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Raw milk raids: Largest supplier in the country fined

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Crates of raw milk being sent across Hawke’s Bay. Photo / Supplied

A Central Hawke’s Bay farmer and company director has been fined $27,500 for breaches of raw milk production and supply regulations.

Paul Ashton, of Lindsay Farm in Waipukurau, had pleaded guilty to two charges of producing and supplying the milk at risk to the public while not licensed and not complying with a notice to desist until meeting the requirements, for which the maximum available penalty is $75,000.

He was sentenced by Judge Lance Rowe today in Palmerston North District Court and there was no application by prosecuting agency the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) for costs.

In a separate prosecution in another Palmerston North court, Manawatū farmer Daniel Sproull was fined $20,000.

Judge Rowe noted in court there had been a campylobacter outbreak impacting two adults and four children linked to the milk in 2020, and outbreaks in 2017 and 2018 suspected to have been linked.

But he acknowledged that while there were infections and positive tests of types legislation aimed to prevent, Ashton had been open with the authorities and had not tried to hide his operation.

Lindsay Farm owner Paul Ashton (right) was sentenced in the Palmerston North District Court this afternoon. Photo / Local Focus
Lindsay Farm owner Paul Ashton (right) was sentenced in the Palmerston North District Court this afternoon. Photo / Local Focus

Ashton had carried out tests at sometimes greater level than required, though not under independent scrutiny, and he had of his own accord taken steps to trace and withdraw product when he became aware of infection and test results.

The Judge said it wasn’t a mitigating factor that the subscriber-customer operation, run throughout the North Island, was run under legal advice, but that advice was incorrect and that needed to be considered.

Ashton committed offences between 2016 and 2020 and having had what the Judge called a “scare” with the reporting of infections had become a registered raw milk producer and supplier to come within the rules and the proper scrutiny.

He had provided records showing the company was producing up to 720 litres of raw milk a day, making $596,200 worth of sales in 2019 with a surplus of $103,071.

But the latter sales included to an MPI “special duties officer” and on at least 17 occasions to customers not in the subscriber base.

He was among nine prosecuted in a crackdown after the introduction of legislation amid the growth of raw milk popularity.

It was the latest prosecution of its type to be taken to court following an MPI-led sting on farmers targeted for illegally selling unpasteurised milk.

Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurised, standardised or homogenised and its increasing use resulted in the legislation’s introduction under the Animal Products Act six years ago.

Part of the reason for the law change was health concerns about bugs like campylobacter being present in milk that hadn’t been processed.

Following that change MPI ran a covert sting called “Operation Caravan” to identify those sellers who weren’t complying with the new rules.

According to an Official Information Act request sent to Open Justice, MPI has spent nearly $200,000 running the operation since 2018.

There are still six cases before the courts, and 10 cases have so far been prosecuted.

Ironically, following the raids Lindsay Farm saw a drastic increase in customers wanting to buy their product and it was struggling to keep up with demand.

It also became the first registered farm in the country to make a system work in an area farmers have labelled notoriously difficult in terms of compliance.

Following the law change nearly seven years ago there have been several ways for consumers to legally get raw milk:

The first is to collect it from the farm itself, which is often not feasible as most farms are in rural locations and the second is to deliver it to the customers directly.

The third is to set up and maintain depots in various locations from where customers can collect their milk, which Lindsay Farms successfully pioneered.

A loophole to these laws is to create a limited partnership agreement where customers would buy into the milk business, and then effectively be given their own milk.

Lindsay Farms exploited this loophole prior to the raids instead of signing up to comply with MPI’s new regulations.



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