“There may be a legal way to challenge Ontario’s raw milk ban after all — just not the method used by Michael Schmidt.
That theme provides an interesting subtext to a recent Ontario Court of Justice decision in Schmidt’s long battle to open a legitimate niche for raw milk in Canada. A Grey County dairy farmer for more than 25 years and an intriguing character for many reasons, Schmidt has pushed his raw milk crusade well beyond what most of us would consider sensible. Recently he announced he’ll pursue a hunger strike to protest his legal situation, which seems daunting on its surface.
Quite apart from the potential health risks involved for such a fascinating individual as Michael is — he is a notable musician and all-round champion of rural culture — his hunger strike seems a needless waste of energy. It also seems beside the point that I think he wants to make in what has been a highly public 15-year-long dispute. This seems particularly so when the recent decision of Mr. Justice Peter D. Tetley in Schmidt’s case provides a relatively detailed road map for lifting some of Ontario’s raw milk sanctions.
There may be other reasons to challenge Schmidt’s activism. Most notably, his raw milk ventures ignore long-standing restrictions on milk production that are an essential part of Canada’s valuable milk marketing system. But that was not the subject of the ruling by Tetley, which overturned Schmidt’s earlier acquittal on 19 violations for Ontario food safety regulations.
While the decision finds against Schmidt on most of the charges, it also offers significant weight to the renegade farmer’s arguments that Ontario’s raw milk regulations should change. At heart, the case is about the legality of a cow share scheme adopted by Schmidt at his Glencolton Farms, near Durham, to serve a growing group of people who cite the nutritional benefits of unpasteurized raw milk.
The scheme recognizes that provincial rules prohibit the distribution of raw milk as a potential source of bacterial illness, but not its consumption. Consequently, dairy farm owners and members of their families may consume milk legally from their cow herds and have done so for years.
In the original trial of Schmidt’s case, a justice of the peace found the cow share program at Glencolton was a legal way of sharing raw milk. Tetley’s recent appeal decision reversed that ruling. But there may be further appeals of the case.
While the original trial began with Schmidt defending himself, he has since acquired legal advice and representation from the Canadian Constitutional Foundation, a non-profit charity specializing in rights legislation. A copy of Tetley’s ruling appears on the foundation’s website.
The 77-page ruling provides a thoughtful analysis of the case and detailed summaries of the evidence. The judge was particularly careful not to dismiss the concept of a cow ownership plan for dedicated raw milk consumers. As well, he appears to accept that non-farm consumers of raw milk may have a legitimate constitutional complaint about Ontario law.
It’s just that Schmidt can’t assert the rights of his customers because he’s a farmer and has the right to consume milk from his cows. In the Glencolton plan, cow share owners paid $1,200 for a six-year membership that allowed them to buy 750 litres of milk — or its equivalent in dairy products — at the farm gate for $2 per litre. At the time he was charged in 2006, Schmidt had 150 cow share members and 24 cows….”