Proceedings of B.C. Legislature on Milk

A bit of relevant legislative research from Gordon Watson in B.C.:

Gordon Watson addresses the crowds at a raw milk rally in Vancover. Photo from Vancouver Observer

Following is a bit of discussion on the floor of the Legislature of British Columbia in 1997. It substantiate the ruling in the case of Michael Schmidt = that the role of the provincial Health Authorities is to ensure the safety of milk provided to the Public,

Principle number 4 = self-reliance = is ironic, as we did precisely that with our cowshare, only to be dragged in to Court.

The section where I’ve made the type bigger underscores that the Minister of Agriculture is concerned with the status of a farmer producing milk for private citizens: it is NOT within the purview the Minister of Healthy Living – from which the Health Authorities derive their powers – to dictate the legitimacy of cowsharing.

One of the trump cards I played in Court last Monday was the letter to me from the [then] Minister of Agriculture John van Dongen, in which, in unequivocal language on official stationery, he said

“I can advise you that according to the Milk Industry Act, a person must not sell, offer for sale, or supply any dairy product unless the dairy product has been pasteurized. The Act does not prevent you from consuming unpasteurized milk from a cow which you own.”

There is room in BC for raw milk to be provided for those who want it, via both cowsharing and retail sales. Now that Rick Adam has brought to my attention this excerpt from Hansard, I’ll be using it in another letter to the current Minister of Agriculture,  reminding him that it’s his statutory duty to make a way for a farm to be certified in order to sell unprocessed milk to people who want it.

I am confident we shall see raw milk for sale in BC, before the end of 2010, legally.

Gordon S Watson


Hon. C. Evans:

I call second reading of Bill 12. MILK INDUSTRY AMENDMENT ACT, 1997
(second reading)

Hon. C. Evans:

I rise to move second reading of the bill. The bill amending the Milk Industry Act seeks to do four specific things: (1) ensure the continued safety of our milk; (2) decrease government costs; (3) increase government efficiency; and (4) increase industry self-reliance.


The present Milk Industry Act involves both the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Ministry of Health in joint roles of ensuring milk safety. Safe milk is a fundamental expectation in the minds of consumers. As one of the basic foods, we rightly expect milk to be safe and pure. The entire milk industry, from dairy producers through to retailers, prides itself in providing a safe, high-quality product. Public confidence in the safety of milk is the highest priority with the industry. Public trust in the industry is well placed. The quality of milk produced in British Columbia is reputed to be the highest in Canada.

The proposed legislative changes in no way compromise the safety of our milk. Instead, the amendments seek to clarify and streamline the roles of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Ministry of Health in the inspection of milk to increase efficiencies and decrease cost to government. The amendments clarify inspection responsibilities and change the way in which existing programs are administered.

Specifically, the Ministry of Agriculture is maintaining targeted on-farm inspection services to the dairy industry but

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withdrawing from routine on-farm inspections, thereby reducing its dairy farm inspection staff. This change responds to the budgetary reductions and the restructuring of this ministry. The ministry will maintain a system of licensing, sampling, testing and administrative enforcement tools.

My ministry will continue to maintain licensing of farms and milk receivers, assume oversight authority over inspections of new farms and the qualification of milk receivers, and follow up on farm problems resulting from infractions of milk standards. The Ministry of Health will take over responsibility for setting standards for raw milk going into processing plants and will continue to be responsible for all matters related to safety at processing plants and beyond.

Dairy producers will continue, as they have historically, to assume the greater responsibility for ongoing maintenance of farm standards and production of high-quality milk.

Milk will still be evaluated on-farm by trained, licensed tank-truck drivers when milk is picked up. Processors will continue to check milk when it is delivered to the processing plant. Industry will continue the current role of taking samples required by government to ensure that milk is meeting government-set standards.

In a nutshell, while the milk is still on the farm, it is the responsibility of dairy producers, subject to regulations by the Ministry of Health, to ensure its safety. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food supports these regulations with a licensing and enforcement program. Once it leaves the farm, the processing plant has the responsibility, with regulation by the Ministry of Health. This completes the transition of primary responsibility for all milk safety standards from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the Ministry of Health, as directed by cabinet in 1988.

Government will continue, with enforcement and penalties for non-compliance, to back up all standards. Government will continue to ensure records are kept and deal with on-farm follow-up of infractions in legislated milk standards.

