TORONTO – Raw milk crusader Michael Schmidt abandoned a five-week hunger strike Friday after a brief, impromptu meeting with Premier Dalton McGuinty.
Schmidt, 57, began his hunger strike Sept. 29 after he was found guilty on 15 of 19 charges related to the sale and distribution of unpasteurized milk.
Schmidt agreed to end the protest, after having lost 50 pounds on a diet of only water and lemon juice, when McGuinty walked in on a meeting he was having with the premier’s chief of staff.
“As we were meeting, McGuinty came in and said that he was very concerned about how I was doing,” Schmidt said in an interview.
“He asked what would it take to get me eating again, and I said you did it already because you came down to meet with me.”
The raw milk charges were laid after a 2006 raid on Schmidt’s farm, and he was originally acquitted. But the government appealed and in September the Durham farmer was found guilty on 15 counts.
Schmidt has been fighting for years for the right to sell unpasteurized milk, even creating a ”cow share” program so people who purchased raw milk had an ownership stake in the animals that produced it.
The Health Protection and Promotion Act makes it illegal to sell unpasteurized milk in Canada because it’s considered a health hazard. It is, however, legal to drink raw milk.
During Schmidt’s trial, food scientists and health experts testified mandatory pasteurization laws are needed to protect public health.
Schmidt argued, unsuccessfully, that his cow share operation exempted him from the legislation.
A spokeswoman for McGuinty said Friday’s meeting went well, but the premier informed Schmidt the government has no plans to change its position to allow the sale of raw milk.
The province says it will continue to rely on the best advice of medical experts when it comes to selling raw milk.
Schmidt said he has no regrets about the hunger strike or about bringing it to an end without seeing the law changed.
All he ever really wanted is to have the government take an objective look at the issue of raw milk, said Schmidt, because he believes people should have the freedom to decide if they want to drink it. McGuinty took him seriously and that was good enough.
“A lot of people say he doesn’t care, but I had this great belief in this person, this human being Dalton McGuinty, that he, in his heart, cares about the people of Ontario,” said Schmidt.
“I wanted to see that, and I got to see it, and that was all I needed.”
McGuinty invited him to speak with the 53 Liberals who were elected Oct. 6 and suggested Schmidt concentrate his lobbying efforts with MPPs to see if he can generate enough support to overturn the ban on raw milk sales.
“He said you need to go back to the members, and need to talk one on one with them, in order to bring about change,” he said.
“That will be a lot of work, but we have assembled through our ordeals, a lot of people who are active and passionate about the issue of raw milk.”