Bob Unruh joined WND in 2006 after nearly three decades with the Associated Press, as well as several Upper Midwest newspapers, where he covered everything from legislative battles and sports to tornadoes and homicidal survivalists. He is also a photographer whose scenic work has been used commercially.More ↓Less ↑
The war between producers and their governments over the status of raw milk sales is heating up across North America, with an Ontario farmer approaching two weeks on a hunger strike on behalf of the consumer’s right to choose – and purchase – the type of food they want.
The issue was in the headlines only days ago, when a judge in Wisconsin decided in a fight over families’ access to milk from cows they own that Americans “do not have a fundamental right to consume the milk from their own cow.”
The fight, however, has gone on for years, and one of the more extensive cases involves Michael Schmidt, who has been battling since 1994 for the right of men, women and children in Ontario to drink raw milk.
Founder of the Cow Share Canada organization, which provides health standards for raw milk production, Schmidt has “made every effort to cooperate with the authorities to find a solution for the legalization of raw milk in Ontario,” according to a report today from Bovine, a website dedicated to reporting on the status of such raw milk fights.
His farm has been raided by authorities in 1994 and again in 2006, when dozens of armed officers stormed his location, the organization reports.
He was brought into court and acquitted by Justice P. Kowarsky in 2010, but when Ontario appealed his acquittal, a different judge found him guilty on several charges and a hearing is scheduled Nov. 2 to determine whether he will be fined as much as $55,000, the organization said.
Now, the organization is reporting Schmidt is approaching two weeks on a hunger strike, called “Hunger Strike for Responsible Food Freedom.” The organization reports he’s stopped consuming food and now drinks only water.
“I respectfully ask that the Ontario and BC governments agree to a constructive dialogue on how we can provide a framework to enable people to make real choices about their food and what they eat, beginning with raw milk and the implementation of a framework that grants legal standing for cow share operations in Ontario and BC. This objective also includes the end of the current prosecutions of cow shares which meet proper production standards,” he said in a statement that the organization released.
The effort has attracted another eight to the hunger strike, officials report. including Max Kane of Wisconsin, Vernon Hershberger of Wisconsin and Bernie Cosgrove of Alberta. Another five individuals are participating but chose not to release their names, officials said.
In the Wisconsin fight, Circuit Court Judge Patrick J. Fiedler said the families who reported they were boarding their cows for a fee and then getting the milk instead were running a “dairy farm.”
“It’s always a surprise when a judge says you don’t have the fundamental right to consume the foods of your choice,” said Pete Kennedy, president of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, which worked on the case on behalf of the farmers and the owners of the milk-producing cows.
The judge’s original ruling came in a consolidation of two cases that presented similar situations: Cows being maintained and milked on farms for the benefit of non-resident owners. He refused to grant a summary judgment declaring such arrangements legitimate, deciding instead to favor the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, which opposed them.
“Plaintiffs argue that they have a fundamental right to possess, use and enjoy their property and therefore have a fundamental right to own a cow, or a heard (sic) of cows, and to use their cow(s) in a manner that does not cause harm to third parties. They argue that they have a fundamental right to privacy to consume the food of their choice for themselves and their families and therefore have a fundamental right to consume unpasteurized milk from their cows,” the judge wrote.
Bunk, he concluded.
“They do not simply own a cow that they board at a farm. Instead, plaintiffs operate a dairy farm. If plaintiffs want to continue to operate their dairy farm then they must do so in a way that complies with the laws of Wisconsin.”
He cited an earlier consent decree involving one of the farm locations, which had been accused of being the source of a “Campylobachter jejuni infection” and said there are state reasons to require standards and licenses.
Identifying the cases as the “Grassway plaintiffs” and the “Zinniker plaintiffs,” the judge said both were in violation of state rules and regulations.
It was, however, when the plaintiffs petitioned the judge for a “clarification” of his order that he let fly his judicial temperament.
“The court denied plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, which means the following:
“(1) no, plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to own and use a dairy cow or a diary (sic) herd;
“(2) no, plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to consume the milk from their own cow;
“(3) no, plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to board their cow at the farm of a farmer;
“(4) no, the Zinniker plaintiffs’ private contract does not fall outside the scope of the state’s police power;
“(5) no, plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to produce and consume the foods of their choice; and
“(6) no, the DATCP did not act in an ultra vires manner because it had jurisdiction to regulate the Zinniker plaintiffs’ conduct.”
“It is clear from their motion to clarify that the plaintiffs still fail to recognize that they are not merely attempting to enforce their ‘right’ to own a cow and board it at a farm. Instead, plaintiffs operate a dairy farm,” he wrote.
Kennedy said the ruling is outlandish.
“Here you have a situation where a group of people, a couple of individuals, boarded their cows which they wholly owned, with Zinniker farms, and paid them a fee for the boarding.”
He continued, “The judge said people have no fundamental right to acquire, possess and use your own property.”
The dispute is part of a larger battle going on between private interests and state and federal regulators over just exactly who makes the decision on the difference between a privately held asset and a commercial producer.
The Los Angeles Times recently profiled a case in which prosecutors had arrested the owner of a health food market and two others on charges of allegedly illegally producing unpasteurized dairy products.
The arrests of James Cecil Stewart, Sharon Ann Palmer and Eugenie Bloch just a few weeks ago advanced the government’s crackdown on the sale of so-called raw dairy products.
Attorneys for the federal government have argued in a lawsuit still pending in federal court in Iowa that individuals have no “fundamental right” to obtain their food of choice.
The brief was filed early in 2010 in support of a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund over the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s ban on the interstate sale of raw milk.
“There is no ‘deeply rooted’ historical tradition of unfettered access to foods of all kinds,” states the document signed by U.S. Attorney Stephanie Rose, assistant Martha Fagg and Roger Gural, trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice.
“Plaintiffs’ assertion of a ‘fundamental right to their own bodily and physical health, which includes what foods they do and do not choose to consume for themselves and their families’ is similarly unavailing because plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to obtain any food they wish,” the government has argued.
“The interest claimed by plaintiffs could be framed more narrowly as a right to ‘provide themselves and their families with the foods of their own choice,’” the government document states. But the attorneys say that right doesn’t exist.
“The FDA essentially believes that nobody has the right to choose what to eat or drink,” said the Natural News site, which explains it covers topics that allow individuals to make positive changes in their health, environmental sensitivity and consumer choices.
“You are only ‘allowed’ to eat or drink what the FDA gives you permission to. There is no inherent right or God-given right to consume any foods from nature without the FDA’s consent.”
The Natural News report continued, “The state, in other words, may override your food decisions and deny you free access to the foods and beverages you wish to consume. And the state may do this for completely unscientific reasons – even just political reasons – all at their whim.”
The report blames the aggressive campaign against raw milk on large commercial dairy interests, “because it threatens the commercial milk business.”
The reason cannot be safety, the report said, since a report from the Weston A. Price Foundation revealed that from 1980 to 2005 there were 10 times more illnesses from pasteurized milk than from raw milk.
The federal government attorneys say the FDA’s goal is to prevent disease, and that’s why the “ban on the interstate sale of unpasteurized milk” was adopted.
The attorneys conceded that states ordinarily are expected to regulate intrastate activity but noted, “it is within HHS’s authority … to institute an intrastate ban as well.”
Natural News reported the ban could be seen as violating the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which leaves to states all powers not specifically designated in the Constitution for the federal body.