Lindsay Farm Bryan Donovan and Paul Ashton

The country’s largest producer of raw milk, Lindsay Farm, was fined $27,500 in the Palmerston North District court this week, for breaches of regulation on production and supply.

The Ministry for Primary Industries sought a jail term of 12 to 18 months and a fine for Paul Ashton, owner of Lindsay Farm, for offending over a four-year period. The agency claimed Lindsay Farm was putting the public at risk by selling the milk.

In December 2020, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) compliance staff raided a number of raw milk producers, including Lindsay Farm, due to suspected breaches of new rules introduced in 2017, which led to their prosecution.

New Zealand Food Safety Deputy Director General, Vincent Arbuckle, said the sentences send a strong message to people or businesses that try to circumvent rules in place to protect public safety, and said raw milk was inherently riskier than pasteurised milk.

But Judge Lance Rowe said the fact the regulator allowed the raw milk producer to operate for four years after the rules came into force before prosecuting was one many mitigating factors for the producers.

Ashton believes this fact led to a much reduced fine, and while he thought the judgement was fair under the cirucmstances – he had plead guilty rather than take the matter to the high court – he said the process had been “brutal”.

Background: a change in raw milk rules

In 2017, new rules came into effect that severely limited the ability of raw milk producers to distribute the product through collection points, the milk could now only be distributed by home delivery or farm collection, which made the viability of Lindsay Farm’s operation impossible. MPI also introduced a compulsory registration scheme, which introduced compliance costs of about $10,000 to $15,000 a year.

Producers argued that the new rules were both impractical and uneconomic and would cripple their businesses. Some producers like Lindsay Farm, which at the time supplied milk for 1,700 families, sought legal advice. By operating limited liability partnerships in which customers bought into the herd, they were advised they could circumvent the rules. This appeared to be working well until the 2020 raids.

Arbuckle said Lindsey Farm had falsely claimed the arrangement exempted them from registration. However, there is nothing in the regulations to say partnerships are not allowed.

Lindsay Farm’s lawyer Stuart Gloyne said the costs of arguing the validity of the Limited Partnership in the High Court would be expensive. “MPI recognised this and didnt want to push that button due to the expense.”

MPI waited four years to prosecute

Gloyne said Judge Rowe had accepted there were many factors that affected Ashton’s culpability, including that he had always sought legal advice and had never hidden the fact he was operating under a limited liability partnership.

“The Court heard that the Ministry was advised by Ashton in 2017 and 2019 that he would register as an operator if MPI could help resolve its issues over Lindsay Farm’s transport and collection points allowing for the distributon of raw [milk] under the regulations,” Gloyne said.

Judge Rowe enquired whether MPI was aware that this was the only issue preventing the raw milk producer from signing up to the new scheme and noted that the agency had allowed Lindsay Farm to continue to distribute raw milk for four years before deciding to proscute.

Gloyne said the Judge considered this factor “substantially telling” and subsequenly imposed a fine of $27,500.

Ashton said he had always engaged with MPI constructively.

“MPI knew about the problems with their regulations and they still prosecuted us. How is that fair? They could have dealt with this in 2017 instead with leaving it until 2021 and then prosecuting us for following legal advice,” he said.

In 2021 Lindsay Farm successfully applied to be able to use registered depots as collection points, the first raw milk producer to do so.

When asked why a prosectution took four years to bring, Arubuckle said NZFS’s role was to bring offending before the courts and said multiple interventions had been made to resolve the issue before prosecution.

“We sought a higher sentencing starting point for the Court to consider given the seriousness and nature of the offending, including that the defendant was deliberately non-compliant,” he said.

The health benefits vs risk

MPI has reportedly spent $200,000 running its covert sting to nab nine raw milk producers operating outside of its scheme.

Yet raw milk is an increasingly popular product, sought after ostensibly for health reasons. Angela Brooks, Ashton’s daughter and marketing manager said customers buy it for both taste and health benefits, and currently sell to about 1,400 families.

Phyllis Tichinin, chapter leader for the Hawke’s Bay Weston A. Price Foundation, a global organisation that promotes the health benefits of raw milk and traditional diets, said science increasingly shows grass fed, organic raw milk gives a health boost.

