On November 22, Durham Ontario dairy farmer Michael Schmidt was granted bail and released from serving a sixty-day jail sentence pending the farmer’s appeal of a conviction for obstructing a peace officer; Schmidt posted a twenty-five hundred dollar bond to secure his release. Schmidt had been convicted on October 19 for the offense; subsequently, Justice Ronald Minard of the Ontario Court of Justice sentenced Schmidt to sixty days in jail with time to be served over fifteen consecutive weekends. The farmer had served eight days of his sentence at the time bail was granted. Four others—Enos Martin, Robert Pinnell, George Bothwell and John Schnurr—were charged with a similar offense; Schnurr was found not guilty and charges were dropped against Martin, Pinnell and Bothwell.
The charge against Schmidt stems from an October 2, 2015, raid of his farm. Schmidt and seventy supporters were at the farm when government officials possessing a warrant were blocked from leaving the premises in a van containing equipment and dairy products. The officials left only after leaving the seized materials at the farm; multiple provincial and municipal government agencies participated in the raid.
The government obtained a warrant to search the farm on the grounds that it needed to investigate Schmidt to determine whether the farmer was violating the Ontario Milk Act. The Act prohibits the sale or distribution of raw milk for human consumption; many believe this provision only applies to raw milk sold or distributed to the general public. Schmidt only distributes milk to individuals who own shares in his farm; he distributes no milk to anyone who isn’t a shareholder.
Schmidt is appealing the conviction for the obstruction of a peace officer as well as a court ruling holding that the twenty-three months the case went on did not violate the speedy trial provision contained in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Canadian Supreme Court has interpreted this provision to mean that, if it takes more than eighteen months between the time charges are brought and the end of trial in provincial court cases, there is an automatic presumption the delay is unreasonable. In Schmidt’s case, the Justice agreed with the Crown’s argument that the presumption shouldn’t apply because there were exceptional circumstances in the case.1
A petition on Change.org to free Schmidt that drew over seventy-five hundred signatures helped draw greater attention to the draconian sentence given the farmer who was only trying to keep the government from confiscating the private property of his shareholders—property the government arguably didn’t have jurisdiction to take. The petition noted that when tainted meat from Maple Leaf Foods was found to have killed twenty-two people and sickened many more in 2008, the Crown never brought charges against anyone with the company. Schmidt has produced raw milk for over thirty years; no one has ever accused him of making anyone sick.2
For the last twenty-three years the government has unsuccessfully tried to shut down Schmidt’s efforts to provide healthy dairy products to educated and informed consumers; its endless harassment has cost taxpayers millions of dollars and made a North American icon out of a small farmer in the process. Schmidt might not have been able to change the law but he has had a huge impact, substantially increasing the demand for and supply of raw milk since the time the government started persecuting him. There are significantly more dairy farmers in Canada today distributing raw milk through herdshare and farm-share programs; Schmidt’s decades-long campaign of non-violent resistance to unjust laws has emboldened them. The situation in Canada with the prohibition on raw milk sales in all provinces is becoming more similar to the situation in the U.S. with the interstate raw milk ban; greater numbers of otherwise law-abiding citizens are violating these laws with regularity. It’s time for provincial and municipal governments in Canada to acknowledge reality, leave Schmidt alone, and stop interpreting provincial raw milk laws to cover distribution to farm and dairy animal owners.
Michael Schmidt and Eliza Vander Hoot are trying to raise funds to cover the cost of his court battle. Those supporting freedom of choice are encouraged to back Schmidt’s fight by donating at GoFundMe.com/foodrights. The farmer is a little more than half way to reaching his goal of raising one hundred thousand dollars.
1. Don Crosby, “Raw Milk Advocate Schmidt Found Guilty of Obstruction,” The Owen Sound Sun Times, 20 October 2017. Accessed 11/30/2017 at http://www.owensoundsuntimes.com/2017/10/20/raw-milk-advocate-schmidt-found-guilty-of-obstruction.
