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Canadian Raw-Milk Producer Ends Hunger Strike

Canadian raw-milk dairy farmer Michael Schmidt has called off his 5-week hunger strike, after having had the chance on Nov. 4 to meet with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.

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In an earlier interview with Food Safety News, Schmidt had vowed to “go until death” if the premier didn’t agree to meet with him in person to discuss raw-milk issues and what he describes as “responsible food freedom.”

Raw milk is milk that hasn’t been pasteurized to kill harmful pathogens that might be in the milk. Under Canadian law, it is illegal to sell raw milk, although it is not illegal to drink it.

During his hunger strike, Schmidt, who subsisted only on water mixed with lemon juice, lost 50 pounds.

Although the meeting with the premier was a brief one — coming about when McGuinty walked in on a meeting that Schmidt was having with the premier’s chief of staff — Schmidt told Food Safety News that he did, indeed, achieve the goal of his protest.

“The premier came down, we exchanged our positions, we got direction, and parted with a better understanding of where we are coming from,” he said.

In his note of appreciation to his supporters on The Bovine blog, Schmidt said that the “moment of meeting McGuinty was crucial and more significant that he, himself, in fact, imagines.”

He also described the premier’s admission that he’s no expert and has to rely on experts to make decisions as a good beginning.

“That, itself, has given us the opportunity to question the choice of experts,” he said, adding that such a choice “should be expanded to include those who have, in fact, the experience of how to produce raw milk for human consumption.”

“We will review our next steps,” he wrote to his supporters. “It was a small step towards proper food rights and freedom of choice. It was a huge step for McGuinty to, in fact, listen and show compassion.”

All through his hunger strike, Schmidt has said it wasn’t just about raw milk but also about a person’s fundamental right to choose what he or she eats or drinks.

He told a reporter from The Canadian Press that when McGuinty had come into the meeting, he had asked Schmidt what it would take to get him eating again. Schmidt had replied by telling the premier that he had done it already because he had come down to meet with him.

Although a spokesperson for McGuinty told The Canadian Press that the meeting went well, the premier said that the government has no plans to change its position to allow the sale of raw milk.

But McGuinty did suggest that Schmidt talk with the 53 Liberals who were elected Oct. 6 and also advised him to concentrate his efforts on lobbying the MPPs (members of Provincial Parliament) to see if he could get enough support from them for overturning the ban on raw-milk sales.

Schmidt, 57, began his hunger strike on Sept. 29. At the time, he expressed his frustration with getting nowhere in his efforts over the past 17 years to engage authorities in a “constructive dialogue about the issue of non-pasteurized milk in Ontario and Canada.” 

His decision to embark on a hunger strike followed on the heels of a legal decision that found him guilty on 15 of 19 charges related to selling and distributing unpasteurized milk. That had been a crushing blow to him, because in an earlier legal decision, he had been acquitted of all charges.  

Schmidt had argued that he qualified for a “family farm” exemption from laws against selling and distributing raw milk because under a cow-share program, such as the one at Schmidt’s Glencolton Farms in Ontario, the milk belongs to the members of the cooperative, not to him. For that reason, he wasn’t selling the milk to them.

“It’s not our milk, it’s their milk,” he said.

But the court ruled in September that his cow-share program did not qualify for the family farm exemption.

While raw-milk supporters say that unpasteurized milk has health benefits that range from preventing asthma to curing diabetes, many health officials say there is no scientific evidence of that and that it can be contaminated with pathogens that can sicken or kill people. Of particular concern are children, because children are among those who are the most vulnerable to harmful strains of E. coli, Salmonella, and other pathogens.

In an earlier interview with Food Safety News, Schmidt said that food safety was one of the reasons he wants to get the government to agree to legalizing the sale of raw milk.

As it is now, he said, demand for raw milk is so strong — and continues to grow — that an underground, black market for it has developed. The problem with that, he said, is that some of the “underground” raw milk might not be produced following strict hygiene and other food-safety standards.

“That’s where the real danger is,” he told Food Safety News in an earlier interview. “Let’s bring it above ground where it can be regulated.”  

Looking to the future, Schmidt said he wants to develop a strategy to lobby all the members of Parliament to understand the issue of the production of safe raw milk “like in any other G8 country.” 

He also plans to develop “Cow Share Canada” as an umbrella organization for the training, accreditation and inspection of dairy farms for certified cow-share operations. He wants to conduct further research on the issue of raw-milk benefits and safety.

