I'm not the biggest fan of raw milk. Part of me wonders why humans even still drink milk at all. But I am a huge fan of freedom and human rights and that's why I love Michael Schmidt's story.
In 2006, spectators crowded into a small courtroom to hear details of an orchestrated, armed raid by about two dozen officers and government officials on a Durham, Ontario farm in Canada.
The Crown stated it was an undercover investigation into the illegal sale of dangerous substances stored on the farm, including raw milk, as well as cream, cheese and other items made with it. Can you imagine? The audacity of claiming that raw milk is dangerous while pasteurized milk, which is perhaps one of the most nutritionally deficient beverages, sits on the grocery shelf with the misappropriate label and claim as a health food.
Schmidt, who is defending himself, is defiant in countering Crown suggestions that raw milk is considered too dangerous for consumption and said he's defending everyone's right to drink it.
Schmidt said the core issue was not milk but the "respect to (which) the individual's freedom has been lost or wilfully ignored."
Raw milk has been proven safe over generations, despite warnings, Schmidt says, adding he's against conventional thinking that food "will kill us unless we process it to death."
In natural health circles, Schmidt is being admired as a hero and defender of natural raw milk, which some studies have stated to be the most nutritious forms of the beverage. It's unlikely that pasteurization has any benefit over raw milk especially regarding nutrition.
"The law needs to evolve and the pasteurization law seems not to evolve," he said. "Is the Charter of Rights and Freedoms really living in this country or are we fighting a losing battle."
The Ontario government maintains raw milk poses a "significant public health risk."
But Schmidt has repeatedly said he believes raw milk is not only safe, but offers health benefits as well. The government's ban on its sale and distribution, he argued, is an infringement of fundamental freedoms.
"I'm not asking at all that everybody has to drink raw milk," he said. "The government is saying that everyone has to drink pasteurized milk and that is, I think, a severe problem in this legislation. We are getting force-fed something people don't want."
It's not illegal for farmers to drink raw milk from their own cows, so a few years later Schmidt devised a so-called "cow share" program, through which his approximately 150 customers bought ownership in a cow or herd.
Schmidt believes the program is legal under a concept known as agistment, where he cares for livestock owned by other people, who are then entitled to that animal's products.
But the Crown argues Schmidt is still the one with legal title to the cows, as there is no evidence his customers "enjoy the benefit" of ownership except for a right to consume milk and cheese products for a fee.
Freedom To Choose
"Schmidt and consumers of raw milk are freely choosing to ingest raw milk to improve their health," Schmidt's lawyer Derek From said outside court. "Our ultimate goal is to have cow shares recognized as legal in Canada."
In a blatant lie, Ontario's lawyers countered that the law infringes neither Schmidt's nor his customers' charter rights. Since any enforcement prevents Schmidt from exercising his constitutional rights, it absolutely infringes the charter.
Experts had testified for the Crown at Schmidt's trial that raw milk is a known source of food-borne illnesses to which pregnant women, elderly people and others with compromised immune systems are particularly vulnerable.
Schdmit's lawyer pointed out, however, that if raw milk were significantly dangerous, its consumption would clearly be banned altogether.
"Unpasteurized milk has not been banned and if it is inherently unsafe in all circumstances, it would have been banned," he said.
Rather than allowing a "black market" of raw milk to proliferate by upholding the ban on its sale, Schmidt's lawyer asked the court to deliver a ruling which would support regulation of unpasteurized milk.
When It Benefits Government and The Dairy Industry...
He also pointed out that some items with known health risks, like cigarettes, were allowed to be sold. When it benefits the government, it appears there is no law to contradict any harm to the public.
"We have scientific evidence that smoking kills you," he said. "With raw milk, there are no bodies...the standard that government is applying in this legislation is not rational."
The laws around pasteurization were too broad, said Schmidt's lawyer, suggesting that under such a sweeping interpretation of "distribution" it would be illegal for one co-owner of a cow to hand a glass of milk to another co-owner.
The Crown argued that Schmidt would be found guilty even under the most restrictive interpretation of the law.
The panel of judges who heard Schmidt's appeal will deliver their decision at a later date.
Marco Torres is a research specialist, writer and consumer advocate for healthy lifestyles. He holds degrees in Public Health and Environmental Science and is a professional speaker on topics such as disease prevention, environmental toxins and health policy.