Terra Madre dairy farmer Michael Schmidt has won a 16-year legal battle for the right to distribute unpasteurized milk products, in what supporters hope will become a precedent. Schmidt was found not guilty on 19 charges related to providing raw milk: While Canadian law allows the consumption of raw milk, its sale and distribution has been illegal in the country since 1938, authorities fearing that it could contain bacteria that may pose a risk to public health.
Schmidt operates a 150-cow dairy co-operative venture, in which members own part of a cow in order to acquire raw milk. The scheme was ruled not to be a violation of public health rules as there is no selling or marketing of the product, and because Schmidt distributes only to the cow shareholders and not the general public.
During the legal case, Schmidt argued that the charges laid against him infringe on his rights and freedoms, and that government officials and food scientists cannot guarantee the safety of any food. Schmidt’s lawyer has said that after the victory, the team will now: “turn our efforts to legalizing the distribution of raw milk to other consumers who can’t or don’t wish to own shares in a cow.”
The verdict comes three years after 25 armed officers raided Schmidt’s farm in Southern Ontario, confiscating milk, cheesemaking equipment, computers and records. “In that three years, roughly 400,000 servings of safe unpasteurized milk have been consumed by about 200 defiant Cow-share families without a single incidence of illness,” stated a spokesperson for Slow Food Toronto. “By contrast, dozens of people have died due to listeriosis contamination in government-approved foods in this time”.
Advocates cite studies that show that if proper hygiene standards are observed and the animals are raised in a healthy way without antibiotics or growth hormones, not only can raw milk be consumed without any risk, but it can also provide more nutrients and a better quality taste. The pasteurization of milk is a consequence of the change in farming methods in the first half of the last century which has led to a rapid fall in the animals’ quality of life and increased the risks of spreading disease.
Minutes after being acquitted, Schmidt celebrated with a glass of his milk, telling reporters and supporters: "Trudeau said government has no business in the bedroom, and here I say the government has no business in the stomach of the people either."