When asked about his future plans for his dairy farm, he said he will develop it “more and more into an education and research center.”   

© Food Safety News
  • RC

    Drinking unpasteurized milk is as risky as playing Russian roulette … is it worthy to go to these extremes.
    By the way, if he wanted to prove a point, he should have limited his only diet to raw milk rather than water and lime alone. Could’ve been more appropriate!

  • The raw milk obsession reminds me of the unwarranted vaccination scare.
    Even after doctors, medical journals–basically the entire medical community–debunked the myth that vaccines cause autism, people are still not vaccinating their kids. So now, kids are dying because of people’s “distrust” of the experts.
    The same with raw milk: people will listen to some Joe down the street rather than the many food safety experts who insist that pasteurization increases milk safety and doesn’t adversely impact on the overall nutrition of the milk. And people will continue to die because of their “distrust” of the experts.

  • Robert Lillico

    I have been drinking raw milk from healthy grass fed cows my whole life and so has my whole family and we have never been sick. The Mongols created the largest empire in history on a diet that consisted largly of raw milk and raw milk products. It was a great advantage to them that they could obtain their food quickly (mares milk from the horses they were riding). Needless to say, they would have had to be very strong and healthy to achieve what they did.

  • Kev C

    Miss Powers,
    Could you please forward your data that shows how many people have died as a result of not being vaccinated since the ‘Autism’ scare. I would ask this as your comment points lead me to suspect that you are as much the ‘Jo’ down the street who everyone listens to rather than the real experts who are even now still finding links to Autism from the vaccines. Now we all know how hell-bent on protecting their markets the chemical industry is as a result of the efforts they have consistently made to stop BPA from being banned. Only now is the real horror story emerging of human ailments caused by this chemical. Vaccines are another of these lucrative industries that the pharmaceutical companies don’t want to lose out on. My view on this is that there is no profit in a healthy nation. That is why people like you keep shouting down those of us who distrust the Emperors tailors.
    So unless you can come up with some conclusive independent data that lists how many people have definitely died as a result of not being vaccinated since the autism scare I suggest you tone down your ranting before someone suggests that you are no better than the ‘Jo’ down the road. Now that would not do would it?
    Oh and I was raised on raw milk. I am still here with a better constitution than the younger generation. I got all the ailments and it obviously didn’t stop me from developing fit and healthily. Mumps, measles, chickenpox, you don’t have to be a ocket scientist to work out that a natural contact with something does for us what over use of anti-biotics does for bacteria. Its how we evolve immunity. Not by having something jabbed into our arm that does the exact opposite of what it should be doing and that is ‘make us ill’. Time to get wise people and question who these so called experts really are? Oh and who pays their salary? Follow the money people.

  • Carson Pratt

    @Shelley, where do you get your “facts”? Do you even know why pasteurization is viewed as “necessary”? Tell ya what, go check out your average dairy farm, you’ll see why milk from those farms needs to be pasteurized. I’ve seen them, the cows are is crowded conditions that encourage rampant infections, which is why farmers need to inject their cows with antibiotics every 6 months. When was the last time you had a doctor telling you to get antibiotic shots every 6 months “just in case”? That’s right, it doesn’t happen, because it causes greater problems, such as MRSA http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0004520/ and other fun stuff like that! I agree that milk produced in those situations NEEDS to be pasteurized to keep us safe. The milk produced for raw consumption comes from animals that are much healthier and better cared for. I’ve drank raw milk from both kinds of animals. The stuff I drank from the standard dairy gave me a nasty case of Gastroenteritis http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/gastroenteritis.html that I had for 8 days or so. Really wicked stuff that my body couldn’t kill without the help of antibiotics, and that is very rare. The raw milk that I drank was fantastic, and I had no ill effects from it whatsoever. Even my friend, who had never drank raw milk before, had no ill effects.
    This is all my way of saying, you need to learn why things are done in order to understand them, and how we can bypass those measures without suffering any ill effects. Remember this, people drank raw milk for MILLENNIA before pasteurization was discovered, and somehow they survived.

