By Raoul Bedi , BASc
I – Introduction:
The Vancouver Fresh Milk Food Politics conference (www.freshmilkfoodpolitics.com) on April 6, 2013 was, according to Ontario Raw Milk farmer, agister and pioneer, Michael Schmidt a “milestone” for the movement in Canada. What made it a success? It was not just the fact of the seats being, more or less, sold out. Or the thought-provoking and professional lectures from the various leaders in the field of Raw Dairy and building Sustainable Food Systems. It was something more. It was the synergy or joyful coming together of many of the diverse strands of the BC and Canadian Food Security collage, for a time, all under one roof. It is not often that so many leaders and activists in the field, in Canada, join together to find common cause under one roof as we did on April 6, 2013 at the Ukranian Cathedral in Vancouver.
Who were the heroes of the day? Apart from the usual leaders of the movement such as raw milk farmers Michael Schmidt, Mark Mcafee (http://www.organicpastures.com/) and Alice Jongerden, there were also many “unsung heroes”. Like the kind gentleman who innocently, generously and anonymously left a donation of $1500 for the CCF (Canadian Constitution Foundation) at my “Canadian Consumer Raw Milk Advocacy Group“ (www.rawmilkconsumer.ca) table. He did not even request a receipt. Despite efforts to later track down this kind individual, so that Michael Schmidt and Karen Selick could personally thank him, he was nowhere to be found.
Jackie Ingram, our respected Master of Ceremonies, event co-organizer, and still another unsung hero of Raw Milk advocacy, herself, mentioned some of the amazing new synergies. The respected “Slow Food “ Vancouver (www.slowfoodvancouver.com ) organization has wholeheartedly embraced the BC Raw Milk advocacy work as part of their mandate which includes no GMO’s and Seed Freedom . This synergy was further evidenced by the lengthy list of 15 local food donors and sponsors for the event’s tasteful 3 gourmet meals, and over 20 media and blogger sponsors from all over North America .
Throughout the day we received some snippets about Jackie’s amazing BC Raw Dairy advocacy work or odyssey. Jackie had arranged meetings with the premier of BC and several ministers. About which Michael Schmidt commented it has taken me, personally, “20 years of trench warfare and literally 40 days of fasting almost to death “in 2011 to barely be able to meet the former premier of Ontario, Mr. Dalton McGuinty, during his coffee break for 20 minutes! Yet Jackie was somehow able to achieve this (with the Premier of BC) all in a day’s work!
It occurred to me, as Jackie rhymed off the successes of the past year, such as tabling petitions for all the party members in the BC provincial parliament, or meetings with various BC health and medical officers, that it would be highly instructive if she budgeted a 50 minute slot FOR HERSELF TO SPEAK , at the next Fresh Milk conference, entitled “Secrets of Raw Dairy Advocacy Work – How and How Not to Go About it” !
One could never do justice here to the humanitarian good that most of the attendees are contributing in their own way to our society. At each one of the 25 odd tables in the conference hall, conversations were taking place, connections were being made, and seeds were, figuratively and literally, being planted for the next phase of high level work. Thus, the ultimate success of the conference may be gauged by the inspiration and creativity all the attendees feel now to contribute exponentially more , and in bigger and better ways, to this work of building a Sustainable Food System.
II Lecture Summaries
What follows is a synopsis of each of the different distinguished speaker’s lectures throughout the day, more or less, sequentially. These are my notes “from the field” with minimal commentary or analysis. http://www.helladelicious.com has already written a great article and analysis about the conference, so my intention here is to fill in some of material, for researchers interested to go into as much depth as possible, that was left out of her article. The conference went for almost 9 hours so a lot of information was exchanged and shared – information that is impossible to share, in its totality, in a short article or two.
A: BC Lawyer and Civil Liberty Expert Jason Gratl Lecture: “Food Law and the Price of Freedom”
Jason Gratl (centre) with Michael Schmidt (Left) – Photo by Raoul Bedi (www.biofield.ca)
“Truth is something that is difficult to suppress. Once it comes out it is even more difficult to ignore it ”! –Jason Gratl, Lawyer for Michael Schmidt and Our Cows Coop in Chilliwack , BC.
Mr. Jason Gratl has a background in a variety of areas pertaining to Food Rights and Civil Liberties. Previously, Jason did work for the Natural Health Products Protection Association. An important premise there was that a consumer has a right to certain products for his or her health. Food and drugs can both be used therapeutically with right knowledge and application.
