Nothing to Cry Over

By Jason Menard

Good thing that our government and its police forces are fighting the good fight and taking down those severe threats to our society – like a farmer who champions the right to sell and drink raw milk.

Thank goodness we know they care. Now I can feel safe when I go to the store. In fact, I think I’m going to go buy some legal cigarettes, high-fat foods, and copious amounts of alcohol – after all, the government’s taking care of the truly bad stuff, right?

Yes, with amazing speed and co-ordination, last week inspectors from the Ministry of Natural Resources descended upon the Durham, ON farm of Michael Schmidt, confiscating some of his equipment. But that wasn’t enough.

In protest of the Ministry’s actions, Schmidt has engaged in a hunger strike, drinking only water and the demon’s nectar – raw milk. And just recently his bus – from which he sells his organic food – was surrounded by police and public health inspectors. Of course, the little matter of no search warrant prevented them from hopping aboard, but the point was made.

So why all this crying over a little raw milk?

There is a law in Ontario that prevents the sale or gifting of raw milk. Apparently everything has to be pasteurized. The idea behind the law is that e-coli and other nefarious organisms, including salmonella, can be present in the unpasteurized product.

Funny, last time I checked raw beef and chicken is available on your grocery store shelves. My butcher still is able to peddle his trade, so why the disparity?

I’m not a raw milk proponent. Of course I’m not opposed to it. I do like the concept of pasteurization simply because I’m a little less-than-enamoured with where the milk comes from. And I still question to this day, who discovered this product? And how.

But I digress. The point is I’m allowed to make my choice to not drink raw milk. I’ve eaten raw milk cheese, though – and lived to tell the tale. I’ve eaten a Lebanese raw meat product, yet still am able to draw breath. And, most importantly, I’ve been able to sample bits and pieces of the global cuisine simply because I have the right to make my own choices.

So why should it be any different for raw milk aficionados? Currently Schmidt is able to circumvent the law by making all of his customers part-owners of his cows. Because of that they’re able to take advantage of the loophole that allows farmers to drink their own milk products – even if they’re unpasteurized.

It’s a choice and a right people should have. Our commitment to banning raw milk products is based on a shaky foundation of concern for public health when cigarettes are still able to be sold at the local variety store, alcohol is sold in government-run establishments, and high fat foods are prevalent everywhere. So is our government really looking out for our best interests in the long run? Or does the raw milk lobby not have deep enough products.

Cigarettes, alcohol, fat, sugar – and milk? Which one of these things is not like the other?

We play Russian Roulette with every meal we consume. Does everyone follow proper sanitation techniques at home when they’re preparing chicken or pork? Is it possible their meals could be contaminated by less-than-fastidious washing and disinfecting? Of course, but it’s a risk we’re willing to take.

When I go into a restaurant and order a “rare bordering on blue” steak, I know that my epicurean joy could be followed by severe gastrointestinal distress. Having worked in a grocery environment in the past, I’m pretty sure some places play fast and loose with the ol’ health regulations. In fact, if we really knew everything that went into the processing, preparation, and distribution of our foods, we’d probably all go on a permanent hunger strike.

It’s our choice. And unless our health authorities are willing to assume full responsibility for ensuring that we only consume products that are devoid of potential health risks, then they can’t play the selective enforcement game. I can’t buy raw milk without owning cattle. Funny, I can buy smokes and booze, but I don’t own shares in DuMaurier or a backyard distillery…

You want to ban raw milk? Fine. But that should be low down on the totem pole. In fact, we should be allowed to toast the banning of malignant products like cigarettes, alcohol, and saturated and trans fats with that milk first, before we’re forced to give it up.

After all, if this is truly about health – and not about lobbyists’ deep pockets – then doing the right thing should be painfully simple. Until then, the government should not just stay out of the bedrooms of Canadians, but also the refrigerators and pantries as well.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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