2. Laura Redman, “FREE Ontario FARMER Michael Schmidt – CHANGE CANADA’s ARCHAIC RAW MILK LAW”, Change.org, November 2017. Accessed 11/30/2017 at http://www.change.org/p/kathleen-wynne-free-ontario-farmer-michael-schmidt-change-canada-s-archaic-rawmilk-law.
In a predictable decision on March 11, the Court of Appeal for Ontario dismissed the appeal of Michael Schmidt from the Ontario Court of Justice’s decision convicting the farmer for violations of the Ontario Health Protection and Promotions Act (HPPA) and the Ontario Milk Act. The court decision came about a month after holding a hearing on the matter. (See Wise Traditions Spring and Winter 2011 issues for more background on the case.)
Schmidt was originally acquitted in January 2010 of all nineteen counts of violating HPPA and the Milk Act by New Market Justice of the Peace Paul Koharsky. In September 2011, the Court of Justice reversed Judge Koharsky’s opinion, convicting Schmidt on fifteen of the nineteen counts. Schmidt had been convicted for distributing raw milk and other raw dairy products through cowshare agreements. In issuing its decision, the Court of Appeal noted, “one of the stated purposes of the Milk Act, s.2 is ‘to provide for the control and regulation in any or all respects of the quality of milk, milk products and fluid milk products within Ontario.’”
Judge Koharsky had held that there is a distinction between the public and private distribution of raw milk and that informed consumers had the right to waive the protection of the public health laws; instead, Justice Robert Sharpe of the Court of Appeal protected the dairy industry monopoly under the guise of promoting the public health.
In his opinion, Justice Sharpe turned a blind eye towards freedom of food choice, holding that “lifestyle choices as to food . . . to be consumed do not attract Charter [Canadian Constitution] protection.” He cited that “[a] society that extended constitutional protection to any and all such lifestyles would be ungovernable.” He further cited that such choices are not “basic choices going to the core of what it means to enjoy individual dignity and independence.” In distinguishing cases “where the state seeks to administer medical treatment without the individual’s consent” from the lack of access, the ruling cost raw milk consumers—the court took the freedom-crushing stance that “in this case, the ban simply prevents an individual from acquiring a product that the individual subjectively believes would be beneficial.”
Among the facts before the court was Schmidt’s sale of a one-fourth interest in a cow without a written contract which provided the purchaser the ability to obtain dairy products from the farmer’s herd of twenty-four cows, an arrangement Justice Sharpe called “a marketing and distribution scheme” available to the public. The ownership situation at the time was different from the current setup; the people obtaining raw milk at the present time have each invested two thousand dollars in the farm. It remains to be seen whether the Province of Ontario will take enforcement action against Schmidt now that the fact situation leading to his conviction no longer exists.
In the twenty years Schmidt has distributed raw milk, no one has ever become sick from the dairy products he has provided shareholders. The farmer said he would appeal the Court of Appeal decision to the Canadian Supreme Court. He also made clear he would continue distributing raw milk to the farm’s shareholders. His fight to legalize raw milk in Ontario goes on.
On September 29 Justice Peter Tetley of the Ontario Court of Justice reversed the most favorable court decision on cow share agreements in North America and found Durham farmer Michael Schmidt guilty of fifteen of nineteen charges for violations of the Ontario Health Protection and Promotion Act (HPPA) and the Ontario Milk Act. (On January 21, 2010 Justice of the Peace Paul Kowarsky had found Schmidt not guilty of all nineteen charges holding that there is a distinction between public and private conduct and that informed citizens have the right to waive the protection of the public health laws.) In his ruling, Justice Tetley held that “the applicable legislation was not given the broad interpretation (by the lower court) it required as public welfare legislation,” and “appropriate consideration was also not afforded to the restrictions inherent in the Act according to their plain meaning.” Tetley also noted in his decision that under the cowshare agreement Schmidt used the legal title remained with the farmer. Schmidt has since changed his business model from the cowshare agreement; his shareholders have purchased Glencolton Farm and he no longer has any ownership interest in the farm.