Former ‘Home on The Range” farmer agister Alice Jongerden caught the attention of regulators. She faced 3 years in jail, and a potential fine of $2 million if found guilty of marketing and distributing raw milk for human consumption.
Her elegant solution: Don’t package or imply the raw milk is for human consumption. Print 1000 labels stating this product is “Not for human consumption”. The honourable Judge had some kind of sympathy for her predicament and situation so, while still finding her “in contempt of court”, did not enforce any punishment, not even for court costs. However she was disabled from further performance of her chosen work activity with a threat of potentially more serious enforcement consequences if the matter went to court again in the future.
ACT II ‘Reinvention as Cosmetic Line’ – The New “Our Cows” herdshare, an incarnation of the former “Home on the Range” herdshare cooperative which had been disbanded under court order, developed a clearly stated policy that a member will be prevented from purchasing the dairy (now newly relabelled or identified as) cosmetics if found to be using them for purposes other than cosmetics. This is a less cheeky approach to outright disobedience or law breaking. It seeks a kind of middle path approach in terms of finding an intelligent way to respect the law while simultaneously achieving an objective that might otherwise be perceived to be a legal violation. We are still duty bound to say we follow the law. So Civil Disobedience can have varying degrees and flavours. You seek to obey and disobey the law at the same time. That is one approach. Both sides are happy with the result as a respectful middle way has been deemed to be found.
Apart from the dairy industry, many trades are controlled by oligopolies. We see this with the outrageous rates for lawyers. A limited supply creates an artificial demand. The same goes for medical schools. A constrained number of doctors and nurses drives up the price for their services and creates a situation of artificial scarcity. Similarly in Canada we have a Milk Oligopoly where the Canadian market price is substantially higher (almost double) than the US price.
Such an oligopoly is a de facto tax on milk and other dairy products.
In extreme situations or discrepancies between supply and demand, prices shoot so high that a parallel black market eventually can form. Another problem that compounds the challenge for farmers is that there are multiple marketing boards or oligopolies for many different product or food categories that do not communicate with each other. For example there are marketing boards for chicken, eggs, dairy, (formerly wheat) etc. Thus the cumulative and stressful effect of over-regulation is ignored by bureaucrats. Just as we ignore the cumulative and compounding negative effects of 1700 man-made interrupters or interventions like pesticides, GMO’s , EMFs, herbicides , irradiation and preservatives sometimes all in the same food if not overall diet.
In Canada, we have very little in the way of effective consumer advocacy to monitor the government and if necessary stop all regulators who exceed their mandate or other humane boundaries. And experience has shown that regulators, by their nature, have no capacity to “self-regulate” themselves. “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.
Thus when faced with very little if any internal government control and inadequate consumer or public advocacy or oversight, the main remaining option is the courtroom. This is sometimes preceded by varying degrees or attempts of civil obedience, where regulatory boundaries are intentionally tested in the field.
It is an important prerogative of the courts, as guardians of our shared liberties, to establish the rights and freedoms that relate to food and life’s necessities. Specifically, the right or degree of control that an individual has to determine what goes in their own or their family member’s body. And the right to make the best nutritional choices available and possible for their families.
This is different from the recreational marijuana versus medical marijuana issue or debate. As nutrition is deemed to be more immediate and imperative to life than even occasional clinical or therapeutic use of a herb or drug. Another important right is the right to have accurate labeling to warn if something is potentially deleterious for some or all of the population if they ingest that food or herbal or drug item. The other side of the coin, people should have a right to the superior health benefits of the absolutely best food and nutritional choices if they can afford it and/or choose to make it a priority.
Lastly, Mr. Jason Gratl wisely and very humanely suggested that another very important “Food Right“ that should be enshrined more formally is the right for ALL to a decent amount of protein, vegetables, clean water . This should be on par with the already accepted principle of a human being’s “Right to Life“. As how can one differentiate or separate from a “Right to Life” with “a right to life’s necessities”? They are, in truth, one and the same.
The reality is that a Canadian bill of “Food Rights“ is potentially 20 years away. There are, currently, no existing spelled out rights to quality, clean healthy food, for all, as we speak. And Mr. Gratl feels it would be a highly worthwhile exercise to eventually place such ideas into the legal fabric of the nation so that it ultimately becomes part and parcel of the Supreme Law of Canada.
In the interim, Mr. Gratl recommends a number of remedies. First eliminate absurdities of law so as to enhance the overall respect of the political and legal system by the citizenry. This could be achieved in the short term via an “Order in Council“ of some kind.
