Canadian dairyman’s hunger strike for raw milk justice moves into third week while supporters fear raid on farm

Here’s one of the best summaries of the state of the Michael Schmidt raw mik story that we’ve seen in a long time. This is from Sarah Foster on News with

Raw milk farmer and advocate Michael Schmidt with native supporter Danny Beaton on the steps of the Ontario Legislature, Queen's Park, last Tuesday, following his news conference

“It’s been over two weeks since raw-milk advocate Michael Schmidt has drunk any fluids other than water, refusing even the nutrient-dense milk that’s at the center of his on-going battle with Canadian health authorities.

“As a result of the recent legal developments in British Columbia and Ontario I will once again enter into a hunger strike as of today, 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 stated in a Food Rights Declaration he wrote and posted on his blog, The Bovine, on Sept. 29.

As Schmidt indicates, this hunger strike is not his first such action. In 2006 he went four weeks without food in protest of the government’s raid on his farm and the confiscation of his equipment. He abandoned that effort only when his supporters and allies convinced him the cause would be better served if he were alive.

His current protest is in response to a lenghty ruling handed down the preceding day by Ontario Court Justice Peter Tetley, convicting the 57-year-old farmer of 15 of 19 charges laid out in 2006 under Ontario’s Health Promotion and Protection Act and the Milk Act. Tetley’s decision overturned an earlier verdict by Justice Paul Kowarsky who had dismissed those charges, ruling that “cow-sharing” – in which people purchase a “share” of a cow and its milk — is a legitimate way of providing unpasteurized milk to informed consumers who desire to drink it.

Schmidt also faces possible contempt of court charges in British Columbia over his helping establish a cow-share program with a raw-milk dairy there. He faces a possible $55,000 find. A hearing is scheduled for Nov. 2.

On top of everything else that’s happening, Schmidt reports he has received “evidence” that the government is planning another raid on his farm, with the intention of arresting him and taking him into custody. There’s nothing definite, but it’s a possibility.

This isn’t Schmidt’s first brush with the Ontario Province health authorities. He’s been trying for 17 years to find a solution for legalization of raw milk in Canada. Schmidt immigrated to Canada from Germany in 1983 and began farming the following year. In 1994 he came to the attention of the authorities who objected to his selling unpasteurized milk, and has been embroiled in the raw-milk battle ever since.

Determined to develop a way of supplying the increasing number of people who were anxious to obtain clean, fresh milk in its natural state, Schmidt founded Cow Share Canada.

When Justice Paul Kowarsky dismissed all charges stemming from the 2006 raid, Schmidt and those involved in his cow-share program thought the way was open for legalization. But the health authorities of the Province of Ontario had other ideas and appealed the ruling. This in turn led to last month’s verdict by Tetley – and to Schmidt’s determination to once again challenge the authorities.

“A turning point”

“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,” Schmidt wrote in his Declaration. “A step I have taken already 5 years ago when our farm was raided by 25 armed officers because of raw milk.”

In his view, which is seconded by supporters in Canada and the United States, there’s a lot more at stake than raw milk. As he sees it:

“This is not about milk; this is about a turning point in regards to individual rights.

“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.

Schmidt’s request is simple: “I respectfully ask that the Ontario and BC governments agree to a constructive dialogue on how we can provide a framework to enable people to make real choices about their food and what they eat, beginning with raw milk and the implementation of a framework that grants legal standing for cow share operations in Ontario and BC,” Schmidt states in his Declaration. “This objective also includes the end of the current prosecutions of cow shares which meet proper production standards.”

Will the governments of the two provinces agree to any kind of dialogue? They haven’t so far, and their attitude is identical to that of U.S. health authorities as seen in similar confrontations and court decisions in both countries. Indeed, Tetley’s ruling came in the wake of a decision by Judge Patrick Fiedler, which NWV writer Jim Kouri reported on.

“Farmers Mark and Petra Zinniker wished to sell raw milk obtained from their cows through their new farm store,” Kouri wrote. “But a judgment in August from Wisconsin Circuit Court Judge Patrick Fiedler ruled against them in what one attorney characterized as a ‘bizarre judicial leap.’

“In response, shareholders joined the Zinnikers and retained public-interest lawyers from the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) who had filed a motion for Judge Fiedler to clarify his court decision.”

Fiedler certainly “clarified.” In a Sept. 9 opinion he slammed the Zinnikers, the FTCLDF, and anyone else who might harbor the notion that they have a “fundamental right” to own cows, consume the cows’ milk, or even “produce and consume the foods of their choice.” In his words:

“(1) no, plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to own and use adairy cow or a diary (sic) herd;
“(2) no, plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to consume the milk from their own cow;
“(3) no, plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to board their cow at the farm of a farmer;
“(4) no, the Zinniker plaintiffs’ private contract does not fall outside the scope of the state’s police power;
“(5) no, plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to produce and consume the foods of their choice; and
“(6) no, the DATCP did not act in an ultra vires manner because it had jurisdiction to regulate the Zinniker plaintiffs’ conduct.”

With such an example of jurisprudence before him, Justice Tetley had no problem issuing a similar ruling about Schmidt.

According to Schmidt’s attorney Karen Selick, Tetley did far more than simply dismiss another judge’s opinion.

Milk consumption not a protected right

Commenting on the controversial ruling Selick writes: “But the judge ventured beyond the subject of raw milk, saying: ‘The entitlement to consume milk, raw or otherwise, is not a Charter protected right.’

“The implications are far-reaching,” says Selick. “If the judge is right about this, future courts could similarly declare that you have no right to eat meat, poultry, seafood, fruit, vegetables, or grains, even if government approved – in short, you may have no right to eat anything at all.” (emphasis added)

Schmidt’s quiet action has been somewhat overshadowed by the strident “Occupy Wall Street” protests, but it has not gone unnoticed. His supporters have held several rallies and more are planned for the remainder of this month and next.

Eight farmers in Canada and the U.S. have joined Schmidt in his Hunger Strike, and there is also a large group in Toronto on a rotational fasting in support of and respect to him and the others.

“Hanging in There”

But a protest of this sort is certain to generate controversy, and Schmidt’s is no exception. Concerned about his health, many of his supporters are urging him to give it up or at least drink raw milk as he did during his hunger strike in 2006. They worry over just how long he can endure going without solid food and whether it will be worth it. Seemingly undaunted, Schmidt continues to work fulltime at his farm and take part in rallies.

Peter Kennedy, president of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, told NWV that Schmidt is “hanging in there” and plans to appeal Tetley’s decision.

Though he declined to speculate on the outcome, Kennedy described Schmidt as “one of the most mentally sound people around. Once he makes up his mind about something it’s pretty difficult to change it.”

Kennedy added that at this time Schmidt is the “number one figure” in the raw-milk movement in North America. “There’s no doubt about it,” he said….”

By Sarah Foster
Posted 1:00 AM Eastern
October 18, 2011
© 2011

Leave a comment

Filed under News

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s