Posting from the US blog the complete patient by David Gumbert
If you’re old enough to remember “The Lone Ranger”, you know he roamed America’s Wild West righting wrongs, sometimes firing silver bullets to make his points, and then riding off into the sunset with a hearty “Hi Yo Silver”.
Canada may have its version of The Lone Ranger in Michael Schmidt–the Bovine’s reported Friday that he is about to ride into the western province of British Columbia in an attempt to save the Home on the Range dairy from assault by its own government.
The provincial regulators in British Columbia have been attempting to shut down a herdshare serving about 450 owners run by dairy farmer Alice Jongerden, who owns the Home on the Range dairy. Based on a provincial regulation implemented last year that labels raw milk a “hazardous product,” they convinced a judge to order her to discontinue milk production–to actually discontinue milking the cows–and hold her in contempt of court if she continued, which could have meant being thrown into jail. “The court had her against a wall,” Schmidt told me yesterday.
He arranged with Jongerden to legally assume control of the herdshare last Thursday. “I took over the business operations. Everything is under my management,” including the six employees. “I am coordinating all distribution of the product.”
His rationale: “Let’s take the target away from her and let them deal with me.”
Dealing with Michael Schmidt means dealing with a man who for the last 17 years has been fighting the Ontario provincial government’s efforts to force him out of the raw dairy business. Earlier this year, he beat the province at its own game, serving as his own lawyer to convince a judge to find him innocent of violating Ontario’s strict dairy laws by making raw milk available to his herdshare owners.
He’d like to try to work things out with provincial authorities so that the Home on the Range herdshare can continue operations. “My interest is to meet with the health department and discuss the dilemma we are facing. I’d like to lay all the cards on the table.”
If he can’t work out some kind of agreement with the authorities, then he wants to see a court trial of the sort he went through in Ontario last year, rather than enforcement of an arbitrary regulation declaring raw milk a hazardous product.
Schmidt says that his takeover of the Home on the Range dairy potentially turns the whole matter into a federal issue rather than a provincial issue. For example, British Columbia authorities could be put into a position of trying to extradite Schmidt from Ontario to face the legal music in the West.
He points out that Jongerden was convicted without the benefit of a full trial, like he had. British Columbia authorities have taken the route taken by many American agricultural and public health authorities: picking out one farm to set as an example, a warning to others to avoid making raw milk available. “They want to pick out one, make an example, and if they don’t get that one, go on to the next one.”
Schmidt hopes to stop the planned assaults in their tracks. Based on his exoneration in Ontario earlier this year, “There is no way we can go backwards.”
If negotiations don’t work, says Schmidt, “I want to see how they deal with me in court.” Watch out, British Columbia. The Canadian Lone Ranger has arrived.
The discussions of the sort following my previous post–about using the simple sense of smell as a safety screening device to identify possibly contaminated milk as described by Miguel and Steve Smith, and the approach of public health invetigators as described by Milky Way–are fascinating because they imply that safety is a realistic management issue. It’s too bad we keep get drawn back to the basic issue of whether we can access raw milk via the sort of shenanigans going on in Canada.
One thing seems clear: demand for raw milk continues unabated. Tennessee created a small opening for herdshare arrangements within its overall prohibition of raw milk, and lots of people are walking through it.