Second, an ‘Order in Council’ could potentially be used to fast-track certification programs for food and food production methods. For example, unpasteurized milk could be then be certified with a certain production, labeling, packaging, marketing and distribution standard. This could already be done easily and quietly without impeding the flow of profits for the existing Dairy Marketing Boards or oligopolies.
During the noon question and answer session Mr.Gratl mentioned that the Fraser Health authority had already spent $190 000 prosecuting its case against Alice Jongerden and the Our Cows Herdshare (and it’s previous incarnation as “Home on the Range”) in Chilliwack. And that this tally does not even include in house staff income payments or other overhead costs. At that rate it is theoretically possible that even a municipal health board could run out of funding and be forced to drop the case whether or not it has merit. That is a very sad societal statement reminiscent of the situation of Monsanto versus non-GMO farmers debacles where “whoever has the deepest (financial) pockets wins” is the guiding principle in lawsuits and courtroom battles.
He mentioned that the Fraser Health Authority had made an initial “gentleman’s agreement“ not to prosecute while the constitutional challenge was in process but later “changed their minds”.
He further stated that “there are only so many lawsuits you can initiate”. It is a cost-prohibitive procedure and technically challenging. He offered the opinion that the constitutional challenge (it is currently on hold probably due to funding constraints) still “ought to move forward“ as it is very important to clearly “establish the principles of the rights of citizens to put healthy food in their bodies”.
Jason reiterated that there exist methods (a herdshare being one of them) to respect federal restrictions without necessarily mounting a costly constitutional challenge. Furthermore “enforcement actions are often underfunded“. So, more often than not, authorities will turn a blind eye to low key digressions. Which (low key) has probably never really been Michael Schmidt’s approach! He has been somebody who often finds himself in the media limelight. The other side of the coin, Jason stated, is that if governments do decide to go to court they are the best clients (as far as earning “bread and butter” for a lawyer) because they can be stubborn and stupid (in endlessly pursuing a case ) and have a relatively unlimited access to taxpayer money.
Karen Selick’s Talk: “The State, Children and Freedom to Eat“
We are naturally fond of our children. This sometimes makes us vulnerable to scoundrels and manipulators including government bureaucrats! Children’s safety has become the excuse for a never-ending stream of new laws pertaining to almost all areas of human life. We have bicycle helmet laws, censorship of movies, TV and the internet, Food laws, Education laws, Vaccination requirements and more. The government sees itself in the role of “wise shepherds” which means, by default, we are the blind ,weak and defenceless sheep !
Practically we see this state of affairs with regard to the situation of raw milk accessibility in Canada. Your average Raw Milk consumer has to jump through so many hoops in order to obtain their cherished unpasteurized dairy products that it cannot possibly be a reckless decision. It is an informed choice that is currently disregarded by the government.
Not all government is evil. But the government, by it’s nature, lacks the dispersed knowledge that can and will always only reside in the minds of each and every citizen. A government, by its nature, can only take into account generalities. But what is best for a majority cannot possibly always be what is best for each and every minority.
For example, parents are capable of making subtle observations of their children and corresponding adjustments to their and their children’s lifestyle choices on a minute to minute basis. It is too expensive, if not impossible, for bureaucrats to fine tune their services and decisions for each and every family’s situation. So, by default, we end up with “one size fits all laws and approaches” to governance. In some cases, we end up worse off than if we had never had certain laws in the first place.
Normally we assume benign intentions on the government’s part even if based on incomplete information or, worse, total ignorance of details.
- But what happens if the underlying motivation of a sector of government is against the good of the people? Why would this happen? A politician may have other goals with higher priority than the public’s good. For example : Job preservation, including getting reelected, or job promotion, a life-long pension or retirement package, personal power, influence and prestige and more . This is determined by what is known as “public choice theory” and governs the often inherently self-interested behavior of public servants.
It is not hard to find examples of where the state has gotten it totally wrong in terms of public good. For example, in 1999 Vioxx drug was released into the market . By 2004 it was believed to have caused 60 000 deaths world-wide before being subsequently withdrawn. For followup research purposes, a fascinating research article entitled “List of Withdrawn Drugs” can be found in Wikipedia.
Apart from the government being wrong about the things it approves of, the government is also often wrong about the things it disapproves of with organic raw milk being a prime example. In fact the government has been wrong so many times and in so many places that it is hard to fathom a mindset that believes that the government should still dictate for us what is good or not good for us to eat.
