Raw milk crusader sheds weight, maintains conviction
Published Sunday, October 30, 2011 9:50PM EDT
An Ontario dairy farmer and raw milk activist says he's lost around 40 lbs, a month after going on a hunger strike. But he's still hopeful that Premier Dalton McGuinty will agree to meet with him.
In late September, the Ontario Court of Justice found Michael Schmidt guilty of 15 charges related to producing and distributing unpasteurized milk, which is banned in Canada.
While he waits to hear his sentence in the case, Schmidt began a hunger strike in the hopes of being granted a meeting with the newly re-elected Ontario premier.
In a phone interview from his farm south of Owen Sound, Ont., Schmidt said he's under the supervision of a doctor and is running low on energy.
"I'm doing a few things here on the farm still, but I'm on the verge now to pack it in," he said Friday, citing problems including shortness of breath.
But he has no plans to abandon his diet of lemon juice and water unless he's able to "get into a dialogue" with the provincial government -- and McGuinty in particular.
"I never said that I would stop until I meet him," Schmidt said. "No sense going on a hunger strike if you don't follow through with it."
Meanwhile his lawyer, Karen Selick, said she has been given instructions to seek an appeal in the case after a sentencing hearing is held Nov. 25.
The province filed charges against the career dairy farmer in 2006 following a raid on his farm, which is run as a co-operative with about 150 members.
Schmidt's legal woes don't end there, however. The Grey Bruce Health Unit has said it plans to lay further charges against him, Selick said, after Schmidt allegedly distributed raw milk at a rally near their office two weeks ago.
The activist farmer is also scheduled to appear in a Vancouver court on Nov. 2 in connection with a co-op near Chilliwack, B.C., that had been slapped with an injunction barring it from distributing raw milk. Schmidt faces a contempt of court charge in that case, which carries a possible fine of $55,000.
Health Canada banned the sale of raw milk, or unpasteurized milk in 1991. The agency says that due to concerns over E. coli, salmonella and listeria, food regulations require that "all milk available for sale in Canada be pasteurized."
Proponents contend that dangers associated with raw milk are exaggerated and that it offers more health benefits than does pasteurized milk. They also point out that it's legal to sell raw milk in many U.S. states and in a number of European countries, where it's even sold at vending machines.
With Schmidt's legal battles has come a degree of notoriety as a sort of raw milk folk hero. A Facebook page devoted to him includes 4,000 members, and he was recently invited to speak at a raw milk rally south of the border in Maryland, which he plans to attend if his doctor says he's strong enough.
"The issue is much larger than what people think," Schmidt said. "It really comes down to, how much power should the government have to tell us what we put in our bodies?"