In protest against the ruling, Schmidt went on a hunger strike that wound up lasting thirty-seven days. In a Food Rights Declaration Schmidt issued the day he began the strike, the farmer stated, “the latest appeal ruling by Justice Tetley overturning my acquittal from Justice Kowarsky has convinced me that I have to take a very drastic step of a personal sacrifice . . . . This is a turning point because we the farmers, we the consumers, we as concerned people of Canada are officially rejecting those who pass regulations without respecting our fundamental rights, our fundamental freedom to be and act as responsible individuals. We openly challenge and reject those who blindly enforce unjust laws. . . I am calling on farmers and consumers alike to join in, to openly challenge our bureaucrats and put our elected officials to task.” Schmidt vowed to stay on his hunger strike until he had met with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.
In a letter to McGuinty, Schmidt wrote, “the right to buy food direct from a farmer is as old as our country, yet that right is being taken away from Canadians by a government that insists that only corporate Canada be responsible for feeding our citizens. I respectfully call on you, Premier McGuinty, to meet with me in person, as soon as possible, to find a way of ensuring that this right is respected and that the government renouces in taking away the most fundamental of all our rights—that to choose what we eat.” On November 4 Schmidt met with McGuinty, starting a dialogue that will hopefully lead to changes in Ontarios’s draconian laws on raw milk distribution. He also officially ended his hunger strike.
During Schmidt’s hunger strike, he received tremendous support throughout Canada and the U.S., particularly through social media. He received broad coverage in the Canadian mainstream media as well. Schmidt credited pressure from raw milk moms on McGuinty with success in obtaining a meeting.
On November 25 Justice Tetley sentenced Schmidt to one year probation and fined the farmer $9150 CAD; in addition, a “victim’s surcharge” of nineteen hundred Canadian dollars was tacked on to the fine. In imposing the sentence, the Justice admitted, “the present legislation is inconsistent, at best” but that it wasn’t for him to challenge the law. Schmidt made clear he was not paying the fine and responded to Justice Tetley’s statement by saying, “Sorry to draw the line, but since the Nuremburg trials, ‘doing my job’ is not a justifiable defense anymore for doing something not right.” The farmer’s seventeen-year fight to legalize raw milk sales in Canada continues on.
On November 8, raw milk farmer Michael Schmidt issued the “Edmonton Declaration” on the steps of the Alberta Legislature. The declaration is a call to arms for the raw milk movement in Canada. It states, “I [Schmidt] am here to mark this day as a turning point. A turning point because we the farmers, we the consumers, we as concerned people of Canada, are officially rejecting those who pass regulations without respecting our fundamental rights, our fundamental freedom to be and act as responsible individuals. We openly challenge and reject those who blindly enforce unjust laws . . . We reject the assault on small farmers under the pretense of food safety threats. We reject Government protection in regards to our individual food choices and our individual health treatment choices. We reject the criminalization of those who make informed decisions. . . I am calling on farmers and consumers alike to join in to openly challenge our bureaucrats and put our elected officials to task.”
In the declaration, Schmidt mentioned Cow Share Canada, an organization founded by him with a mission to develop raw milk standards, train and accredit raw milk farmers and protect those farmers from government attacks. Schmidt vowed that if any Province “engages in new court actions or physical attacks against cow share operators without any respect for the individuals’ choice of food and due legal process, I will once again enter into a hungerstrike to activate and encourage more and more people to openly join this battle for our fundamental rights and freedom to choose our food and our health.”
Schmidt went to the province of Alberta to support the cow share program, Beulah Novelty Food Coop. On October 26, Judith Johnson, the operator of Beulah, had been assaulted in an Edmonton church parking lot by an inspector from the Alberta Department of Agriculture and Rural Development who physically tried to force his way into Johnson’s van. The inspector was unsuccessful but Johnson subsequently let him and other government officials search the van after being told by them, “We will break your windows or seize your vehicle if you do not open the door.” The officials found and seized raw milk intended for Beulah’s shareholders, with the inspector telling Johnson that she would be getting nothing back and that they would be going out to her farm to charge her with violating the law. The night of the incident, Johnson was hospitalized.
