How does Ontario’s battle over raw milk rights look to our American friends?

The following is an excerpt from “The In-Box“, a blog of the North Country Public Radio news department:

Here's one American journalist who's not getting such a clear view at the moment this picture was taken -- because his glasses are fogged. That's David E. Gumpert (not related to this article) taking a tour of the milkroom with raw milk farmer Michael Schmidt on the eve of last month's verdict.

“Politics have played a big part in food production and food safety for a long, long time.

An on-going court case in Ontario places some powerful terms in stark opposition: “experts” “safety” and “health regulations” verses “freedom” “choice” and “natural food”.

Ideals people will stoutly defend, on both sides.

Ontario dairy farmer Michael Schmidt has waged a long campaign to produce raw, unpasteurized milk for those who want that.

Rules vary in the U.S. As best I can tell a fair number of states (22?) permit some sale of, or access to, raw milk.

Meanwhile, it’s illegal to sell raw milk anywhere in Canada. This 2009 Health Canada information update explains why:

the Food and Drug Regulations require that all milk available for sale in Canada be pasteurized. Pasteurization kills the organisms that cause disease while keeping the nutritional properties of milk intact. Raw milk has not been treated to make it safe. It also is not fortified with vitamin D.

That being the case, regulators tried to shut Schmidt’s operation down.

Representing himself, Schmidt challenged the case, arguing the police investigation violated his right to liberty and that his distribution model did not break existing laws. (Schmidt sold shares of cow ownership to people who very much wanted access to raw milk. It’s still legal to drink raw milk from your own cows.) A Justice of the Peace ruled in his favor on January 21.

The province plans an appeal. Premier Dalton McGuinty has weighed in, saying there’s an “overwhelming consensus” among medical experts that raw milk presents real health issues and the case should be considered by a higher court.

You might think this argument was settled long ago, with the discovery of germ theory. Raw milk = unacceptable risk. But food is pretty complicated and how it gets produced seems to matter too (grass-feed verses feed-lot for example). Raw milk has devoted fans.

There’s a good over-view by Hannah Wallace in this 2007 Salon article examining the complexity of milk itself and other aspects of this issue. Wallace references the ill-ease some feel in the face of brash new directions:

Meanwhile, the FDA has just announced that it’s safe to eat meat and drink milk from cloned animals. In such an Orwellian universe, where raw milk from cows that have two biological parents is considered dangerous, while pasteurized milk from cloned cows is safe — is it any wonder that a growing band of consumers don’t trust FDA decisions?

In response to a CBC article describing his court victory, Schmidt made this email comment, which pretty much spells out what he’s fighting for and why:

Our Provincial Government and our Federal Government have taken on the role of “protector” and therefore granted themselves powers which are threatening and infringing upon all our individual rights.
We need to really understand our rights:

We do not have to be told how to farm, how to eat, how to educate our children and how to treat ourselves when we are sick.
The rest is very simple, stand your ground and keep challenging the authorities. The more they crack down without respecting your rights, the more you know you are on the right track.
I do believe that we have enough pull to bring about change on many levels in the near future.
This message is to all those, who already know and to all those, who begin to understand that now, not tomorrow, not next year is the time to reject, unjust policies and regulations.

There’s an amazing spectrum of views on the nutritional role of milk. Proponents call it a nearly perfect food. A completely opposite view maintains drinking milk is actually detrimental to good health.

But this is just as much about politics as it is about milk….”

Read the whole thing here on the In-Box

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