Renegade farmer exposes key question: Is milk pasteurized or unpasteurized?
September 13, 2008
Article from theglobeandmail.com
NEWMARKET, ONT. -- The farmer's reading glasses hung precariously from the tip of his nose as he locked eyes with the judge at the front of the courtroom.
The renegade of the dairy farming world, Michael Schmidt, has become accustomed to addressing the bench, and yesterday he delivered his final submission to a Newmarket courtroom, representing himself in defence of contempt-of-court charges filed by the Region of York.
The region's evidence that Mr. Schmidt defied the court's orders to stop distributing unpasteurized milk is circumstantial, and its lawyer, Dan Kuzmyk, had argued, "If it looks like a cow, and walks like a cow, and moves like a cow, it's a cow."
But Mr. Schmidt, a tall man with a subtle German accent, delivered an apt retort.
"I agree; if it looks like a cow, and walks like a cow, and moves like a cow, it's a cow," he said. "But does that cow give pasteurized or unpasteurized milk? That is the question."
It was a rare moment in which Mr. Schmidt addressed the holes in the region's case against him: Health officials never tested the bottles of white liquid he sells to confirm that they do, in fact, contain unpasteurized milk.
But Mr. Schmidt devoted most of his brief final submission to questioning the motivation and integrity of York Region health officials and their "moral authority to seek punishment," to the audible approval of supporters in the courtroom's audience.
A healthy-boned, grey-haired group of about 30 supporters lined the benches behind Mr. Schmidt.
For them, the trial has never been about whether Mr. Schmidt defied a judge's orders; it's about their freedom to choose what they consume.
"This is about making it public that raw milk is not a danger," Traudle Holy, 76, a Port Perry resident and supporter, said during a court recess.
"I've been drinking raw milk all my life and it's never made me sick. I really don't understand these backward laws."
This approach may make Mr. Schmidt a martyr for the enzymes and bacteria that are destroyed by the process of pasteurization, and he knows it.
"It was more important for me to go the high road and really look at the moral application of that whole situation," he said, reclining against the red bricks of the courthouse in his signature black vest and cap.
The court had adjourned and the judge declared that he would deliver his decision when a court date can be set, likely at the end of October.
A pair of producers of a documentary film on Mr. Schmidt's battle against health officials filmed the swarm of supporters, lawyers and reporters that buzzed outside the courtroom.
"I've been surprised by the emotions that come out of people in relation to this topic," producer and director Norman Lofts said.
"I never knew people could get so worked up about milk."
Mr. Kuzmyk, the York Region lawyer, was also caught off guard by the intensity of the trial.
"I'm glad that the trial has concluded; it was a stressful trial for both sides," he said, the dark circles under his eyes similar in colour to the ones behind Mr. Schmidt's reading glasses.