Shortly after the raid, Alberta Health Operations ordered Johnson and her business partner, Henry Pudlow, to cease operations, claiming the milk seized had high bacteria counts and was unsafe for human consumption. Schmidt initially supported Beulah but withdrew his support on November 10 after visiting to inspect the cow share program and finding violations of standards set by Cow Share Canada. Johnson and Pudlow said they plan to restructure their operation to comply with the organization’s standards.
Earlier in the year, Schmidt on behalf of Cow Share Canada had taken over management of the Home on the Range cow share program in British Columbia after the herd manager, Alice Jongwarden, had been found in contempt of a court order prohibiting the distribution of raw milk for human consumption. After the order, Jongwarden had continued to distribute raw milk to the shareholders, with each jar of milk carrying a sticker with the words, “Not for Human Consumption.” On December 2, the Supreme Court of British Columbia upheld the contempt ruling but did not penalize Jongwarden, finding that since she had stopped her production and distribution of raw milk products (Schmidt had taken over management), she had “purged her contempt” and a penalty was not necessary. The Home on the Range cow share program is still continuing under Schmidt’s management.
No event in the raw milk movement is bigger or more important for freedom of food choice than the court’s ruling in the case of Canadian dairy farmer Michael Schmidt. On January 21 in the Ontario Court of Justice in Newmarket, Justice of the Peace Paul Kowarsky found Michael Schmidt not guilty of all nineteen charges brought against him by the Crown for alleged violations of Ontario law. Charges dealt with offenses related to the Ontario Health Protection and Promotion Act (HPPA) and the Ontario Milk Act. The issues in the case boiled down to whether Schmidt’s cow share program violated the broad prohibition against the sale of raw milk in the province. Under the cow share agreements with Schmidt’s dairy, Glencolton Farms, investors would pay the farmer $300 to purchase a quarter interest in a cow enabling the investors to obtain raw milk and raw milk products from the farm. Ontario law basically states that “no person shall sell, offer for sale, deliver or distribute milk or cream that has not been pasteurized…”; a similar statute exists for milk products.
In Justice Kowarsky’s view, the only issue before him was this: “Is the defendant guilty of the offences with which he is charged or does the fact that he sells his milk and milk products only to paid-up members of his cow share Program exculpate him?” In providing an answer to this issue, the judge’s opinion raised several other questions which get to the heart of the matter in the ongoing battle between regulators and consumers who are exercising their legal right to drink raw milk when its sale is illegal. As stated in the judge’s decision:
- If the purpose of HPPA and the Milk Act is primarily public safety, does the legislation apply to a structured group of private people, such as members of the defendant’s cow share program, who may wish to become involved in activity which in itself is not unlawful, so that public protection of such people is not required, and therefore the legislation concerned is not applicable to them?
- Are the cow share members bound to accept the protection offered to the general public in the legislation or are they permitted to reject the protection offered, and assume any risks which may be involved?
- If the ultimate purpose of regulatory legislation is to protect those who are unable to protect themselves, especially those who are particularly vulnerable, do those members of society who expressly waive the need for protection, still need the protection? Relating to this case at bar, if, in consuming raw milk per se the cow share members are not committing an unlawful act, and they wish to continue to do that within the parameters of the essentially private cow share program, why should they be forced to be bound by legislation which is intrinsically aimed at the vulnerable—those who need the protection?
In finding for Schmidt, the court held that the cow share program is a private enterprise not subject to the public health laws and that individuals have the right to waive the protection of public health laws. The factors leading the judge to rule that Ontario’s prohibition on the distribution of raw milk not applying to Schmidt’s cow-share program were that the farmer did not advertise; he did not solicit shareholders; the investors were warned that they would be consuming the raw milk at their own risk; Schmidt provided the investors with information explaining his farm practices and the respective responsibilities of Glencolton Farms and the cow-share owners; the investors purchased shares in the cows of their own free will; the milk was not available to the general public; there was no evidence that anyone ever became ill from consuming the milk from Glencolton Farms; there was “no evidence that members of the public were placed at risk by being in contact with or in the company of cow share owners who were consuming raw milk products”; and the evidence was that Schmidt’s products and operation were clean and hygienic. In light of these facts, the judge held that Schmidt’s cow share program did not circumvent public health laws but rather enabled him to function within the parameters set by the legislation.