“Raw milk has high levels of natural glutathione that support liver function. It has been shown to reduce asthma and eczema in children when their mothers drink it during pregnancy. Quality raw milk provides fat soluble vitamins A, D and K2 and key enzymes that support brain and bone growth and detoxification. Pasteurisation de-activates the key nutritional elements.”

The foundation claims it is inherently safe because its bioactive components kill pathogens, and Tichinin noted that raw milk from healthy grass-fed cows was a Mayo Clinic treatment for decades.

“MPI regulators have paradigm paralysis and believe that unpasteurised milk is dangerous, no matter how carefully it is grown, bottled and distributed. They have been bureaucratically hounding raw milk sellers for the last 10 years with no scientific basis for singling  them out for legal punishment.”

Yet, producers comply with strict testing regimes and Lindsay farm has a tracking system to head off any potential outbreaks.

Ironically, a much-publicised campylobacter scare at Lindsay Farm last year was traced back to water, not raw milk (a UV treatment system has been installed since). MPI’s statement says the outbreak was “linked” to the farm’s raw milk, however.

Arbuckle advised that there had been 14 outbreaks in which raw milk was implicated, since 2018.

Tichinin said in order to prove contamination from raw milk, tests are needed to determine if the pathogen from the sick person is the same as the bug in milk, otherwise it was unscientific and discriminatory.

A survey MPI ran in 2019 to assess the effectiveness of the raw milk regulations found that they were working well, and had no impact on how easily it could be obtained. No changes were deemed necessary.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.

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17 Comments

  1. Thank you Lindsay farm and Phyllis Tichinin for your vital, educational truths. Well being is everyone’s right. Clear, informed thought is necessary.

  2. I am 100% supportive of Lindsay Farm’s efforts to market their raw milk. I’ve been a customer for years. I’ve had my milk confiscated by MPI’s staff with no compensation offered. If my milk stays in a depot fridge after 1.00 pm the day after delivery to the pickup point it has to be destroyed. It is my choice to drink raw milk. It is true there is some risk, as in almost all aspects of life. Think about mountain biking, extreme sports etc. which are choices made by individuals who partake in these activities. Then think of a frozen chicken bought my anyone at the supermarket. If undercooked there is a real risk of salmonella poisoning. Should MPI ban frozen chickens for sale?

  3. MPI’s ridiculous and unsafe regulations should be prosecuted for the danger they invite. And where is their real proof of the danger of raw milk? How many deaths or disabilities have resulted in the consumption of raw milk? Esp compared to the covid vaccine issues which are completely covered up??

  4. This article would be more balanced if it scrutinised the claims made by the raw milk advocate more closely, and under the heading ‘Health versus Risk’ actually discussed the risk. I’m all for well-informed decision-making, but unfortunately this article falls short of providing the information that people need to make good decisions. One small example – yes indeed raw milk provides fat-soluble vitamins, but so does pasteurised milk. This is a good discussion to have, but let’s have the facts on the table.

  5. I wish to point out that in no way would I give advice to anyone on whether or not they should drink raw milk. I accept there is some risk, but I have made my own decision about the pros and cons of drinking it. I agree that there should be regulations, but surely not such strict ones as MPI currently have.

  6. It’s sad to see people of such principle and integrity as those at Lindsay Farm at the mercy of destructive idealogy and bureaucracy. Thank you all at Lindsay Farm for not giving up. This takes real mettle.

  7. I couldn’t be certain, but at a guess sugar probably causes more death and disease than raw milk, how about alcohol or tobacco?
    To me there seems to be way to much hypocrisy in the world today.
    Thank you Lyndsay Farms for suppling such a superior product.

  8. Thank you Lindsay Farm. And for Nicky Solomon’s information Lindsay Farm also now markets Pasteurized milk. Personally prefer raw milk for taste and for a calming of some stomach problems that I have. Being brought up drinking Pasteurized milk, homogenized doesn’t cut mustard in any shape or form unless disguised in coffee!

  9. I think we should have a competition as to what the MPI should really stand for.
    First entry…..
    Ministry for Petty Intimidation.

