“The gaggle of reporters waiting inside Queen’s Park in Toronto on Friday, November 4, 2011, no doubt expected a feeble, exhausted radical when dairy farmer Michael Schmidt emerged. It was the 37th day of the hunger strike he started after being convicted of endangering public health by the Court of Appeal for Ontario; he claimed to have lost 50 pounds. But the reporters encountered someone alert, emphatic and entirely undeterred.
Schmidt’s hunger strike, which he ended after Premier Dalton McGuinty agreed to meet with him, was the latest chapter in an 18-year legal battle that began in 1994 when local police and health units raided his Durham, Ont., farm. He pleaded guilty to the charges and was forced to sell three quarters of his farm to pay legal fees and fines. Since then, he’s been in court numerous times in Ontario and has faced contempt-of-court charges in British Columbia. The issue? Selling unpasteurized milk to willing customers. Schmidt believes pasteurization (heating milk to a microbe-killing temperature) destroys beneficial bacteria, making it less healthy than raw milk.
Schmidt’s problem is that every health agency in the country disagrees, insisting that pasteurizing milk is essential for preventing acute illnesses caused by E. coli, listeria and salmonella bacteria. Pasteurization laws were first introduced in Canada in 1991 in response to dozens of major cases of illness linked to raw-milk consumption. According to Health Canada, the number of outbreaks has since plummeted — between 1998 and 2007, only seven were reported. “Given the clear health and safety benefits of pasteurization,” says Health Canada spokesperson Christelle Legault, “we aren’t considering any changes to the rules.”….”