Faced with a loss of control over the food the people of Ontario can consume, the Crown filed an appeal of the decision on February 11. In its appeal the Crown made the claim that Justice Kowarsky was in error for finding “there was no evidence that anyone had become ill as a result of the consumption of the defendant’s milk products, despite the evidence of Ontario’s expert witnesses that many cases of milkborne illness go unreported and undiagnosed.” The Crown also made the claim in its appeal that Justice Kowarsky “failed to take into account the Precautionary Principle which provides that whether there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation.”
In the appeal the Crown is also contesting the right of the citizens of Ontario to opt out of the protection of the public health laws through private contractual arrangements such as cow shares. With the proliferation of GMOs and other toxic additives and ingredients in the food supply, the question is: what protection? In finding that there is a distinction between public and private in the distribution of food and that people do have the right to waive the protection of the public health laws, Justice Kowarsky has set a benchmark that judges in this country need to follow.
Since the January 21 hearing, many Ontario dairy farmers have shown interest in starting up cow share programs. The hope is that dozens of them will get underway. Michael Schmidt has been courageously fighting the Province of Ontario for sixteen years now to secure the right to distribute raw milk legally. He needs more help from both producers and consumers. Schmidt’s message is this: “People need to basically take charge of and responsibility for their own food. You have to break down the difference between consumer and producer – the consumer is always passive, but consumers need to get involved in food production so that we don’t end up with total corporate control of our food supply. Reconnect with where your food is coming from; reconnect with how your food is produced; and reconnect with the people who actually grow the food” (Eyeweekly.com, March 2, 2010).
From January 26-30 and then again on February 4, the trial of dairy farmer Michael Schmidt was held in the Newmarket, Ontario Court of Justice before Justice of the Peace Paul Kowarsky. Charged with twenty violations of the Ontario Health Promotion Protection Act and the Ontario Milk Act, Schmidt has received widespread media coverage—most of it favorable.
The first three days of the trial were devoted to the charges against Michael while the remainder of the trial was dedicated to a challenge that Schmidt brought against the Court for a violation of Section Seven under the Canadian Charter of Rights. That section states, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”
Schmidt represented himself at the trial and did an outstanding job in presenting his case. The farmer argued that when he entered into agreements with his shareholders, he was “acting in a private capacity, engaging in private contract with other individuals who were also acting in a private capacity.” While Schmidt recognized that “a sovereign society has the right to regulate the trade and commerce of raw milk as it perceives necessary for the public good,” he asked, “Can regulations for the public good be imposed on two or more individuals coming to an agreement and understanding in their private capacity?”
Schmidt noted that there was no law banning the consumption of raw milk in the province of Ontario. The farmer pointed out that if there is a legitimate public health concern about providing raw milk to private individuals, the government’s actions have shown no evidence of such concern. “There have been no public notices to stay away from people who drink it. And, insofar as the Crown deems cow share members to be members of the public, no calls have been made to any of them to warn them of the potential hazard.”
Schmidt countered the scientific evidence introduced by government witnesses on the dangers of raw milk by using the testimony of his own expert witnesses, Dr. Ted Beals and Dr. Ron Hull, to establish the fact that there are two kinds of raw milk: raw milk intended for pasteurization and raw milk intended for direct consumption. The farmer also tried to respond to the government’s “science” by entering into the record 54 sworn affidavits from his shareholders about how raw milk benefited their health. The court refused to admit the affidavits as evidence.
Shareholder Judith McGill offered the following words on why shareholder stories should be considered as evidence: “It is a science that is described through narrative—people telling each other about why they searched out raw milk and what it’s meant for their health. That is our pre-test and post-test, what happened before I started drinking raw milk and what happened after I drank raw milk. There are no clever experimental controls set out in advance. No way to do factorial analysis to determine or link causal factors. Life is far too complex for that. There are just families talking to each other about what they find remarkable about the changes to their health. It is in the language of what happened as a result rather than scientific conclusions.
