A page from the search warrant used by Canadian authorities to search Michael Schmidt's Glencolton Farm last Friday details the charges expected to be filed against him and others. I am the first to admit I know little about best practices for dealing with potentially serious widely-spreading diseases among farm animals.  

The image that pops into my mind when this subject comes up is of the huge piles of dead cows in England during the early 1990s, as a response to outbreaks of Mad Cow disease. Each day, it seemed, the problem expanded, and more farmers were forced to slaughter their animals as a preventive measure to contain the disease.  

As it turned out, a good part of the problem was associated with the farm animals being fed  diseased parts from other farm animals. But though the matter has been studied for years in England, authorities aren’t in agreement about either what occurred or what should be done in the future, as an article in a British newspaper makes clear.  

“The crisis changed for ever official estimate of risk. Years of lax controls, poor oversight of slaughterhouse practices and political complacency, then secrecy, changed attitudes among civil servants and politicians. They are now more ready to consider worst-case scenarios – critics would say too ready.” In other words, regulators may well have shifted from being too lax to being overly cautious.  

It would be nice if such matters were a subject for public discussion. But in Canada and the U.S., the regulator approach is brutally simple:  We know best and we’ll decide what to do and everyone better listen to us…or else. 

Ontario raw dairy farmer Michael Schmidt is simply seeking an avenue for discussion about an aspect of this issue that could be sensitive but important to many farmers and consumers alike–the wholesale elimination of rare sheep species, without consideration of possibly alternative avenues of investigation. He is prepared to accept destruction of the animals if they are actually found to be harboring disease.                             

Michael Schmidt greets the police at his Glencolton Farm last Friday as they arrive for search. BUT, as in the case of raw milk, he’s unwilling to accept a dictatorial approach, with no provision for serious publicconsideration or discussion of ways tosimultaneouslyensure public safety, while protecting animals whose heritage is endangered. In Schmidt’s view, it’s a situation not all that different from what’s been happening in Michigan, with the wholesale  destruction of heritagebreeds of pigs.  

So the authorities threaten Schmidt with violations of laws regarding obstructing inspectors and moving animals under quarantine, including conspiracy charges. (See the page above, from the search warrant used last Friday to carry out an all-day search of his farm; Robert Pinnell, who is mentioned in the warrant, is a founder of the Practical Farmers of Ontario, which was formed last spring; Miro Malish is owner of the Ontario farm where authorities eventually found many of the disputed sheep, which had been moved from Montana Jones’ farm.)   

Schmidt’s response? “I most likely will be charged for conspiracy. Who is in fact conspiring? Those who destroy the genetic pool and approve GMO corn , soy, alfalfa…..” 

He challenges those who sympathize with him: “Are we mentally prepared to face the reality of severe punishment? Raising the awareness through actions, not any more talk.”  

His prediction? “To turn the tide, public debate now in the courtroom instead of parliament, because of biased politicians.”