The next time you go to the farmers mark et, Michael Schmidt wants you to have the option to purchase raw milk.
Schmidt, the owner of Glencolton Farms near Durham, Ontario, Canada, operates a cow share, selling shares of his dairy herd and distributing raw milk to members of the cooperative. He has spent almost two decades fighting for the rights of Canadians to drink raw milk.
His work is controversial.
The sale of raw milk is illegal in Canada. The law requires all milk to be pasteurized before it’s sold, and opponents fear that raw milk contains dangerous pathogens that might cause illness.
Canada is “the only G8 country which does not allow the sale or distribution of raw milk,’’ Schmidt told the Toronto Star. Although Schmidt has tried working with local governments to legalize raw milk in Canada, his farm was the target of raids in 1994 and 2006. In September 2011, he was convinced of 15 provincial offenses for selling unpasteurized milk and faces $55,000 in fines.
In protest, Schmidt launched a hunger strike on September 29, 2011. For the first two weeks, he drank water and one glass of raw milk per day in the hopes of starting a public debate on food regulation. He has since given up the nutrient-dense milk he’s fighting to legalize, surviving only on water.
The Hunger Strike for Responsible Food Freedom is about much more than how milk is processed: Schmidt believes Canadians should be able to make choices about the foods they eat.
Talking to reporters, Schmidt said, “I’m not asking that the laws be changed right away … I’m asking that the harassment of farmers be stopped, that people have a right to make a choice in the foods they eat and that we start a constructive dialogue.’’
Schmidt believes that raiding the farms where raw milk is sold and prohibiting Canadians from purchasing unpasteurized milk legally will contribute to a growing underground market, posing possible risks to consumers.
“We need to sit down and think about what is the role of government in our life,” he told the Toronto Star. “The government allows plenty of other things that are detrimental to our health.”
Several farmers across the United States and Canada have joined Schmidt in protest, including Max Kane and Vernon Hershberger of Wisconsin, and Bernie Cosgrove of Alberta, Canada.
Schmidt plans to continue his hunger strike until Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty agrees to meet with him to talk about granting Canadians the right to buy foods directly from farmers.
In a letter he delivered to the Premier on October 18, Schmidt wrote: “The right to buy food directly from a farmer is as old as our country. Yet today, that right is being taken away from Canadians by a government that insists that only corporate Canada be responsible for feeding our citizens.”
Schmidt has lost 30 pounds since the hunger strike began but refuses to abandon his commitment to the cause.
During a press conference held in Toronto on October 18, Schmidt told reporters he was willing to continue the hunger strike until he died.
“I will go right to the end,” he said.
For more about The Hunger Strike for Responsible Food Freedom and Schmidt’s battle to legalize raw milk in Canada, visit http://www.thebovine.wordpress.com.
Note: Schmidt declined our requests for an interview, citing weakness from the hunger strike and a need to preserve his strength to fight for the legalization of raw milk.