For the last 27 days, Canadian dairy farmer, Michael Schmidt, has been surviving on only one glass of raw milk a day. Since selling raw milk or unpasteurized milk is illegal in Canada, the goal of Schmidt’s hunger strike is to get a real discussion going about why that is. But Schmidt’s fast addresses a much bigger question: how much control should the government have when it comes to what you put in your body?
In 1983, Schmidt and his wife, Dorothea moved to Canada from his native Germany where he had started a biodynamic organic dairy farm. A biodynamic farm is a method of organic farming that treats farms as living organisms. The farmers make healthy choices for the farm about everything from how the food is grown to how it is packaged. The hope is that the farmers will bring health to the land and to the community.Schmidt, who has a Master’s Degree in farming, continued the same methods when he moved to Ontario, Canada.He developed a cow-lease program where locals could lease a cow or a portion of a cow to supply fresh milk or raw milk.
Many have turned to raw milk because of its health benefits. Raw milk has higher levels of vitamins B and C, easily digestible calcium, phosphorus and iodine. It contains lots of the probiotic bacteria that we need to improve our immune systems and to help us digest our food. Also because it contains lactase, people who are lactose intolerant can drink raw milk with no stomach upset. Studies also suggest that children raised on raw milk have fewer allergies.
But in 1994, after a story about the Schmidts’ farm ran on a Canadian news show, the Owen Sound Health Unit raided Schmidt’s home and seized $800 worth of dairy products. Schmidt compares the dairy raid to a drug bust. In May of that same year, Schmidt was brought to trial. The government argued that raw milk was dangerous to a person’s health, but in a 10-year study done by Dr. Ted Bealsonly 42 people reported getting sick after drinking raw milk.
Safety has been a concern of Schmidt’s since he started selling raw milk. Each month he sends his milk to a lab for testing. Each month it comes back with very low levels of bacteria. He is also careful about how he treats his cows. The average modern factory cow lives about 42 months. In fact, she is only bred once, milked for as long as 600 days, and shipped off to the butcher. Schmidt’s cows usually live for 12 years surviving on twigs, herbs and grass from the farm.
One witness at the trial was an undercover agent who claimed they had sent a sample of raw milk they had bought for testing. They claimed the results showed high levels of bacteria, but under cross examination it was revealed that the agent had waited six weeks to send in the sample. Even knowing this, Schmidt’s raw milk was found to be a health hazard. A civil trial then charged Schmidt with seven counts, ranging from “mislabeling” to “resistance to the direction of a health officer.”
Other things started to happen too at the farm. Milking machines were broken, two cows were found dead and Schmidt’s house was bugged. Some cried foul play from corporate competitors. According to the Real Milk.com, about "80 percent of the milk in Canada comes from confinement cows, and one or two corporations, one of which is a beer manufacturer, control at least 50 percent of these dairy operations. It is now known that certain "public relations" firms offer surveillance of rivals as a service to their clients."
Though Greg Sorboro, the Minister of Corporate Affairs, publicly came to Schmidt’s defense proposing a two-year research project on the sale of raw milk, which would be supervised by the government, nothing has been settled. Schmidt is due back in court on November 2, but until someone in the government agrees to talk to him he plans to keep his strike going.
“I respectfully ask that the Ontario and BC governments agree to a constructive dialogue on how we can provide a framework to enable people to make real choices about their food and what they eat, beginning with raw milk and the implementation of a framework that grants legal standing for cow share operations in Ontario and BC. This objective also includes the end of the current prosecutions of cow shares which meet proper production standards.”
A Wisconsin judge recently ruled that you “do not have a fundamental right to consume the food you grow or own or raise.” Meaning, you have no right to the vegetables you grow. You have no right to choose what food you eat. In an age of rooftop farms and eating locally, these cases are becoming more frequent, but no less troublesome.
What do you think needs to be done to ensure that we’re able to eat the food we want, whether it comes from the store down the block or our own backyards?