It is in the language of convictions rather than scientific claims. It is in the language of taking responsibility and managing one’s own health. It is described mostly in terms of a journey back to health.” [The Bovine, “Raw milk consumers not going away!”, February 2, 2009] The Court will take several months to issue a decision on the case. For more details on Schmidt’s case go to www.thebovine.wordpress.com.
On October 20, 2008, Justice R. Cary Boswell of the Newmarket Superior Court found Michael Schmidt guilty of contempt for failing to obey a court order to stop “selling” raw milk in the York Regional Municipality. The court had characterized Schmidt’s distribution of raw milk to his shareholders in the cow share program he operates as a “sale” [see Fall 2008 update below for background]. Boswell said that the case was about whether Schmidt had defied a court ruling, not whether consumers had the right to drink raw milk. The judge indicated that the farmer had convicted himself with media comments that he was still “selling” raw milk.
Schmidt asked the judge to impose “the highest penalty you can find.” The farmer stated, “It’s not the milk here, it’s the principle that people need to make the decision of what to put in their bodies. When government tells them what to eat and not eat, that’s a very sacred thing.”
Crown prosecutor Dan Kuzmyk suggested the court fine Schmidt $5000 and assess him $53,000 for legal bills run up by the York Region. Kuzmyk said that he was unwilling to let Schmidt become a martyr and “throw himself on the sword of the York Region.”
On December 2 Justice Boswell served Schmidt a written notification of sentence. Boswell gave Kuzmyk what he wanted, fining the farmer $5000 and assessing him $50,000 in court costs. In making his ruling, Boswell stated, “The primary purpose of punishment in contempt proceedings is deterrence. In this case, issues of both specific and general deterrence are in play. The punishment imposed must serve as notice to others that similar actions will not be tolerated and will attract meaningful punishment. To do otherwise threatens the integrity of the court’s process.”
The judge also commented, “The contemptuous breach of the order accordingly involves an issue of public health and safety and this too is an aggravating factor.” Yet at the contempt trial Schmidt was not permitted to bring up the issue of raw milk and the public health. Following the sentence, Schmidt sent a letter to his shareholders, friends and supporters. In his letter Schmidt pointed out that “man-made law is no law if it disrespects the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals which are deeply rooted in the Canadian Charter of Rights and the Bill of Rights.”
Schmidt said he did not “accept” Boswell’s ruling because he believes that the York Region cooperated with the Ministry of Natural Resources to use the contempt trial in order to deny him a fair hearing and due process in his upcoming trial on twenty violations of the Ontario Health Promotion Protection Act and the Ontario Milk Act. The charges were brought by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and the Grey-Bruce Health Unit.
The trial is scheduled to begin on January 26, 2009.
As for what the $55,000 judgment means to the farm, Schmidt gave the following comparisons, stating that the sum was equivalent to the cost of “27,500 litres of raw milk. . . the cost of 22 acres which can feed about 50 families. . . 10 years of net income (if you’re lucky) in farming. . . 25,000 hours of farm work in Canada.” Schmidt told Bayshore Broadcasting News that he would not pay the fine and court costs.
In fighting for his right to distribute raw milk to his shareholders, Schmidt has become outspoken in his criticism of Ontario’s dairy establishment. He has called for the scrapping of the province’s Milk Marketing Board, saying that it failed its legislative mandate to protect small-scale farming. He has expressed his intent to pursue legal action against Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO), the organization that regulates the supply of milk. According to Schmidt, DFO has stone-walled his request on looking into how raw milk could be sold in the province, violating its mandate to carry out research for “policy development and formation.” (Sources: The Toronto Star – HealthZone 10/20/08 & Canadian Press 11/18/08. For more details on Schmidt’s case go to www.thebovine.wordpress.com.)
Durham dairy farmer Michael Schmidt won a temporary victory on July 31 when Newmarket Superior Court Justice Michael Brown rejected the request by the York Regional Municipality to find Michael in contempt for selling raw milk. The municipality claimed Michael was in contempt for violating an order issued by the Newmarket Superior Court that he comply with a May 2007 directive from public health authorities to stop selling unpasteurized milk. Instead, Justice Brown scheduled a three-day trial on the contempt charge with the trial scheduled to begin on September 10.