  • Annette

    @Shelley, People choose to not vaccinate for a myriad of reasons. Not just the worry over autism. The heavy metals, preservatives, aborted fetal (human) cells in some, animal by-products, doubt as to the efficacy, concern over vaccine damage beyond autism, allergic reactions to vaccinations and death.
    As for raw milk products, Perhaps you should do some research into the history of pasturization and why it was originally needed. Perhaps you should compare percentages of disease and illness brought on from raw milk, pasteurized milk, raw meats, deli-meats, produce and the like.
    Also, research into the nutritional and structural make-up of raw vs store bought milk would help you to understand why people aren’t trusting the experts and doing their own research.
    Most people who make alternative choices do more research than those choosing the norm.

  • tax lady

    Pour a glass of raw milk and another of “store bought” milk. Leave them on your kitchen counter for a few days. The store stuff will turn green and stinky, the raw will simply separate into curds & whey. After four or five days, which milk would you be willing to drink? You will probably puke at the smell of the pasturized stuff.
    Alos, most people who are diagnosed as “allergic” to milk, do fine on raw milk. It is the additives they have trouble with.

  • mrothschild

    For other views on this claim:
    A Stanford controlled study whose purpose was to determine whether there is objective validity to the anecdotal claims that people who believe they are lactose intolerant actually experience fewer symptoms after drinking raw milk relative to pasteurized milk concluded that claims that raw milk is well-tolerated by lactose intolerant individuals are unsupported and misleading for individuals with true lactose malabsorption.
    Also: (source:http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/Product-SpecificInformation/MilkSafety/ConsumerInformationAboutMilkSafety/ucm247991.htm)
    Raw milk does not cure lactose intolerance.
    Lactose is a unique disaccharide found in milk. Lactose concentration in bovine milk is about 4.8%. People with lactose intolerance lack the enzyme, beta-galactosidase or lactase, to break down lactose into glucose and galactose during digestion. All milk, raw or pasteurized, contains lactose and can cause lactose intolerance in sensitive individuals. There is no indigenous lactase in milk.
    Raw milk advocates claim that raw milk does not cause lactose intolerance because it contains lactase secreted by “beneficial” or probiotic bacteria present in raw milk. As discussed in a later section (claim 4), raw milk does not contain probiotic organisms.
    Fermented dairy products, especially yogurt, have been reported to ease lactose mal-absorption in lactose intolerant subjects (McBean and Miller, 1984; Lin et al., 1991; Onwulata et al., 1989; Savaiano et al., 1984). This enhanced digestion of lactose has been attributed to the intra-intestinal hydrolysis of lactose by lactase secreted by yogurt fermentation microorganisms (Lin et al., 1991; Savaiano et al., 1984). However, raw milk does not contain the same types of microorganisms at the similar levels that are found in yogurt. Yogurt that showed a benefit towards lactose intolerance typically contained 107cfu/ml or higher levels of Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus, and these microorganisms were purposely inoculated during yogurt manufacturing (Lin et al., 1991; Savaiano et al., 1984).
    References:
    Lin, M., D. Savaiano, and S. Harlander. 1991. Influence of nonfermented dairy products containing bacterial starter cultures on lactose maldigestion in humans. Journal of Dairy Science. 74:87-95.
    McBean, L. D. and G. D. Miller. 1998. Allaying fears and fallacies about lactose intolerance. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 98:671-676.
    Onwulata, C. I., D. R. Rao, and P. Vankineni. 1989. Relative efficiency of yogurt, sweet acidophilus milk, hydrolyzed-lactose milk, and a commercial lactase tablet in alleviating lactose maldigestion. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 49:1233-1237.
    Savaiano, D. A., A. AbouElAnouar, D. E. Smith, and M. D. Levitt. 1984. Lactose malabsorption from yogurt, pasteurized yogurt, sweet acidophilus milk, and cultured milk in lactase-deficient individuals. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 40:1219-1223.
    Raw milk does not contain natural antimicrobial components that make milk safe.
    The major antimicrobial compounds naturally present in milk include lactoferrin, lactoperoxidase, lysozyme, and xanthine oxidase. There is no scientific evidence to support the claim that the indigenous antimicrobial compounds in raw milk kill pathogens and ensure raw milk safety.
    Raw milk does not contain high enough concentration of these antimicrobial compounds to exert such an effect. In the case of lysozyme and lactoferrin, if high concentrations of these components are observed in raw milk, it is often an indication of cow’s compromised health condition (e.g. mastitis), simply due to cow’s elevated natural defense system (Chaneton et al., 2008; Schmitz et al., 2004; Farkye, 2003).
    The microflora in raw milk is complex and unpredictable. The antimicrobial components in milk can have either bactericidal, bacteriostatic, or no effect at all depending on the specific pathogenic species and strains involved (Naidu, 2000a).
    Pasteurization is the only method to achieve complete elimination of vegetative pathogens. Contrary to raw milk advocates’ claims, pasteurization does not completely inactive these indigenous antimicrobial components in milk.

