Advocating for the Herdshare Community — A Progress Report
Before BCHA was founded in June 2014, the raw milk community was surveyed to find out what services members wanted their new organization to provide. The answer was Support, Education, and Advocacy.
In July 2014, BCHA started its Advocacy program, to initiate dialogue with decision-makers about changing the laws, which make raw milk illegal in B.C. In July 2014, we wrote to Minister of Health Dr. Terry Lake: “We would like to request 10 minutes of your time, at your convenience, to discuss some ideas we would like to present for renewing and updating the regulation of unprocessed milk and dairy products. Our organization would like to talk about ways in which this safe, healthy, nutritious product could be provided legally to those consumers who wish to access it.”
In August 2014, a staff person responded, stating that the Minister was going to be extremely busy over the next few months, and a meeting wasn’t possible “at this time.” We asked if there were others in the Ministry who might be available, and a meeting took place in November 2014 with an assistant deputy minister and an executive director, to establish a dialogue where none had existed before.
Our presentation to them included information on the history of the B.C. law (the only law of its type in Canada), a map showing American states with legal herdshares and/or sales, the impact of a “cease and desist” order on farmers, and the excellent milk sample test results that our trained farmers achieve. The concerns they expressed in response were all about safety, and they said in order to consider legalization, our agisters would have to have training in a food safety program, which they want all farmers in the province to learn anyway. There had to be standards for bacteria counts, and zero pathogens in the milk. And there had to be some sort of licensing or registration of herdshares.
We asked for a moratorium on the enforcement actions that health authorities are taking against herdshares, and they responded that no moratoriums would be granted as long as there were court cases against government. In October 2014, we met with Minister of Agriculture Norm Letnick, who told us what we would need to do in order for them to look at updating Ministry of Agriculture laws to legalize herdshares: Not to try to find loop-holes, but to work through the process to change the law. He also directed us to meet with the B.C. Dairy Association, which represents commercial dairy farmers. Meeting then with B.C. Dairy, we learned that they want to see training and certification of our agisters, similar to Canadian Quality Milk program training, which is mandatory for their own members.
We met again with the Ministry of Health in January 2015 to continue discussion. They stated that in order to change the law, they need empirical evidence that raw milk can be produced safely. We showed them more of our agisters’ test results and a research proposal that a B.C. research university was interested in carrying out. The meeting seemed to end on a positive note, with willingness to meet again and work together to find a solution. A May 2015 meeting brought together the two Ministries of Health and Agriculture. We assumed that productive dialogue would continue, but something had changed. They started the meeting with two messages: (1) No further dialogue would occur as long as there was a civil suit against government (Jongerden vs. the Province of B.C.) and (2) a briefing paper about raw milk safety had informed them that, all the academic research says that it is too dangerous to legalize.
Their position is that if we want the law changed, we need to provide peer-reviewed academic evidence stating otherwise. We were able to inform them that we had received news that the court case had been dropped. We also told them that we would indeed be able to present them at a later date with this evidence, as studies were ongoing to provide this proof. To sum up: What would be necessary for the Health Hazards Regulation to be changed to legalize herdshares is: A training and certification program for agisters Bacteriological standards and regular testing. Provide evidence that farm-fresh, unprocessed milk can be produced safely. No more lawsuits.
There is still a lot of dialogue that needs to happen, a lot of work our community needs to do, before the law is changed. This means, not only BCHA talking with government, but also, members of the community meeting with their local MLA’s to educate them and win their support for changing the laws, and writing to government to ask them to change the law. More agisters need to be trained and start testing, to provide the evidence of safety we need. We can all play an important role in getting this law changed.