These changes refocus  my ministry’s resources. They recast the Milk Industry Act as purely a milk safety statute, removing all provisions which concern non-safety-related matters. These changes build on improvements within the industry. They support the ministry and government’s policy objective of encouraging industry to become more involved and to take greater responsibility for industry matters generally.

During this process of reshaping the Milk Industry Act, both my ministry and the Ministry of Health have consulted with an industry representative committee. The ministry and the agriculture industry have evolved considerably over the last 100 years. Some pieces of legislation, such as the Milk Industry Act, are in need of updating to reflect the new realities of industry development, market demands and government resources.

Mr. Speaker, our goal is to work with industry to continue to provide safe, wholesome milk to consumers. I believe this amended legislation will benefit industry and government by providing efficient and effective delivery of services to a competent industry.

J. van Dongen:

I am pleased to respond in this second reading debate to the minister’s statement on Bill 12, the Milk Industry Amendment Act. The milk industry has a very interesting and long history, and I thought that it might be useful to provide a little bit of historical context. I did it partly out of my own interest but partly, I think, to illustrate where we’ve come from in terms of milk industry regulation, and also to illustrate the serious public responsibility that the government has in terms of maintaining milk quality.

The document that I want to refer to is a British Columbia royal commission on milk which was done in 1954-55 by the Hon. J. V. Clyne, a very well-respected individual. The document he produced as a result of that royal commission makes for very interesting reading in terms of the disease issues of the day in British Columbia with respect to the animal population, quality of milk issues, economic issues on farms and that sort of thing.

In the early fifties, conditions on farms were not very good. Milk quality wasn’t very good, and there was a lot of disease among animals. The interesting thing is that there were about 3,500 dairy farms in the Fraser Valley alone and hundreds of milk processors. Forty years later, we have some of the highest-quality milk anywhere in North America — anywhere in the world — and I think that’s a fact.

There are now hundreds of farmers in British Columbia, not thousands, and there has been a lot of rationalization in the industry. There are only about three major processors left, plus some smaller ones, but the ongoing rationalization that’s taking place within the industry is very significant. I think we’re also entering a time where conditions for farmers are getting more difficult. Certainly, we’re seeing some new waves of farmers going to other low-cost areas of production, such as Alberta.

I want to open my comments with some fairly extensive quotations from the royal commission report. I think there are some very interesting comments made by the judge in that report, and when you hear the comments, they will illustrate some of the significance of what we’re talking about. I’m reading from his executive summary at the beginning of the report. This is J.V. Clyne, and he says:

“The subject of health and sanitary considerations is discussed at length in the report, and the evidence as to the actual conditions of sanitation on farms in the Vancouver area is reviewed. In order that the public should receive a safe, clean supply of milk for fluid consumption, there should be adequate inspection of farms where the milk is produced, there should be bacteriological inspection at the receiving plant, the milk should be pasteurized and there should be frequent inspections of the plants themselves.”

Further on, he goes on to say:

“There is no doubt that the system of farm inspection in the Fraser Valley has broken down entirely and is practically useless at the present time. It is a matter of grave concern that the provisions of the Milk Act have not been obeyed or enforced in this area for a number of years. . . . A great number of farms are in first-class condition and are a credit to the community, but the conditions on others which are supplying milk for human consumption are disgusting and deplorable.” Further down, he says:

“There has been a similar disregard for the provisions of the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act insofar as brucellosis is concerned. . . . According to the evidence, the disease is quite common in the area, but no attempt has been made to quarantine or segregate, and there is no doubt that milk is being shipped for human consumption from infected animals. . . .” Further along, the judge says:

“The machinery exists under the act to stamp out the disease, and it is difficult to understand the lethargy which appears to have surrounded the enforcement of this statute in the Fraser Valley for a number of years, especially when active steps toward eradication have been or are being taken in every other important milk-producing area in the province. Fraser Valley farmers have lost a market for the sale of fresh milk to Alaska owing to herds not being certified as free from brucellosis.”

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Further along, J.V. Clyne makes a few comments with respect to the statute. This is based on his recommendations in 1956 for a milk industry act:

“Provisions dealing with milk are presently found in seven different provincial acts. A complete codification in one statute of all provincial legislation relating to the milk industry is desirable. . . . The present provisions in the statutes dealing with safeguards to health should be incorporated in the new statute, and the regulations dealing with farm inspection, quality of milk and diseases in animals should be revised and brought up to date.”

