“No one would argue that governments have a vital role in protecting health and safety.
The issue is with how far any government goes in providing that protection.
In May, we noted how the provincial health ministry had stepped beyond the realm of protecting us from bad eggs to protecting us from our own judgements by cracking down on eggs being sold at farmers markets.
The same situation exists with raw milk, where Ontario farmer Michael Schmidt is in the midst of a long court battle over his selling and distribution of unpasteurized milk.
Specifically, Schmidt is seeking leave to appeal a court ruling prohibiting him from selling shares in his cows so customers can have raw milk.
Ontario and federal laws prevent the sale of unpasteurized milk because it may contain pathogens otherwise destroyed by pasteurization. Those pathogens can cause foodborne illness and lead to serious conditions from fever, vomiting and diarrhea, to life-threatening kidney failure, miscarriage and death.
Supports of raw milk, however, argue that if produced properly, raw milk is not only safe, but has health benefits, particularly for those who have health problems preventing them from drinking pasteurized milk.
In particular, unheated milk contains enzymes and lactase-producing bacteria our bodies use to break down and assimilate the milk sugar lactose; those bacteria are killed in the pasteurization process.
Further, Schmidt’s lawyer, Karen Selick, argues that while much of the debate has centred on food safety, Schmidt’s case is a sign of heavy-handed government on several levels.
“It’s about whether individuals who take the trouble to inform themselves … have the right to decide what’s best for their own health,” Selick said. “It seems like the government is adamant that it is going to make all the decisions for people.”
Selick is exactly right. While the government has both the right and responsibility to protect society from rampant, unrestricted circulation of milk products that may not be safe, that is far different from stopping people from making informed decisions on matters that come down to personal preference.
In the case of Schmidt, those wanting access to raw milk would have to go out of their way to get it, and thus circulation would be limited to those who choose raw milk despite knowledge of, or at least the ability to be informed about, the potential health risk.
In stopping people from having that option, and by persecuting Schmidt for providing it, governments have gone beyond their role as protector of society to removing one of the fundamental pillars of it, namely freedom of choice.
That is both dangerous and wrong. The government should back off; dropping the charges against Schmidt would be a good start.”