A package of cigarettes is around $10 in the province of Ontario. 40 ounces of hard liquor is around $40. Genetically modified food is, on occasion, subsidized. Mass produced cold cuts, municipal water and even broccoli have caused great sickness and even death.
But raw milk was long ago deemed too dangerous to sell at any price.
For those of you whom know this story, pardon the brief introduction of Michael Schmidt. He is a farmer who moved to Canada with his wife in the late 1970s and has challenged our dairy system ever since. Michael believes in selling (and consuming) raw milk – unpasteurized and direct from the cow. The Government of Ontario (and our extremely powerful dairy board) do not believe it is safe – fears of E. Coli, Salmonella and Listeria are some of the risks that Health Canada warns consumers of.
There are plenty of places in this world – and on the internet – to debate the merits or risks of raw milk. This story is about a very surprising turn of events that happened in Ontario today.
Schmidt was fined for selling raw milk in the 1990s and began to look for alternatives. There wasn’t many in Ontario – generally people stop selling it or turn underground where it is sold in secrecy. It is an odd reality that, in a province where marijuana is de-criminalized, raw milk is traded in greater secrecy.
Michael and his wife came up with an option when there appeared to be none. They realized it was legal for a farmer to drink the raw milk of their own cow so they sold shares in their cows. For $300 you could purchase a quarter cow for 6 years – you still needed to pay for milk. Participants were educated to the reported merits and risks and, as part owner of a cow, became part farmer. Raw milk would arrive in Toronto in a magic blue school bus often changing locations to avoid attracting too much attention and further trouble.
Schmidt has been in a long legal battle since a raid in 2006 and has continued to challenge the law – in and out of the courts.
But trouble came indeed. The operation was raided by the Ministry of Natural Resources and has been in court ever since. Today was another day in court and the first sign of good news for the family was handed down by a judge today – they are not selling to the public and are selling to an educated group of co-owners. His co-op model, according to the ruling today, is not illegal.
The judge stopped short of jumping in to the entire issue of raw milk – this does not make it legal to the mass market but allows for a co-op model such as this to act legally.
It is a fascinating day for dairy in our province and a historic time for local food.