  10. Paul gets to pay $27,000 for endangering the public health. John Martin of MannaMilk got to pay $30,000. Imagine how much the government is going to make when they take the sugar, junk food, alcohol, tobacco and chicken industries to court with the same charges. They’ll be able to pay off the national debt. Note – Professor Sir David Skegg said on National radio in 2019 that there were more than 30,000 cases of campylobacter from chicken a year. He was intensely frustrated that MPI wouldn’t put warning labels on chicken.

  11. Vincent Arbuckle was warning about the so called dangers of raw milk on Seven Sharp on 20th April where collectees at Faith Farm Fresh vending depot at Te Horo were being interviewed. Why was he not identified? I predict that most of the ordinary ‘feet on the ground’ 37,000 persons closely involved with dairy farms are drinking the milk they harvest so taking a denigrating attitude is nothing short of belittling. Shame on mr. Arbuckle!

  12. Now that the prosecution of the 8 farmers raided is nearly finished, I wonder if the authors of the Massey University (Wellington) study begun in 2012, into the role of raw milk being preventative of asthma and allergies, will be permitted to release the results.

    It’s difficult to understand how MPI can state that they spent only $200,000 on Operation Caravan. The raids were a year in the planning. On the day of the raids (December 3, 2019) 62 MPI staff and 25 vehicles lined up at 10am outside farms from Invercargill to North Auckland. It took a year to prepare the charges. (John Martin of MannaMilk alone had more than 12,000 pages of evidence presented, resulting from intel searches of confiscated cell phones and computers. Also, any document or email which mentioned milk was there. Then there were copies of hard copy documents of limited partnership agreements, and Company Office filings as well as old milk delivery sheets etc from the scrap paper pile and the rubbish bin, not to mention a verbatim transcription of a 20 minute skype call to a family member in Canada where the word “milk” was mentioned.)
    After that was 12 months of legal argy-bargy – negotiation and gamesmanship around the charges plus the multiple court appearances all over the country with MPI’s legal representatives. $200,000?

  13. Insufficient evidence. The MPI have no hard evidence on the claims they are making. How is that even legal? How can you take someone to court with all these claims and nothing to back it up. MPI this is so embarrassing for you

  14. 12 September 2022

    Editor Bay Buzz
    HAWKES BAY
    Vincent Arbuckle, Director General, NZ For Safety, disputes this article. Here is his letter of concern, followed by BayBuzz’s further response.

    Kia Ora Editor Bay Buzz,

    I’m writing to outline my concerns about a recent article in Bay Buzz regarding the sentencing of a raw milk producer convicted for illegally selling product.

    In addition to a number of factual errors, the piece – ‘Delay in prosecution “telling” says Lindsay Farm iudge’ – was not fair or balanced.

    I support Bay Buzz’s efforts to provide its readers with a rounded report of New Zealand Food Safety (NZFS) prosecutions, including comment and context from defendants. The principles of fair and balanced reporting require that NZFS is treated in the same way, particularly where our actions are criticised and our motives questioned.

    The journalist asked us for a range of information about the case and our actions, as well as the relative health risks associated with drinking raw milk. We provided this in good faith, and I’ve included it below, for your awareness. It was disappointing to see the information we provided was either disregarded, mischaracterised, or minimised.

    Of particular concern was the article’s clear bias with respect to the risks and benefits of raw milk. This kind of misinformation, particularly about public health matters, can lead to people taking unnecessary risks and getting sick.

    I note the reporter in question has published several pieces in support of Lindsay Farm.

    Health and safety claims

    We support people making informed choices about the food they consume, including raw milk.

    As you will see below, we provided the reporter with information about risks associated with raw milk. Much of that information was ignored, including the fact that each year several young children become sick following the consumption of raw milk.

    The reporter instead quoted extensively from the Weston A. Price Foundation, an organisation that says that raw milk is “inherently safe because its bioactive components kill pathogens”.

    This is factually incorrect. Any search of authoritative sources will reveal that the science regarding the risks of raw milk consumption is very settled – it is internationally understood to carry serious risk as it has not been pasteurised to kill potentially harmful bacteria.

