Even As Hostility Over Raw Milk and Food Rights Rises, the Real Stakes Become Clearer
You might think that after half a dozen years of intense debate and a procession of legal cases in the U.S. and Canada over raw milk and food rights, that there might be some softening, some moves to compromise and acceptance-- “live and let live,” as it were.
Nothing doing. Rather, even as more local organizing takes place pushing food rights legislative agendas from Wyoming to Virginia, positions seem to be hardening. Those hardening positions are translating into ever harsher enforcement. Much like Alabama became the capital of anti-civil-rights actions in the 1960s, Minnesota has become the anti-food-right capital of the new century (in tough competition with neighboring Wisconsin).
Maybe a little bored as they wait for the next trial of farmer Alvin Schlangen to begin in a few weeks, officials at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture pulled out raw dairy farmer Michael Hartmann for some more public tarring and feathering. Now they have gotten a prosecutor to file three new criminal charges against him for, what else, producing raw milk. I haven’t seen the complaint, and it’s hard to know for sure from this report--there have been so many charges against the guy-- but somehow it has to do with him supposedly violating a previous plea agreement and trying to supply his private customers, who are desperate for his milk.
The point here is that the hostility by public officials is nearly palpable. Sure, there is talk about “protecting” people, but that talk sounds ever more empty, since none of the farmers in the expanding dragnet are making people ill. (Hartmann was linked to illnesses back in 2010, nearly three years ago, so that rallying cry is becoming tired.)
All you have to do is read Michael Schmidt’s account of his recent six-day trial in British Columbia (during which he had to fly back to Ontario to gain permission from a judge in his sheep-napping case to extend his stay outside the province) to get a sense of the hostility (see part 1 and part 2). The prosecutor even mocked his slight German accent. (And you know Schmidt, ever polite, wasn’t being provocative.)
Gordon Watson, a co-defendant with Schmidt for helping organize the few hundred person herdshare the British Columbia government wants so badly to obliterate, similarly sensed the hostility. (He acted as his own lawyer in the case.) Susan Beach, the lawyer for British Columbia’s Fraser Health, he wrote me, was “harping-away like a buzz-saw about what bad guys Michael Schmidt and I were. ‘Contumacious contemnors !’ ... she called us! Having operated in the upper echelon of government, in the capital city (Victoria), she’s used to people deferring to her. What she didn’t realize ‘til it was too late, was the insolence of office which is her stock in trade, cut no ice with us ... a couple of blokes who simply don’t care about the prestige she’s gained in twenty years before the Bar.”
Now, there are even signs of infighting among the opponents of raw milk. It seems the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF) had the gall to break with the American Farm Bureau Federation and declare itself in favor of pending Massachusetts legislation to allow delivery of raw milk from permitted farms, according to an article in Farm Progress magazine.
Its reason for breaking with the big shots? "At least 37 states allow some form of raw milk sales, including Massachusetts. We believe that properly-regulated raw milk sales are a marketing opportunity for family farms." The Farm Progress article added: “For many dairy producers, this could be key to their survival, in a state where land, labor and regulatory costs are among the highest in the nation...”
The key words are “marketing opportunity.” Could the worm finally be turning? Could dairy farmers finally be coming to the realization that raw milk offers an opportunity for economic survival, with the bonus of making customers happier and healthier...and that the farmers’ main enemies are the dairy processors fighting to hold onto market share?
And economics returns us to the hostility I lead off with. Sure, there is serious animosity by the rulers over the ruled. But at its heart, this is a struggle over economics, just as slavery was a struggle over economics, and economics can make people very hostile.