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article imageVindication for Ontario raw milk producer Michael Schmidt

By Stephanie Dearing     Jan 22, 2010 in Food
Master farmer Michael Schmidt had faced 19 charges following a raid on his farm in 2006. Schmidt had been distributing raw milk.
Newmarket, Ontario - Michael Schmidt must feel more than relief now his epic battle with Ontario health authorities is coming to an end. Justice of the Peace Paul Kowarsky acquitted Schmidt of all 19 charges laid against the farmer on Thursday. Schmidt wrote on his website Friday "It is a time to celebrate as our right to choose has been upheld."
Participation in a CBC documentary in 1994 brought Schmidt to the attention of health authorities, who have been seeking to shut down the dairy aspect of his business ever since. Schmidt had faced charges back then - and pled guilty at the time.
Schmidt faced 19 charges, all of which were dropped by Justice Kowarsky. The charges stem from a 2006 raid on Schmidt's farm. During the hearing, Schmidt had argued that it was impossible to guarantee the safety of any food product on the market, advocating that consumers should be able to make their own choices. The German-born Schmidt has a Master's in agriculture, and has established biodynamic farms in Germany and Egypt, as well as Glencolton Farm, located in Durham, where Schmidt and his family live. Glencolton is the third biodynamic farm Schmidt has established.
In a letter written to shareholders and posted on his website Thursday, Schmidt said the fight against the charges levelled against him were important because to not fight means "... Total control of our food system established through the politics of fear and deceit."
It is illegal to sell or give away raw milk in Canada, and technically, Schmidt has not violated the laws, said Kowarsky. Schmidt found a way around those laws by establishing cow-sharing. The law allows farmers to drink raw milk from their own animals, so those who own a cowshare may drink the raw milk from their cow. The model flies in the face of the way things work in the Canadian dairy industry, which is a very controlled industry, along with eggs, turkey and poultry.
The battle isn't over yet - the government has the right to appeal, although representatives did not indicate their intentions Thursday. Justice Kowarsky said he could not change the existing law.
Thursday's unexpected victory has re-energized food activists who want to see raw milk legalized in Canada. The acquittal, they said, would mean changes to the law will follow, allowing small-scale farms to openly practice Schmidt's business model. However, an editorial in Friday's Toronto Star reminds readers that Justice Kowarsky did not - and could not - rule on the constitutionality of Schmidt's business model.
Schmidt's model has been replicated in other parts of Canada. A similar case is before the courts in British Columbia, which is home to at least 7 cowshares.
The Ontario dairy industry is managed by the Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) and to distribute milk under the current system, one has to purchase one quota for every dairy cow. Quotas can run as high as $20,000 per cow. The milk produced is pooled with that from other producers, shipped to a processor and pasteurized. Payments are made each month to farmers from the DFO.
Consumers in many states of the U.S., as well as in many European countries, can purchase raw milk or raw dairy products. More and more people believe raw milk is healthier, imparting benefits that are reduced or eliminated by pasteurization.
There are a handful of disease organisms that can be carried in milk. Pasteurization advocates hold that there is no way to keep unpasteurized milk from being contaminated with bacteria or other organisms.
Pasteurization does not kill all bacteria or micro-organisms.
While it is illegal to sell or distribute raw milk in Canada, consumers can purchase cheeses made from raw milk.
More about Raw milk, Michael schmidt, Unpasteurized milk, Dairy, Food rights movement
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