At least two Ontario farms that had been selling raw milk via herd share agreements have been raided in the last few days by Ontario health inspectors backed up by police.
The raids signal a new phase in Canada’s long-running battle against raw dairy that first came into the open in 1993 with a raid on Michael Schmidt’s Ontario raw-milk dairy. For the next 27 years that battle played out via additional raids and multiple court cases involving Schmidt, culminating in a ruling early this year by an Ontario judge affirming Canada’s long-standing ban on raw dairy. Since the decision was announced, Schmidt has moved to sell his dairy herd.
This information about the new raids comes from social media posts. The farmers who were raided have thus far declined to comment or otherwise be identified.
But the authorities have apparently decided that putting Schmidt out of business wouldn’t accomplish their goal of stamping out raw milk and maintaining the exclusive distribution and marketing authority of the Dairy Farmers of Ontario cartel, since a growing number of farms in Ontario and other provinces have quietly taken to selling raw milk via herdshares or directly from the farm over the last decade. For Canadian authorities, it’s almost like a suburban lawn that sprouts weeds while the homeowner is distracted in eradicating termites; that is, while the regulators have obsessed on ridding themselves of Schmidt, other dairies have sprouted to meet the growing demand for raw dairy. The situation is not unlike raw-dairy demand in the U.S., Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, except that most of those places have figured out ways to peacefully accommodate the demand, such as via on-farm inspections and sales, herdshare arrangements, or highly regulated retails sales.
Canada nearly alone in the world has decided on a version of prohibition similar to what the U.S. did with alcohol from 1920 to 1933. It took the U.S. only 13 years to realize that trying to ban a beverage many people valued just wasn’t going to work (see photo above).
The likeliest explanation for the exaggerated response against small Ontario farms, in the absence of any reported illnesses from raw milk, is that the Dairy Farmers of Ontario is protecting its cartel turf. It inserted itself into the court case initiated by Ontario consumers and farmers seeking a relaxation of the nearly total ban. Now it seems to be pressuring authorities to follow up on the organization’s legal victory against the farmers and consumers with a new enforcement campaign against raw milk.
From the cartel’s perspective, the financial stakes are significant. In a quick Google search, I found this within an in-depth assessment on Canadian dairy of recent trade law changes: “The average dairy producer’s net worth is nearly $5 million, and in 2016, the average producer earned an income of about $160,000, even after operating expenses had been paid, according to the most recent numbers available from Statistics Canada.”
As others have pointed out on this blog previously, the attitudes toward raw milk appear to be more permissive in British Columbia. In BC as well, there’s a reluctance to say much publicly, for fear of poking the beast.