100 and one was for only $15.40. The potential fine for each of the 17 charges is up to $75,000. MPI has never accused Backhouse and Galea of making anyone sick with the milk or meat they produced.
An attorney representing one of the charged farmers has been unable to find evidence that any of the charged farmers made anyone ill with the milk they produced. Under the law, MPI can only prosecute those whose products pose a public health risk.
Arraignment for defendants is scheduled to take place in March.The accused farmers and the 250,000 New Zealand residents who consume raw milk need your support.
Please contribute to this effort to protect freedom of choice, strong local food systems, and the right of small farmers to make a living producing nutrient-dense food.
Thanks for your generosity and your help in spreading the word.
To donate, please use the link here (westonaprice.org/donate) and indicate the fund for ‘New Zealand raw milk’. (For those wanting to send a check, please specify that it is for “New Zealand raw milk”.)🖨️ Print post