One of the sanctions the municipality had been seeking against Michael on the contempt charge was jail time. The Justice found, with that being the case, it would have been unjust not to give the farmer an opportunity to challenge the evidence at trial that the municipality presented against him. Michael has long delivered milk in the York region to shareholders of the cow share program he operates. He and his shareholders contend he is not selling milk but rather selling his milking, boarding and distribution services to those who have part-ownership in the cows at his farm.
In addition to the contempt charge, Michael is also facing a trial for twenty violations of the Ontario Health Promotion Protection Act and the Ontario Milk Act. That trial is scheduled to take place in January 2009 (Sources: Canadian Press 7/31/08 & National Post 7/31/08).
Michael Schmidt will present a film on his farm and “The Milk Wars” in Canada at Wise Traditions 2008, our ninth annual conference, held in San Francisco, November 7-10.
The May 23 trial of Durham dairy farmer Michael Schmidt has been postponed. Schmidt is charged with twenty violations of the Ontario Health Promotion Protection Act and the Ontario Milk Act. On November 21, 2006, officials from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and the Grey-Bruce County Health Unit raided Schmidt’s farm, seizing thousands of dollars worth of products, supplies and equipment. The raid gave rise to charges that stem from Schmidt’s operation of a herdshare program and the distribution of raw milk and raw milk products to his shareholders.
The decision to postpone the trial was made following a pre-trial hearing involving Schmidt, prosecutors and the justice of the peace who is scheduled to preside over the trial. Schmidt is optimistic that the dialogue begun at the pre-trial hearing may lead to a settlement between himself and the province or, at the least, clarify the issues to be presented at trial. In addition, he believes that the Ministry of Natural Resources has indicated to him that it is now willing to return processing equipment that had been seized in the 2006 raid.
Schmidt plans to represent himself at the trial. The justice of the peace has asked Schmidt to work together with the prosecution to reach a consensus on the facts of the case. The farmer believes the trial will bring into focus the clash between the freedom of the individual’s right to freedom of choice and the government’s regulatory responsibility to protect the public health. In agreeing to work with the prosecution to reach an agreement on the facts of the case, Michael said “they [the prosecution] cannot change the law, but we can work together to present the case in a manner that it will be possible to get to the core of the argument, which will eventually bring about change.”
The farmer is also facing a separate trial for contempt for violating an order issued by an Ontario Superior Court prohibiting Schmidt from distributing raw milk within the regional municipality of York; no date for this trial had been set. Schmidt is encouraging his supporters to continue a letter writing campaign to challenge those having “the last word as authorities in the field of food safety and health.” In the farmer’s own words, “this battle for individual rights, for individual freedoms and against the abuse of power of so-called experts, politicians and bureaucrats becomes so defining in the years ahead of us. It is paramount to recognize the power within which will allow change to happen. We are not powerless.” (See quotes from “Raw milk activist says ‘dialogue’ starts” in Owen Sound Sun Times (3/20/08).)
Ontario–On November 26 agents of the Ministry of Natural Resources raided the farm of Michael Schmidt, a long-time operator of a cow share program in the province. The agents stopped a delivery bus Schmidt was driving before it could leave the farm premises and confiscated all dairy products on the bus later dumping those products into a local landfill site in the “contaminated substances” area. The agents also dismantled and carted off cheese-making and other dairy equipment from the farm. To protest the government’s interference with his business, Schmidt went on a month-long hunger strike shortly after the raid. He has continued deliveries to his shareholders uninterrupted from November to the present, usually escorted by two other vehicles whose occupants carry cell phones and video cameras.The province has charged Schmidt with violations of Ontario’s Milk Act and Public Health Act for distributing raw milk, for offering raw milk for sale, and for operating a dairy plant without a license. The province has been reluctant to set a date for the trial and at this time none has been scheduled.
Update, November 2006–CANADA: The Milk War by Sally Fallon Morell
On Tuesday, November 21, 2006, Glencolton Farms in Durham, Ontario, Canada was raided by agents of the Ministry of Natural Resources, the enforcement arm of the Ministry of Health. The proprietor of Glencolton Farms, Michael Schmidt, has operated a cow-share program without incident for the past eleven years. (For background, see The Incredible Story of Michael and Dorothea Schmidt and Real Milk in Canada.)
