Last month, Ontario
farmer Michael Schmidt was sentenced to pay $55,000 for contempt of
He had persisted in delivering unpasteurized milk to the members
cow-sharing program, contrary to a court order. He goes to trial
January 26 on his main charges of violating the Milk Act and related
What’s a person to do when the laws themselves are contemptible, and
who hold the power to change them are behaving contemptibly?
Twenty years ago, Toronto
furrier Paul Magder answered that question this way: you continue
what you believe is right until the lawmakers finally smarten up.
racked up huge contempt fines merely by opening his store on Sundays.
province finally yielded to public pressure and legalized Sunday
sky didn’t fall, and today Ontarians take Sunday shopping for granted.
I see Michael Schmidt as the Paul Magder of this era—the unsung hero
make it possible for us, twenty years hence, to say, “Was it not always
I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time reading up on raw milk to avoid
embarrassing myself in case it was simply a harebrained idea. Having
I’m convinced that Schmidt is right and the lawmakers are wrong.
In a nutshell, the position in favour of raw milk is this.
is not necessary to ensure milk safety. While it may have been
simplest way for inspectors to ensure that certain pathogens were
in 1938 when Ontario
made it mandatory, we now have better ways of testing to ensure the
disease-causing organisms in milk. Pasteurization doesn’t eliminate
bacteria, it just kills them—or at least, most of them. Dead bacteria
in your milk create their own panoply of health problems, most notably
reactions. Meanwhile, unpasteurized milk produced by grass-fed cows
proper hygenic conditions contains beneficial bacteria and digestive
that can markedly improve human health. Such milk is also,
quite delicious, although more expensive than factory-farm milk.
should have the option to choose whichever product they prefer.
Ontario Agriculture Minister Leona Dombrowsky is one of those
contemptibly-behaving lawmakers who apparently has not seen fit to do
I’ve done even though she’s the person responsible for this portfolio.
position on raw milk is that legalizing it would be “tantamount to
Does Dombrowsky really think the governments of the United Kingdom, Italy,
France, Germany and 27 states in the U.S.,
which allow the sale of raw milk, are committing manslaughter?
parts of Europe, certified raw milk
sold in vending machines. European consumers aren’t dropping like
What level of safety would satisfy Dombrowsky and her Ontario
government colleagues? If
their answer is that only a history of zero illnesses is acceptable,
government should ban all milk—pasteurized, too. The U.S. Center
Disease Control documented 41 illness outbreaks affecting 19,531 people
attributable to pasteurized milk and milk products between 1980 and
And milk is far from the worst offender. Seafood, beef, poultry,
even vegetables cause significantly more illness than milk.
memory in Ontario,
consumers have been warned not to eat tomatoes, mung bean
alfalfa sprouts, lettuce and spinach. But the government has not
by banning such foods altogether, or insisting that they only be sold
pre-cooked, as they insist with milk. That would be absurd.
remedial action consists of tracking down and recalling the
product, and testing diligently to prevent recurrences.
We allow food processors to deliberately add bacteria to milk to
products such as yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, sour cream and cheese.
Obviously, we trust these manufacturers to ensure that the
inject are the beneficial ones, not the killer ones. If the
they use are sufficient, surely there must be comparable precautions
milk. Michael Schmidt has, in fact, produced raw milk for 25
without a single incident of illness.
Given these facts, it’s incumbent upon the government to at least
inquiry into whether the laws passed 70 years ago could stand updating
advantage of technological change. Conservative MPPs suggested this in
December, 2006, but Liberals responded that it was a “crazy idea.”
They’ve never heard of progress, apparently. Contemptible?
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