I want to include in this rendition of the royal commission just a few more direct comments, some of which are quotes from witnesses to the royal commission. In this case, I’m reading again from the text of the royal commission report, where he says:

“Dr. Kidd, the assistant livestock commissioner and assistant chief veterinary inspector, gave evidence as to the unsavoury condition of some of the farms in the Fraser Valley. . . . He says that he frequently found milk-houses used not only for their proper purposes but also for keeping meat, preserves and spare machinery parts. It is, of course, quite impossible to preserve proper conditions of cleanliness in the milk under such circumstances. He referred to one barn which had only been whitewashed once in 30 years, and that was when it was whitewashed free of charge after the Fraser floods in 1948. Commission counsel referred Dr. Kidd to grading records which I had requested the department to produce, and the witness had this to say. . . .”

So the question was: “Here is one in which you say, ‘This place is truly grim, ungraded and has no milk-house and stable and does not meet requirements.’ ” And the commissioner asks: “What grade did you give that?”

Mr. Norris, counsel to the commissioner, said: “My lord, that is ungraded.” And the commissioner said: “That is ungraded.” The answer of the witness, Dr. Kidd, was:

“I was at that place about three weeks ago. I was driving up the Fraser Valley and I dropped into that place about three weeks ago, and I will say that in the last four years that is possibly my fourth visit there. The stable was completely surrounded with manure, there were nine cows and three were milking, and one of the milk cows had mastitis. And I walked around to the front, there was a pen in which there were two pigs, and over in the far corner there was a wire screen up and there were chickens behind that, and over in the corner there was a cow that had slipped its calf the night before and the afterbirth was hanging.”

Question by the commissioner: “How many, just roughly, Dr. Kidd

. . . . I mean, you have been in that area pretty frequently over the last seven years. How many places would you say would be like this? Is this a usual thing, or are there others?”

Answer by Dr. Kidd:

“There are many others; according to the figures I gave last time I was on the stand, I said that there were approximately 25 percent of the premises in the Fraser Valley that were ungraded. And half of that 25 percent, I would say, were like that. Incidentally, the husband works for the school board in that municipality and he is never home to do anything.”


Then I also wanted to take a further quote out of the commissioner’s report that dealt with the issue of disease. It dealt in particular with animals in Squamish. He states here:

“There were approximately 450 animals in Squamish, and there had been 11 people with undulant fever, and one man had died, and it was the public health department who had requested that our department go in there and clean up the area. I blood-tested approximately 450 animals, and there were approximately 100 reactors, and I had all those removed to Vancouver for slaughter, and then I went back and did subsequent retests until I had two complete negative tests on all the animals in Squamish.”

Question: “And I think you spoke of the Gulf Islands, and is the milk there consumed locally, the milk that is produced?”


“It is all consumed locally. They had the same thing there on Galiano Island, the big dairyman was running short of milk and he phoned over to Saltspring Island for two cows to increase his production, and these two cows were sent to his herd, and about four months later he started to have complete abortions right through his herd. The public health department heard of this. They got in and investigated, they contacted our department, and Dr. Gunn gave me instructions to go out to Galiano Island to see what the score was and, if possible, start to clear it up. I got out there and I found that the man on Galiano Island was ready for a nervous breakdown, and his wife was ready for a nervous breakdown. There were two people going to sue him, blaming him for undulant fever in their families because of drinking their milk. They were ready for a disease-free area, so they signed up completely the petition that is required by our department, and I went back in and blood-tested every animal on all the Gulf Islands. On this one farm I am particularly telling you about, he had 26 milk cows, and before I was through I had taken 22 of them because of brucellosis.”

I realize that those were some lengthy quotes, but I thought it was interesting and useful to raise them in terms of this discussion. I think it shows how far we’ve come in the province in terms of the production of quality milk, but it also shows that we can’t make assumptions about things like sanitation, quality control, disease control and that sort of thing.

Bill 12, I think, was mainly triggered by the budget announcement in November of 1996. It seems to be part of an effort to reduce staffing in the ministry. Staffing levels, as I understand it, will decline in the dairy branch from the current complement of nine to four. This saving of five full-time-equivalents includes Earl Jenstad, who has been the leader of that branch and a leader in dairy regulation for many years. I had the privilege of working under Earl for four months in the summer of 1971 as an assistant dairy farm inspector. It was interesting to work with him at that time and observe him as the years progressed and I got into farming myself. At first, I thought Earl was an individual who wasn’t always tough enough to be a regulator, but as the years went by, I realized that he was probably a more effective regulator because of it. The approach that he took was very human but very firm, and he always got the job done.

