Michael Schmidt of Glencolton Farms in Ontario is in a battle with government health officials for the life of his sustainable farm. This month, January 26, 2009, he goes to trial on 20 criminal counts. His crime? Providing raw milk to the shareholders in his farm.
There are three compelling reasons why Michael Schmidt’s cow-boarding program is not wrong and why all 20 criminal charges against him, including the recent contempt finding, should be dismissed.
Number one: The raw milk he produces has made no one sick—in twenty years. Claims by his health officials and competitors that his product is ‘dangerous’ are just that-- baseless claims designed to scare the public, with the end goal of keeping the popularity of raw milk from spreading. Modern, industrial dairy products need pasteurization. In contrast, traditional farmers using ancient farming practices, produce a safe product. Schmidt’s raw dairy is inherently safe because the cows are not confined, and they are raised in their natural habitat, on green grass pastures in plenty of sunshine.
Of course, a product produced on a mass scale, for mass consumption needs strict safety measures and controls. But a small-scale producer has quality controls of a different sort, high standards for animal husbandry, plus, face-to-face contact with the end consumer—all of which mean effective accountability and transparency.
Number two: Across the border into America, hundreds of cow boarding programs, and cow leasing programs are operating legally. Many of them are in states where it is illegal to sell it. (In no state is it illegal to purchase, possess or consume raw milk.) Twenty-eight U.S. states currently allow the sale of raw milk, and eight states allow retail sales. In all but a few US states, buying a share in a herd, farm or cow is recognized as a legal private contract.
When Judge Boswell acknowledged that the Schmidt ruling,“had nothing to do with whether or not people have the right to consume raw milk,” he actually touched on the heart of the issue. Consumers will naturally seek legal and ethical means of exercising their rights in a free society. When sellers are forbidden to sell, and owners are the only ones able to consume, more people will strive to become owners.
Which brings us to Number three: Michael Schmidt is not selling milk. He is providing boarding services, grazing lands, and delivery services to the shareholders who own the cows. He is a service provider, not a seller. It is a stretch of the Ontario Milk Act to say he is selling raw milk.
The fact is, many raw dairy consumers have serious health reasons for choosing this unconventional food. I have a painful knee condition, chondro malacia patella (runners knee). The only medical option is knee replacement, and yet, I am too young to have the surgery. My family now owns a share of a cow named Aster, and my knee pain has been greatly alleviated by adding raw dairy to my diet. I am very grateful that the Virginia Department of Agriculture helped a local dairy farm draw up plans for a legal cow boarding program.