Five days into an indefinite hunger strike, raw milk champion Michael Schmidt looked no worse for wear. He appeared strong and energetic, although his wife said he has been a little more grumpy than usual.
“This is exactly what I’m getting,” he said, raising a glass of his farm-fresh unpasteurized milk. “I’m taking one glass a day of that dangerous milk.”
Last week the Ontario Court of Justice overturned a 2010 Newmarket court decision that Mr. Schmidt was within in the law to continue his raw milk co-operative. Ontario Justice Peter Telley found Mr. Schmidt in violation of 15 offences from the Health Protection and Promotion Act and the Milk Act. It’s the latest event in a legal saga that dates back to a well-publicized raid of Schmidt’s farm operation in Durham, Ont., by 20 armed officers in 2006.
The latest ruling didn’t seem to blunt Mr. Schmidt’s resolve. He showed up at Vaughan’s Christian Cummunity Church parking lot on Rutherford Road in his blue bus full of raw milk like it was any other Tuesday. He has been serving his loyal farm share customers in Thornhill for 17 years and they were out in full force.
They stuffed their bags and coolers with meat, cheese, cider, baked goods, maple syrup preserves, vegetables and, of course, raw milk. “The whole issue here is about freedom of choice,” said farm-share member Jeff Saunders. “As a consumer I would like to make the choice. My choice is for organic bio-dynamic milk. I think it is healthier.”
Mr. Saunders, a Thornhill resident, has been getting unpasteurized milk from Mr. Schmidt since he moved from England 12 years ago. Back in the U.K., he said he was getting unpasteurized milk delivered to his door. “Two of my children have milk allergies,” he said. “They can take the bio-dynamic milk. They can’t take the pasteurized.”
The thought of being forced to drink pasteurized milk would likely send Mr. Saunders on a milk strike. “I find you can’t go back. There is such a different taste,” he said. “I would rather go without.”
That’s no small feat for Mr. Saunders as he was picking up 10 litres of raw milk. He’s not alone.
Robert Chomko has been a cow-share member for 17 years. Mr. Chomko, manger of the Village Market, said he thinks raw milk is healthier. “It is to the point where I wouldn’t even drink regular supermarket milk,” he said.
The food regulatory body disagrees. The pasteurization of milk has been shown to kill pathogens such as listeria, E. coli and salmonella.
Mr. Schmidt contends small scale farmers are the ones who get punished while large scale farms are the ones responsible for recent contamination outbreaks and recalls.
The ruling came as a shock to Mr. Schmidt. He questioned how a citizen is supposed to understand what judge has the proper interpretation of the law when two judges ruled so differently. “To me personally it appears that the judge had a preconceived idea that he wanted to squash the whole thing,” he said.
It is illegal to sell unpasteurized milk in Canada. However, you can drink it if you own the cow. Mr. Schmidt’s defense has always been that he’s not selling raw milk, rather distributing it to the cow’s owners as part of a cow share.
Mr. Schmidt said Canada is the only G8 country that has a total prohibition against raw milk. He said citizens should have a right to battle for their choices.
“Where would we be if we left it up to bureaucrats to decide what is good for us,” he said. “We have a corporate dominated food policy. Farmers are basically slaves because all of these regulations coming down on them.”
Small-scale farmers have a lot of difficulty because of this, he said.
Mr. Schmidt plans to surge ahead with an appeal and continue his farm share for the time being. He could be fined hundreds of thousands of dollars including $5,000 each day he continues to distribute milk. “A lot of customers are in a real fighting spirit to defend their food rights,” he said. “I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Mr. Saunders said he has supported Mr. Schmidt both financially and as a cow share member through the legal battle. “When you want something. You have to take a stand,” he said. “We want to stand up for what is right.”
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