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Raw Milk Farmers Are Going to Prison

In Canada, it’s illegal to sell or give away raw milk, a law that’s enforced in many provinces. In Ontario, distributing raw milk was long considered to be a regulatory offense punishable by fines, but as of January 2018 an order issued by Ontario’s Superior Court changed that. Now, anyone who distributes or sells raw milk in the area can face years in prison.

As Karen Selick, litigation director for the Canadian Constitution Foundation, wrote in the Financial Post, “[T]he province of Ontario appears eager to fill its empty jail cells with individuals whose so-called crime was distributing raw milk.”1 The injunction was part of Downing v. ARC, a legal case between Gavin Downing, Ontario’s milk director, and ARC, a farm co-op owned by Canadian raw milk farmer Michael Schmidt that was distributing raw milk to its members.

According to A Campaign for Real Milk, a project of the Weston A. Price Foundation, “In Ontario, farmers may be fined $250,000 and sentenced to three years in jail [for selling or distributing raw milk] … Challenges to these laws are now underway. And in spite of onerous penalties, Michael and Dorothea Schmidt of Glencolton Farms provide milk to cow shareholders in Toronto.”2

Canadian Government Battles Raw Milk Farmers Providing Wholesome Food

Schmidt has been battling with the Canadian government for decades in order to provide safe raw milk to area residents. He has been harassed with threats, surveillance, intimidation and raids, even though no one has ever gotten sick from drinking the raw milk products he provides. Since it is illegal to sell raw milk in Canada, those who wanted to enjoy Schmidt’s raw milk products formed the Glencolton farm-share, in which each owned a piece of a cow and could therefore legally enjoy its milk.

The government eradicated this loophole, however, so the shareholders moved to own the farm instead of just the cow, by transforming into the ARC co-op. The government still intervened, however, forcing the members to “operate with caution” out of fear that they might be raided while trying to pick up a gallon of milk. Although members have tried to set up meetings with government officials to outline their concerns and reach an agreeable conclusion, the government has not been interested.3

In 2011, Schmidt even went on a 37-day hunger strike, which ended with him meeting former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, although no progress was ultimately made. Selick, who was Schmidt’s lawyer from 2010 to 2013, explained that the injunction handed down in 2018 is being appealed and a constitutional challenge has been launched seeking to overrule the “outdated” legislation, adding:4

“[O]ver the 24 years that Ontario has been prosecuting Schmidt, the number of U.S. states that have enacted laws allowing consumers to access raw milk has risen from 26 to 42. Canada is the only G-7 country that completely prohibits the distribution and sale of raw milk, through both federal and provincial laws. In many European countries, raw milk is sold in vending machines. Italy alone has about 1,300 such machines.

Do all these foreign governments care less about their people than Canadian governments do? Or do they simply recognize that raw milk really isn’t very risky compared to all kinds of stuff that people consume legally every day? Canadian kids make an alarming number of trips to the hospital emergency room every year (and occasionally die) due to choking on hard candies or balloons, but we don’t outlaw those.”

Violating the Constitutional Right to Access Raw Milk

Elisa Vander Hout, who is married to Schmidt, believes the Ontario injunction violates their constitutional right to access raw milk and has, along with other co-op members, filed a motion to have the injunction stayed.

For now, they have stopped distributing the milk in order to avoid criminal charges, feeding the wholesome food to pigs and chickens instead of handing it out to co-op members.5 It’s a similar story in the U.S., where efforts continue to expand access to raw milk — the only food banned from interstate commerce — and, in so doing, protect people’s right to eat and drink what they please.

You might remember that at one time all milk was “raw,” as pasteurization did not yet exist. This 19th-century invention is touted as crucial in making milk safe, but what it’s actually done is allow for the proliferation of the “dirty dairy” industry, aka milk that comes from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOS). The Tenth Amendment Center is one of the latest NGOs to get involved in the raw milk legalization cause. The 10th Amendment reads:6

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

What this means, then, is that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is in violation of the Constitution by trying to enforce raw milk bans within states. Such bans tend to favor industrial dairy at the expense of small, family farms, according to Mike Maharrey, national communications director for the Tenth Amendment Center. He said in a position paper:7

“Constitutionally, food safety falls within the powers reserved to the states and the people … The feds have no authority to enforce food safety laws within the border of a state. Nevertheless, federal agencies still want more control over America’s food supply, and they go great lengths to get it.

For example, the FDA bans the interstate sale of raw milk. But, not only do they ban the transportation of raw milk across state lines, they also claim the authority to ban unpasteurized milk within the borders of a state.

FDA ultimately wants to maintain a complete prohibition on raw milk with a one-size-fits-all control over everything you eat and drink. While FDA apologists claim the agency only wants to protect consumers, in truth, federal regulations tend to benefit big companies and squeeze out family farms. In the name of safety, FDA regulations limit your ability to access local, fresh food.”

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