    An extensively-referenced article outlining these risks, as well as some of the myths surrounding its benefits, is available from the USFDA. There are many other such published assessments including from the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor and Food Safety Australia New Zealand.

    I also note the Foundation, which your reporter introduces as a “global organisation that promotes the health benefits of raw milk” holds what would be considered as fringe views on other important public health matters, including vaccination, which its website calls “a two-hundred year old mistake”. For context, its website on vaccine includes the comment:

    “Undoubtedly when future historians scour what remains of the news, computer files and texts from the early 21st century’s Vaccine Age (assuming anything of humanity remains), they will identify a delusional global dictator (Bill Gates) and the cult’s preeminent false Profit (Paul Offit) as the principle harbingers of vaccine barbarism.”
    I am concerned about possible public health implications through the promotion of unsubstantiated health benefits in this unresponsible manner.
    Timeframe

    New rules came into effect to reduce risks associated with the production and sale of raw milk in 2017. A small number of suppliers, including Lindsay Farms, operated a scheme to circumvent these rules.

    In an unattributed statement, the article said Lindsay Farms’ scheme “appeared to be working well until the 2020 raids”.

    This is factually incorrect. It was not “working well”, we intervened with the company on multiple occasions. The reporter omitted the provided information that:

    • the company refused to comply with these interventions.
    • Prosecutions are never the first step in taking compliance action and we exhausted several options before laying charges.
    • There had been associated sicknesses with Lindsay Farm raw milk consumption and pathogens found in the milk.
    • The search warrants were carried out December 2019

    This created the factually incorrect impression that Lindsay Farm was not warned of the consequences of their actions.

    Further, the article downplayed the issues arising from Lindsay Farm. Testing revealed campylobacter in the company’s milk and consequently six people, four of them children, became sick with Campylobacteriosis.

    Information on the subsequent recalls is available here:

    https://www.mpi.govt.nz/food-safety-home/food-recalls-and-complaints/recalled-food­ products/lindsay-farm-brand-organic-raw-milk-unpasteurised-27-july-2021/

    https://www.mpi.govt.nz/food-safety-home/food-recalls-and-comp laints/recaIled-food­ products/1indsay-farm-brand-organic-raw-miIk-unpasteurised/

    https://www.mpi.govt.nz/food-safety-home/food-recalls-and-complaints/recalled-food­ products/lindsay-farm-brand-raw-unpasteurised-drinking-milk/

    Legality of efforts to circumvent regulations

    In an unattributed comment, the article stated: “there is nothing in the regulations to say partnerships are not allowed.”

    It quoted Lindsay Farm’s lawyer who said that NZFS didn’t want to argue the legality of the Limited Partnerships in High Court “due to the expense”.

    We would have expected the reporter to approach us for comment on this, especially given it is speculation about our motives.

    If the reporter had asked, we would have pointed out that there was no need to test the legality of Lindsay Farm’s scheme in the High Court as the District Court agreed the company was acting illegally and convicted it accordingly. We would have also pointed out:

    • Lindsay Farms’ scheme was clearly intended to circumvent the intent of the regulations, which were in place to protect human health.
    • We worked closely with raw milk producers to ensure they understood the new requirements, and the majority have complied and continue to trade successfully.
    • We are happy to clarify specific details of the regulations to help companies comply, but when rules are in place to protect human health, we do not consider companies should be allowed to deliberately circumvent them.
    • We informed the company of this fact on several occasions, eventually requiring them to stop selling their milk illegally and laying charges.
    I’d like to re-iterate that we consider it in the public interest that journalism reflects a range of different views, particularly when human health is at risk. The principles of accuracy, fairness and balance should be carefully applied.

    I ask that you address the omissions, misinformation, and factual inaccuracies in your story. Please consider this letter a formal complaint and inform me by return letter what actions you intend to take in response.

    BayBuzz response

    Dear Mr Arbuckle,

    I have received your letter of concern about the BayBuzz article, Delay in prosecution ‘telling’ says Lindsay Farm judge.

    After reviewing the article in the context of your objections, I stand by the article and its use of a range of voices pertinent to the matter, including yours, which I believe are quite fairly presented.

