Raw Milk Crusader: Michael Schmidt
Premiering On: Tuesday October 28, 2008 at 10 pm ET/PT on CBC Newsworld
Michael Schmidt loves to be on his farm. But he's also very comfortable being in the midst of controversy. Filmmaker Norman Lofts takes us into the heart of that controversy. Schmidt is a passionate advocate of organic raw milk - he says it's better than pasteurized milk. And he's been struggling to legally provide "farm fresh milk" to those who want it, while battling various government and scientific authorities. The Milk Act of 1938 made it illegal to sell raw (unpasteurized) milk in Canada, although it is legal in all other G8 countries, including 28 U.S. states. Health officials believe that raw milk is unsafe milk. In November 2006, twenty-five armed officers staged a raid at Michael Schmidt's farm, confiscating milk, equipment, computers and files.Michael Schmidt attends a picnic at Toronto's brickworks.
The film chronicles the unfolding events of the organic raw vs. pasteurized milk "war" from both sides of the issue, from a farmer who challenges Canadian law, to the powerful $6 billion milk industry that argues that only pasteurized milk should be allowed in the marketplace in order to protect the public's health.
Eminent research scientists, like Dr. Mansel Griffiths from the Canadian Research Institute for Food Safety at the University of Guelph present scientific arguments about pathogens and milk. Dr. Hazel Lynn, Medical Officer of Health, Grey /Bruce Health Unit (Owen Sound, Ont.), is committed to the public health policy that is in place to protect the public from any unsafe food products, even if it may does infringe on their individual rights. The Ontario Minister of Agriculture is determined to stick with the status quo - the science seems irrefutable and the politics unmovable. Yet Michael Schmidt's devoted cow-share members express their convictions about raw milk's benefit in their lives and demand that they have the right to choose the milk they want to drink, without government interference.Michael Schmidt with a farm helper
Lofts follows Schmidt to California where raw milk is readily available in stores and supermarkets. He visits the largest raw milk supplier in the U.S. and discovers that even in California, the pressure to stop the availability of raw milk to consumers is fierce. By contrast, at Plaw Hatch Farms south of London, England, there is a more harmonious relationship between raw milk farmers and the government.
In September 2008, Schmidt was in court for allegedly refusing to obey a court order that he follow a York Region public health directive to stop selling raw milk. Contempt charges were sought by York Region officials, who fear that there are health risks to people who drink the milk, including the risk of spreading salmonella, E. coli and listeria bacteria.Police raid Michael Schmidt's farm.
On Monday October 20th, 2008 Schmidt was found guilty of contempt of court. He has asked the judge to give him the maximum penalty but a sentence has not yet been delivered.
Schmidt still faces numerous charges laid by the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Grey-Bruce Health Unit. He is accused of violating the Health Protection and Promotion Act by selling and distributing raw milk. That case is slated to go to trial in January, 2009. For that trial Schmidt is planning to defend himself, as he did for the contempt trial.
No matter which side of the raw versus pasteurized milk debate you're on, the question remains; "should Canadians have the legal right to choose the foods they want to eat?" And, "do parents have the right to choose the foods their children eat - even if there's a safety risk?"
NOTE: Health Canada continues to advise consumers not to drink raw milk. They say any possible benefits are outweighed by the risk of serious illness.