As a further example, Asthma is the third leading cause of hospitalization in Canada. And pasteurized dairy products are proven to be a major contributing factor. Whereas well-respected European studies of large groups of children, ingesting raw dairy products over a longer term, show massive decreases in asthma and allergy rates, approaching zero. To deny our children such accepted and obvious benefits (according to the Europeans, at least) should be viewed as a crime worthy of punishment.
We must reign in the food fascists and not let them dictate, more and more, what an experienced, and in many cases multigenerational, farmer can and cannot do.
Hayley Lapalme’s Lecture: “ Food Sovereignty and Sustainable Agriculture”
H. Lapalme on “Building a Sustainable Food System” (photo by http://www.helladelicious.com )
Hayley began by asking how many people in the room are farmers ? About 60% of the people in the room put up their hands. She expressed a concern about the loss of farms and farmers. She pointed out that many more of us are potentially farmers even if we only grow food in our gardens or balcony or even just sprouts in a kitchen jar! She mentioned a popular new mode of urban farming, called SPIN Farming (Small Plot Intended Agriculture http://www.spinfarming.com ) where a gardener cum farmer manages multiple large urban backyards often only in exchange for a share of produce with the homeowner .
We have lost a lot of transparency in our food system. We need to urgently reconsider the “who” and how of our future food supply and system? What role will Urban Agriculture play in the city of the future? We must revalue our priorities and cultivate a new generation of both urban and rural farmers. We must preserve if not increase current land in cultivation. How? By making better use of public and unused spaces such as backyards, rooftops, balconies, parks and boulevards.
We must also work to counter this tendency to concentrate power in the hands of government or a few large corporations by decentralizing and building a strong food system. How do we regain transparency in society’s direction and in the government’s decisions ? There are several ways. First we have to start by asking more questions. Another way is to leverage the buying power of institutions to support local food initiatives of all kinds.
A paradigm shift is needed. International trade agreements need to be revised so that global trade complements instead of hinders local food choices. If not, the city of Vancouver will lose the ability to act as an agent of economic development for its citizens. We must work to empower municipalities with retained economic development powers. We must also “rebuild the middle” level of production/distribution to keep all processing work and employment from moving south where there may be either lower wages or larger economies of scale. Another important step is the continual reeducation of the consumers. For example, raw milk (and even herdshares or farmshares) must not be seen as something terrifying or weird or abnormal by the majority of the populace or bureaucracy.
We must redesign and reaffirm a policy focus that enshrines public dollars for the use of the greater public good. Institutions must learn to be curators of our shared Food System. As an example or case study, Hayley worked with hospitals or public institutions in Ontario to see how they could increase their purchasing of local food from local farmers. There are many steps involved : Visiting the farmer, building relations with the local farmer, requesting and then sourcing only local food where possible, revising levels of inspection (where redundant or not needed), and, lastly, asking for greater overall transparency.
First we must inform ourselves. Then only change can happen. Then only we can embrace the full transformative and humanitarian potential of our money.
In the future the local food system has the potential to revalue the farmer’s contribution in far more healthy and constructive win-win ways.
We must also get rid of absurdities such as asserting that claiming a food is good and healthy to eat is an illegal (and punishable!) “drug-like” claim that only doctors can make!
When we recirculate money in our local economy, we observe a many times multiplication effect of our money’s constructive impact on our society. By reconnecting eaters or consumers with the farmers or producers we will observe a simultaneous strengthening of our social fabric and affairs. This is true community-building which then becomes a model for national and even global development. We can choose to work both within and outside the system. However only working outside the system and starting from scratch for everything is not sensible or a good use of resources.
Even if we don’t know where to start we can initiate a powerful brainstorming process for solutions simply by telling each other stories. In this way, the audience or group will come up with their own best way to move forward into the future.
Broadly speaking the era of industrial food has to end. Why? If the whole world consumed food and other resources the way North Americans currently do we would require 2.5 planet Earths to survive!
About the Author:
Raoul Bedi is a founding member of CCRMAG – The Canadian Consumer Raw Milk Advocacy Group http://www.rawmilkconsumer.ca/. He has been trained in Ayurveda , the ancient healing tradition of India for over 25 years. He has worked in the field of educational seminars and products with a focus on nutrition and health for 25 years. Over the past 5 years he has been actively involved in educational and fundraising initiatives and campaigns for Farmer’s Rights and Food Security in Canada and the US. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . He is also an administrator for the “Support Michael Schmidt!” and “Canadian Raw Dairy Consumer Advocacy “ Facebook research pages. His company website for educational materials and products is http://www.biofield.ca/ .