This is post number 601, in case you’re counting. And it seems as good a time as any to talk about what we’re learning from the Michael Schmidt story and what the Bovine’s really all about.
We started this blog, on September 6, 2008, to help focus attention on the Michael Schmidt raw milk case here in Ontario. And then we looked around at what else was happening in the world on the subject of raw milk, food politics and the politics of health, in part, to see the raw milk controversy in a larger context. And we’ve tried to include relevant material from that whole spectrum of news and perspectives.
When I used to write for Farm and Country way back when I was in Agriculture college, it never ceased to amaze me how much of the farm news was really about politics. And the politics often revolved around controlling access to markets.
I think what has galvanized public interest around raw milk and made it such a flashpoint is the extremity of the opposing views. Advocates credit the best organic or biodynamic raw milk with healing properties while detractors claim or imply that raw milk can cause serious bodily harm. Which begs the question “Can both groups be talking about the same raw milk”. And the answer is “probably not”.
The confusion comes with the in-my-view-erroneous idea that there’s no difference in the health qualities of raw milk, depending on how the cows are fed and cared for. “Milk is milk.” is the simplest form of this argument.
More open minded folks can see a world of difference between the healthiness of milk from bio-dynamically raised, grass and hay fed cows, and milk from cows that are treated as mere cogs in an assembly line of production, where value is placed solely on maximizing product output and minimizing financial cost. And of course, lots of regular dairy farmers do drink their own milk raw as well. And we don’t hear about them dying from it.
With other food quality issues like organic growing, GMOs, and such, the positions seem less extreme. Nutrition fans may claim chemically-grown GMO crops are bad for you and could be implicated in the epidemic of chronic disease we’re experiencing. The other side of the argument is simply that organic foods have not been shown to offer health advantages, that they yield less per acre, and that wanting to eat organic is “elitist”.
Now part of what makes the Michael Schmidt case so interesting is that Mr. Schmidt’s approach to farming is quite possibly the most advanced in the world. It would be beyond the scope of this article to describe all the ways in which biodynamic farming is better than organic. And even within the biodynamic fraternity, Mr. Schmidt has long been on the leading edge of back-to-the-roots dairy management. Before he came to Canada, Michael studied farming with a radical veterinarian in Germany who was into grass and hay feeding decades before there was a Weston A. Price Institute to spread the idea that this is the way cattle were meant to eat.
Also before he came to Canada, Michael Schmidt ran a raw milk farm in Germany for many years. Breeding stock from that farm were at one point shipped to Egypt along with cattle from other farms to form the nucleus of a new herd for the Sekem community farm project. Mr. Schmidt’s cattle were the only ones that survived and thrived in the new climate.
When I learned of the raid on Michael Schmidt’s farm in November 2006, my first reaction was: “What were they thinking?”. “They” being the regulators who authorized the raid. Hadn’t “they” learned their lessons from the last “milk war” in the mid 1990s. Was this a new generation of bureaucrats who had failed to learn from history? — that by prosecuting Michael Schmidt you only unleash a vast tsunami of publicity, most of it ultimately in favour of either raw milk, or people’s freedom to make their own health choices.
But perhaps the most valuable lesson we can learn from the Michael Schmidt saga is that someone like Michael Schmidt, with his community of supporters, can stand up to the government and all its machinations. And these days, that’s even more important than raw milk!