  • Mary Rothschild

    For other views on this claim:
    A Stanford controlled study whose purpose was to determine whether there is objective validity to the anecdotal claims that people who believe they are lactose intolerant actually experience fewer symptoms after drinking raw milk relative to pasteurized milk concluded that claims that raw milk is well-tolerated by lactose intolerant individuals are unsupported and misleading for individuals with true lactose malabsorption.
    Also: (source:http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/Product-SpecificInformation/MilkSafety/ConsumerInformationAboutMilkSafety/ucm247991.htm)
    Raw milk does not cure lactose intolerance.
    Lactose is a unique disaccharide found in milk. Lactose concentration in bovine milk is about 4.8%. People with lactose intolerance lack the enzyme, beta-galactosidase or lactase, to break down lactose into glucose and galactose during digestion. All milk, raw or pasteurized, contains lactose and can cause lactose intolerance in sensitive individuals. There is no indigenous lactase in milk.
    Raw milk advocates claim that raw milk does not cause lactose intolerance because it contains lactase secreted by “beneficial” or probiotic bacteria present in raw milk. As discussed in a later section (claim 4), raw milk does not contain probiotic organisms.
    Fermented dairy products, especially yogurt, have been reported to ease lactose mal-absorption in lactose intolerant subjects (McBean and Miller, 1984; Lin et al., 1991; Onwulata et al., 1989; Savaiano et al., 1984). This enhanced digestion of lactose has been attributed to the intra-intestinal hydrolysis of lactose by lactase secreted by yogurt fermentation microorganisms (Lin et al., 1991; Savaiano et al., 1984). However, raw milk does not contain the same types of microorganisms at the similar levels that are found in yogurt. Yogurt that showed a benefit towards lactose intolerance typically contained 107cfu/ml or higher levels of Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus, and these microorganisms were purposely inoculated during yogurt manufacturing (Lin et al., 1991; Savaiano et al., 1984).
    References:
    Lin, M., D. Savaiano, and S. Harlander. 1991. Influence of nonfermented dairy products containing bacterial starter cultures on lactose maldigestion in humans. Journal of Dairy Science. 74:87-95.
    McBean, L. D. and G. D. Miller. 1998. Allaying fears and fallacies about lactose intolerance. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 98:671-676.
    Onwulata, C. I., D. R. Rao, and P. Vankineni. 1989. Relative efficiency of yogurt, sweet acidophilus milk, hydrolyzed-lactose milk, and a commercial lactase tablet in alleviating lactose maldigestion. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 49:1233-1237.
    Savaiano, D. A., A. AbouElAnouar, D. E. Smith, and M. D. Levitt. 1984. Lactose malabsorption from yogurt, pasteurized yogurt, sweet acidophilus milk, and cultured milk in lactase-deficient individuals. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 40:1219-1223.
    Raw milk does not contain natural antimicrobial components that make milk safe.
    The major antimicrobial compounds naturally present in milk include lactoferrin, lactoperoxidase, lysozyme, and xanthine oxidase. There is no scientific evidence to support the claim that the indigenous antimicrobial compounds in raw milk kill pathogens and ensure raw milk safety.
    Raw milk does not contain high enough concentration of these antimicrobial compounds to exert such an effect. In the case of lysozyme and lactoferrin, if high concentrations of these components are observed in raw milk, it is often an indication of cow’s compromised health condition (e.g. mastitis), simply due to cow’s elevated natural defense system (Chaneton et al., 2008; Schmitz et al., 2004; Farkye, 2003).
    The microflora in raw milk is complex and unpredictable. The antimicrobial components in milk can have either bactericidal, bacteriostatic, or no effect at all depending on the specific pathogenic species and strains involved (Naidu, 2000a).
    Pasteurization is the only method to achieve complete elimination of vegetative pathogens. Contrary to raw milk advocates’ claims, pasteurization does not completely inactive these indigenous antimicrobial components in milk.

  • Raw milk has not been responsible for a single death in the United States for 11 years now according to their government’s own statistics. How many people have died eating at fast food restaurants since then?