Michael Schmidt is a Canadian dairy farmer, and he's scared. Why?
"Over the last 17 years I have made every effort to engage the authorities in a constructive dialogue about the issue of non-pasteurized milk in Ontario and Canada. In return my farm has been raided by armed officers, my family has been terrorized and I [have] been dragged through the courts -- first being acquitted and then being found guilty.
"Today, farmers like me in Ontario and around the country are scared. We are scared that people with guns who claim to be acting in our best interests will snatch our livelihoods from us. We are scared that we will be tried for the "crime" of believing that informed consumers and citizens in our free country should be able to choose what they eat and drink."
(From a letter to Ontario Premier, Dalton McGuinty, published on David Gumpert's blog, "The Complete Patient.")
On Friday, November 4th, Schmidt ended his 37 day hunger strike for the right to buy food directly from farmers, which he had said he'd "keep going until death", because he was able to meet with McGuinty to discuss what he calls "responsible food freedom." According to the Canadian Press, a "spokeswoman for McGuinty says the meeting went well, and Schmidt was invited to speak to the Liberal caucus, but the government will not change its position to allow the sale of raw milk." In Canada, it is at least legal to drink raw milk.
The fight in Canada is scarcely different from the fight in the United States, where regulatory bodies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and judges like Wisconsin's Judge Patrick Fiedler declare that farmers and eaters "do not have a fundamental right to produce and consume the foods of [our] choice" (emphasis added).
"My Farm Has Been Raided By Armed Officers"
Farmers in the United States have made the same claim in the last several years. For a timeline of a handful of them, see the Raw Milk Raid Timeline on SourceWatch.org.
Rawesome Foods and Healthy Family Farms
The latest armed raid was of both a farm and a private food-buying club, both in southern California, in August. As previously reported, this was the second time in the space of a year that Rawesome Foods had been raided.
During the first raid, the following footage was captured by a club security camera (at right).
In the most recent raid, Rawesome manager James Stewart was arrested, along with Healthy Family Farms' Sharon Palmer and her associate Eugenie Bloch.
As Ajna Sharma-Wilson, Stewart's defense attorney, described in detail in an interview with Gumpert, the Los Angeles County District Attorney "employed at least three paid informants to join Rawesome [as members]...They were to join and become part of the community and report back on what was happening." There were also, separately "at least half a dozen undercover investigators," and "the investigators mounted secret 'pole cameras' within the tiny food club in Venice, CA, to film members in the club picking up food." According to Sharma-Wilson, "They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on informants and undercover agents. ... They've spent millions on the whole case."
Grazin' Acres Farm
Here in Wisconsin in June of 2010, Amish raw dairy farmer Vernon Herschberger's Grazin' Acres Farm, which is also the site of a private food club, was raided by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and Sauk County Health Department, whose agents sealed the coolers containing jars of raw milk available for sale to club members and ordered him to shut down the club.
Herschberger, who had turned away agents once before until they could return with a warrant, cut the seals and reopened the coolers to members, who pay a fee (currently $25) to join. The farm does not have a state dairy license. Herschberger argues that it doesn't need one because his products are only available to members who pay annual fees, not the general public.
Rainbow Acres Farm
In April 2010, Amish farmer Dan Allgyers' Rainbow Acres Farm in Pennsylvania was raided at 5am by agents of the FDA with U.S. Marshals and a state police trooper, following a months-long operation by an undercover investigator.
In December 2008, the Stowers' family sheep farm in LaGrange, Ohio, where they also operate an organic food buying cooperative called Manna Storehouse, was raided by a "heavily armed team" of Ohio Department of Agriculture agents. John Stowers was not present at the time of raid, nor was his son Chad Stowers, a Navy Seabee serving in Iraq. Agents held Jacqueline Stowers and ten children for hours "while they ransacked the premises and seized belongings, including food, computers and records. ... The agents confiscated one year's worth of family food, food purchased for coop members, computers and all business records."
Jacqueline and John Stowers told their story to the Buckeye Institute's Maurice Thompson (at left).
Fighting for Food Sovereignty
These farmers and eaters are fighting for food sovereignty, as some of them have defined in "Local Food and Self-Governance" resolutions and local ordinances that have been introduced, and in several cases passed, in municipalities and counties from Maine to California.
Most people would not expect inspectors and public health agents to use guns and "pole cameras" in order to inspect farms or food cooperatives and enforce state licensing requirements. Why have the FDA and state health departments gone to such lengths with regard to raw milk? The Center for Media and Democracy's Food Rights Network has filed Freedom of Information Act and Open Records Requests to find out.
This article has been updated to correct a proofing error. Michael Schmidt, not Michael Schultz, is a Canadian dairy farmer who recently ended his hunger strike.