Activist milkman could change Canadian cow biz

Michael Schmidt is begging to be put in jail — and I hope he gets his wish. Two years ago, the dairy farmer-cum-raw-milk-martyr staged a…

Michael Schmidt is begging to be put in jail — and I hope he gets his wish.

Two years ago, the dairy farmer-cum-raw-milk-martyr staged a hunger strike in defense of our right to purchase unpasteurized milk. Unfortunately it had no impact on the decades-old law that bans it.

Maybe this time Schmidt can get himself thrown in the slammer and shake up a nationwide discourse on dairy.

In Canadian stores, we have pasteurized and organic pasteurized milk. Pasteurization is the process of heating the milk to kill live bacteria.

We also have so-called black market milk, like the stuff Schmidt is charged with selling — cow’s milk that is bottled fresh from the teat, without pasteurization.

In Canada, it’s OK to own your own cow and drink the raw milk from it, but it is illegal to sell it.

Health officials say raw milk can make us sick has been made illegal for our own protection.

They say it carries the risks of spreading salmonella, E. coli and Listeria monocytogenes — what was recently discovered in the very “un-raw” factory-made lunch meats sold by Maple Leaf.

Schmidt says in his 34 years of biodynamic dairy farming, not one client has gotten sick.

Most of the world is on Schmidt’s side.

Raw milk from cows and other animals, including camels and water buffalo, is consumed almost exclusively in the rural areas of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, as well as in their cities.

In the United States, about half the states allow raw milk sales. In Europe, it is legal in England, Ireland and Wales.

It is one of our “basic human rights that people should be able to make a decision about what is right for their body,” Schmidt told the National Post on Monday.

He is willing to go to jail for this belief.

On Monday, Schmidt was found guilty of contempt of court on for refusing to follow a 2006 court order to stop selling raw milk. He asked the judge to give him “the highest penalty you can find.”

To some, he sounds like a wingnut, but Schmidt is more like a founding father of organic farming in Canada.

After starting up biodynamic dairy farms in Germany and Egypt, Schmidt and his wife Dorothea moved from Germany in 1983 and bought Glencolton Farms in Durham, Ontario, according to a story by Sally Fallon at realmilk.com, a website dedicated to legalizing raw milk sales, sponsored by the Weston A. Price Foundation, which funds education, research and activism relating to “food, farming and the healing arts.”

Schmidt introduced spelt to North America and the couple set up their own biodynamic dairy operation at Glencolton, often lending the farm to Guelph University for some joint research projects.

Over his 20 years of farming, Schmidt ounded OntarBio Organic Farm Products and Saugeen Highland meats to market certified organic meat in Canada. He also developed an export market in Europe for about thirty organic farms in Ontario.

With the support of the government, he launched the first North American organic baby cereal, SUMMA, with distribution in Canada and the United States.

And in1989, Schmidt helped introduce roadside grazing using up to 1,000 sheep for landscaping as a replacement for pesticides.

Schmidt believes in the dignity of the animals he uses.

Each of his 30 cows produces about 4,000 liters of milk per year. Compare that to the factory cow, confined with thousands of others, which produces anywhere between 12,000 and 24,000.

A cow at Schmidt’s farm lives 12 years or more and takes the winters off from milking. The factory cow has a lifespan of 42 months, during which time she is milked for as long as 600 days straight, then slaughtered.

Authorities turned a blind eye to the operation until a few years ago, after a documentary about Glencolton aired on television.

Charges were laid in November, 2006, following a raid on his farm.

Armed officers searched his home and his barn where he kept his dairy cows, and seized dozens of jars of raw milk, his computer files, and about $10,000 worth of dairy processing equipment.

After that, Schmidt went on a hunger strike drinking only one glass of milk a day in protest.

A bill was put forward to legalize the sale of raw milk in Ontario, but it failed to pass and Schmidt ended his hunger strike four weeks later.

To skirt the law, he set up a co-op arrangement where clients own dairy cattle and he charges them for his care of the animals.

“Anybody can [legally] own a cow and start milking the cow,” Schmidt told the National Post.

“But then there’s families that live in a high-rise in Toronto or a condominium in Toronto — they cannot do that. We are providing the service for people that cannot keep a cow, because they cannot get it up the elevator.”

The cheeky milkman has his share of supporters. Many of them showed up outside the York Region courthouse on Monday and joined him for a tall glass of raw milk.

Among his list of 160 clients is well-known Toronto chef Jamie Kennedy. Greg Sorbara, Ontario’s Finance Minister, has also been a client.

Schmidt’s waiting list for the illegal milk is three years long.

Schmidt’s wider trial is set for January, 2009. He faces 20 charges laid by the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Grey-Bruce Health Unit.

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