The key mandate established by this bill is to regulate milk safety rather than milk quality

. I think that’s a very important distinction — and one that those of us with a long history in the industry will have to think through to make that distinction. There’s an easy way to explain the difference. I explain it this way: if you have water added to milk, either intentionally or otherwise, that is not a milk safety issue. Water in milk is not a public health problem, but it is a milk quality issue. There is no public health risk with that situation. On the other hand, if there is a residual antibiotic present in milk that is shipped to a milk plant, then that is a safety issue. This act is intended to provide the legislative authority to deal with that effectively.

I think it is absolutely fundamental that the government retains its role as the third-party watchdog on milk and milk-product safety on behalf of the public. Farmers also expect some ongoing involvement by the government on issues between farmers and processors, if for no other reason than to keep the processors honest about things such as milk grades, butterfat tests, etc. This bill moves the on-farm regulatory system for milk safety from a prescriptive approach to an outcome-based approach. That concept is certainly something

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that we on this side of the House have given considerable thought to, and we support the effort in that direction. There are lots of examples of regulations where we need to try and apply the principles that the government is trying to apply here.

Having said that, I think that the sudden wind-down of that branch does pose some concerns and some problems. I think there was a lot of good program work done by that branch in the area of service, in the area of education, in the area of milk-equipment testing and with some proactive, incentive-type programs to encourage better milk quality.

The ministry’s plan is for four people in all of B.C. to regulate farm-milk safety and to track milk safety records. I feel that this is a bare-bones operation. While we currently have the benefit of years of a strong program, we will lose its presence over time with the staff reductions.

I am satisfied that through this legislation, the minister does retain the proper authority to ensure public safety with respect to milk and milk products. There is no doubt, as I said, that the public expects this, nor is there any doubt that it is one of the roles of government to ensure food safety.

While the act will retain sufficient legislative power for the government to regulate, the final results as we go down the road will depend on conscious and ongoing commitments by the government to fund the necessary staff and resources to accomplish the act’s intent. The results will be dependent upon a minimum investment of critical resources. In my view, at the present time the staffing is certainly being cut to a minimum.

In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I want to say that we will be supporting the bill, but we will be looking for assurances from the minister that the government understands and accepts its responsibility to protect the public interest with regard to food safety and that it will maintain the necessary resources to carry out this critical task effectively. We will also be looking for other assurances that this legislation will not in any way jeopardize export opportunities — and I think it does that. We will also seek some comment from the minister on the relationship between B.C.’s proposed regulatory regime under this bill and the new Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which started operations on April 1, 1997. We’ll also be looking for assurances that the sections dealing with imitation milk products not be repealed until the appropriate regulations are drafted under the Agricultural Produce Grading Act.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I’m pleased to express my support for this bill. I look forward to working with the minister to discuss it further and, hopefully, to implement it as we go down the road.

F. Gingell:

I was going to speak to the Minister of Forests through the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Mr. Speaker, here is an occasion where this government, I think, is beginning to think about the issues of how regulation should be done. I have said two or three times in this House — and I take the opportunity to repeat it — that I believe that government will work more effectively and more efficiently when they focus their regulations on descriptive rather than prescriptive methodology; instead of telling people what they should do, they identify what it is they should accomplish. Perhaps for the first time, with this particular bill and these particular amendments, I see a move in that direction and I welcome it.

I think we’re going in the right direction. The reason I was hoping the Minister of Forests would be here to listen to it. . . . And I’m sure the Minister of Employment and Investment, with his experience in the forest industry, will echo my thoughts that, particularly in the forest industry, we could perhaps remove many of the Gordian knots and the hurdles that presently exist if we were to think about regulation in a more descriptive rather than a prescriptive manner. That’s one of the directions in this bill, and I support it.

Not coming from the dairy farming industry, I really have little to offer on the other issues in this bill. Dairy farming is a big business in Delta South, and I haven’t heard any words from Delta farmers contrary to the intent of this bill. So I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate the government in deciding to move regulation and the regulatory process into the modern day.

Hon. C. Evans:

Thank you for your contributions, hon. members. It makes for quick business. I hardly know what to say. I hope the people at home don’t see me moving a bill supported by you guys. It might make it hard to get elected. Having said that, I move second reading of the bill.

Motion approved.

Bill 12, Milk Industry Amendment Act, 1997, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.

1 Comment

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One response to “Proceedings of B.C. Legislature on Milk

  1. Thanks Gordon, for your tireless efforts on behalf of raw milk!

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