    This article was a report on the ‘state of play’ of the legal action presumably aiming to bring a conclusion to the ongoing dispute between MPI and Lindsey Farm. I find nothing in your letter that suggests the outcome has been mis-presented in our article.

    We were not attempting an academic investigation of the merits (or not) of raw milk, but obviously noted that differing views do exist and are available to consumers as they make their choices.

    Issues you raise about Bill Gates conspiracies and oysters versus raw milk are nowhere to be found in our article. We do, like many others have, give attention to the proportionality of MPI’s prosecution as against the public harm involved, but that an editorial call we are fully entitled to make.

    Nevertheless, I am happy to publish your letter as a Comment to the original article. Our readers – I suspect we have readers on both ‘sides’ of this dispute – can weigh your accounting of the issues and the unfolding of this dispute.

    BayBuzz prides itself on presenting articles dealing with controversial matters. In doing so, we deliberately try to ensure that minority ‘dissenting’ views are heard, as we did in this case. That said, your views are appropriately presented in the article and fully amplified by our publishing your letter of concern.

    Regards,
    Tom Belford
    Editor

  15. Can’t mr. Arbuckle say what he really means? He said the reporter quoted from Western A Price Foundation which………… This is factually incorrect he wrote. What he assumed he was saying – and failed to do so – was that the content of the WAPF beliefs were wrong; the reporter was NOT wrong.

    Mr. Arbuckle said that MPI intervened on multiple occasions and that Lindsay Farms were warned. One would assume that he will claim all suppliers were treated equally. In my case that is definitely not so. I got a ‘cease and desist’ notice from Emma Stephenson – which I avoided of course because I had a legally drawn up agreement and believed that despite anything MPI had a moral obligation to get a legal decision on that – and the day prior to the raid she turned up, pointed to the MPI logo on the right shoulder of the jacket she was wearing and said that I was selling. She knew that I also was operating via a Limited Partnership agreement drawn up by legal firms. She did not stay for further discussion, or give any warning of consequences, nor leave any identification. Our lawyer also advised against challenging the stance MPI was taking toward – and studiously avoiding – Limited Partnerships because of the expense and it is worth noting that the courts have not given a ruling on that. One can’t help but wonder if anybody has a spare half million dollars and challenges MPI’s attitude in that respect what the outcome might be.

    Mr. Arbuckle alludes to a few cases of Campylobacta which he claims came from the raw milk. Sir David Skegg is frustrated that MPI refuses to ensure written notices of warning on raw chicken when – he claimed – there are up to 30,000 cases of Campylobacta per year from that source.

    I refuse to believe that MPI’s regulations are ‘working well’ – the number of suppliers is a fraction of what once was. In my case the whole exercise has been very expensive, I will go to my grave convinced that justice has not been served and I have no respect for MPI’s approach.

  16. Mr Arbuckle makes a number of incorrect and misleading statements above.
    Re Safety. Mr Arbuckle is unhappy with the statements on health risks of raw milk. He is obviously not up-to-date with much new information and research on raw milk.
    Also, pasteurised milk carries risks: ‘It should be noted that there are risks with pasteurised milk which, even if it has undergone heat treatment to achieve at lease a 5 log 10 reduction of Coxiella burnetti … is not guaranteeing elimination of pathogens (such as Salmonella enterica, Listeria monocytogenes, veratoxin-producing E.coli and Yersinia enterocolitica.’ p3. Berge and Baars, Raw Milk producers with high levels of hygiene and safety; Cambridge University Press, January 2020.
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/279660129_Aflatoxin_M1contamination_in_pasteurised_milk Aflatoxin M1 (AFM1) in milk and milk products is considered to pose certain hygienic risks for human health. These metabolites are not destroyed during the pasteurization and heating process.

    The largest organic raw milk producer in the world, Mark McAfee’s Organic Pastures in California, shows that extremely safe raw milk is do-able. He tells me his milk can last up to 18 days. NZ needs to update its raw milk legislation and adopt a similar test-and-hold system where the producer tests their own milk and holds until the results are clear (about 8 hours) before the milk is released for sale.
    Instead we have ridiculous rules where our raw milk is sent to a lab 3 times a month for testing but results only come back well after the 4 day use-by date on the milk.