On the morning of November 21, Michael loaded up the vehicle that carries his goods into Toronto–the famous Blue Bus that arrives at the Toronto Waldorf School every Tuesday. There, the shareholders line up to receive the products of their cows. But as Michael drove out of the laneway, the bus was surrounded by a swarm of armed Ministry of Natural Resources officers approaching from all sides. They presented Michael with a search warrant and, for the next seven and a half hours, the investigators searched, questioned and confiscated.
The six individuals who live and/or work on the Farm were ordered to stay in the kitchen. Visits to other areas of the house or outdoors had to be conducted accompanied by an officer. Two investigators from the Ministry of Finance also arrived and spent several hours in the office, eventually leaving with one computer hard drive, its monitor and keyboard, back-up CDs and boxes of paper files.
The investigating officers were very polite, respectful and, somewhat surprised, it seemed, at the farm crew’s friendliness and cooperation. Michael and his son Markus filmed much of their activities. Every bottle of milk, cultured milk, quark, cream and sour cream, along with fresh cheese, that had been put on the bus was confiscated . . . and then dumped into a local landfill site in the contaminated substances area! The farm’s cheese-making and other dairy equipment was completely dismantled and carted off.
On Thursday, two days after the raid, Michael Schmidt publicly vowed to continue distributing raw milk products and announced that he had begun a hunger strike to back his demand that the provincial government stop interfering with the business. Schmidt, 51, told the gathering of press, supporters and interested individuals, held at his family farm northeast of Durham, that he will live on one glass of milk a day until his milk processing equipment is returned. He also wants the province to compensate the 150 families he supplies with raw milk products for their loss when their food was seized. He’s also demanding the province’s assurance that it will not interfere in his unpasteurized milk operation until or unless the matter is resolved in court or in the provincial legislature.
“Eleven and a half years ago, when I asked (the government) for co-operation in researching the raw milk issue and they turned me down, I said I would go ahead alone and if (they) interfered again with legal action I would go on a hunger strike . . . I’m simply following up on what I had promised at that time,” he said. Schmidt reiterated his vow at a press conference held in Toronto on November 29
According to Schmidt, the government has been fabricating stories that link milk products from his farm to two cases of sick children last summer. He said that it was common knowledge that they had become sick from eating tainted hamburger meat. The family was unknown to Schmidt, were not members of his cow share program and did not consume his unpasteurized milk.
On December 7, a bill to study the raw milk question, proposed by Bill Murdoch, Member of the Provincial Parliament (MPP) for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound in Ontario where Glencolton is located, was defeated.
While the actions taken against Schmidt were inexcusable, this situation actually presents a golden opportunity for positive change in Canada, most likely through legal action to force the Canadian government to return Michael’s confiscated equipment and to ensure the right of Canadians to obtain raw milk through cow share programs. And in spite of the police action taken against the farm, the Blue Bus continues to make its weekly trip to Toronto where cow-share owners pick up the raw milk from Glencolton Farms. Michael Schmidt remains strong and optimistic, living on one glass of raw milk per day. For updates and further details, visit glencoltonfarms.com.
This article appeared in the Winter 2006 edition of Wise Traditions, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation.
Update, Feb. 1, 2002
The Incredible Story of Michael and Dorothea Schmidt and Real Milk in Canada by Sally Fallon Morell
Pete Kennedy is a Florida attorney who has worked on issues governing raw milk production and distribution since 2004. He compiled a summary of raw milk laws in each of the fifty states and is currently a consultant for WAPF on, among other things, policies and laws regarding raw milk. Pete was a founding board member of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) and served as vice president and then president for many years. He has consulted on and drafted raw milk, cottage foods, and food sovereignty legislation; drafted and reviewed herdshare agreements; worked on embargo, seizure, and recall cases involving raw dairy products; worked on foodborne illness outbreaks attributed to raw milk consumption; handled issues involving on-farm slaughter, custom meat, and poultry processing as well as problems with zoning and local ordinances.