    The Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman, omitted two important papers on benefits in his limited 2015 assessment: a) Increased regulatory T-cell numbers are associated with farm milk exposure and lower atopic sensitisation and asthma in childhood. J Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Feb, 2014. b) Milk Consumption, Raw and General, in the Discussion on Health or Hazard. August 2013. Ton Baars. Journal of Nutritional Ecology and Food Research 1(2):91-107. …Since the evidence has increased that raw milk and specific components of milk are protective for human illnesses like asthma and atopy, a re-evaluation of raw milk consumption as well as the intake of beneficial components of milk from grazing animals is needed.
    The Food Safety Australia New Zealand report was highly criticised in The Coleman Report, 2021, an extensive independent review of the science, commissioned by ARRM. This critique reveals that FSANZ’s 2009 report relied on low grade science and systematic bias.
    Just how is MPI planning to address the 5,000 cases a year of campylobacter from the chicken industry? (RNZ 23 Sept, 2022). MPI won’t even require a hazard warning on chicken labels.

    Re Limited Partnerships. The legality of limited partnerships and herdshares was never argued because the charges for illegally selling stemmed from undercover agents “buying” the milk without being signed up. ‘Derek Jones’ who did the sting on MannaMilk even photographed all the signs saying “You must be a limited partner to get milk..” MannaMilk had 1,000 legally signed up limited partners.
    Not one of the farmers who were prosecuted had deep enough pockets to take on MPI to clarify this issue and so pleaded guilty to breaking the Animal Products Act and not being signed up to the RCS – Regulatory Control Scheme, as well as ignoring a NOD – Notice of Direction.

    To say MPI worked closely with the raw milk farmers is quite wrong. They were supposed to. In June, 2015 Minister Jo Goodhew promised cabinet that MPI would “assist or direct farmers that are not complying to make appropriate changes .. my approach would support New Zealand consumers in both rural and urban communities.”
    MPI ignored raw milk producers’ submissions on the new regulations re unworkable rules around testing, the 30 hr delivery requirement, and basically unworkable, discriminatory, inconsistent and expensive rules around depots all of which forced farmers into ‘creative’ solutions. Minister Goodhew informed one raw milk farmer at a 2014 Beehive meeting that she would see him shut down.
    Mr Arbuckle states that the majority of raw milk farmers complied. This is misleading nonsense – there were likely around 200 farmers at time the legislation was introduced. There are now just 26. The rest simply could not “trade successfully”. They only “complied” by shutting down. I believe all but one farmer attempting home delivery have pulled out.

    MPI’s own survey (promised by 2018) – Assessment of the Raw Milk Legislation – released April 2020 stated that no farmers had registered for Depots. This was purely because of impossible rules. The assessment itself was masterly in not asking the questions they didn’t want answered or ignoring or not providing analysis of unfavourable responses. The survey took place 6 months before the raids so can conveniently ignore the sudden massive loss of supply following the raids, and the fury and disappointment of thousands affected. https://www.mpi.govt.nz/dmsdocument/40235-assessment-of-the-effectiveness-of-the-raw-milk-for-sale-to-consumers-regulations-2015-technical-paper
    Mr Arbuckle states about the survey: “The new regulations had no impact on how easily it could be obtained”. Fig 6 shows over a quarter of respondents found it less easy to get raw milk. The survey was supposed to assess “safety and benefits of drinking raw milk”. There is no information about the new research for asthma and eczema. 90% were convinced of benefits over risks – a 7% increase over 2014. The volume consumed per year was rising significantly but only figures for registered farmers are given. In Fig 10 people are asked their age, one presumes, because raw milk is more dangerous for the young and elderly – but MPI does not ask “Have you got sick from drinking raw milk?”. Etc.

    MPI stated in a confidential briefing paper to the Minister, 18 September 2019. “However encouraging more to register is preferred.” MPI’s “assistance” to farmers consisted largely of issuing ‘cease and desist’ Notices of Direction (NODs).
    MPI has done an excellent job of restricting New Zealanders’ access to raw drinking milk.

    Full references available.

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