There are two things you need to know about renegade farmer Michael Schmidt. The first is that he's Canada's foremost champion for "raw milk" and is no fan of pasteurization. Raw milk is better for you, he says – an assertion rejected by just about every health agency in the country.
The second thing is he's on a hot streak. Since he won an Ontario court ruling upholding his right to distribute raw milk in a so-called "cow share," he's taken up the causes of similar operations across the country. Framing it as a battle over consumers' right to choose (some people with digestive problems prefer unpasteurized, or raw, milk), he's gleefully stepping in to save raw-milk producers from prosecution.
Such was the case this week, when Mr. Schmidt, 56, travelled to Alberta to help farmers Judith Johnson and Eric Pudlow, who run a small cow share the province is trying to shut down. After voicing his support for the pair, Mr. Schmidt actually saw their farm and pulled an about-face, cutting them loose and backing the province. The farm wasn't up to Schmidt standards.
This is the new role of Canada's dairy desperado: a one-man raw-milk regulatory body. While courts struggle over whether distributing raw milk is legal (the Crown is appealing the Ontario ruling), cow-share operations that dish the stuff out are popping up, emboldened by Mr. Schmidt's legal triumph and working with little oversight.
"His win plays out all across Canada," says Alice Jongerden, 40, whose Chilliwack, B.C., cow share is being targeted by the B.C. government.
As such, Canada has a small underground dairy insurgency on its hands, one characterized by a grassroots rejection of pasteurization, industrial food producers and government. They stay quiet – no one knows how many cow-share operations are in practice. Alberta's Agriculture Ministry fears this could lead to illness, or even death. Cow sharers believe the province has up to two dozen operations, though the government has only found three. A similar silent industry extends across the country, producers say.
But the German-born Mr. Schmidt, with his loose Cow Share Canada organization, has become the de facto regulator, and says few producers know what they're doing. So far, it's only the Chilliwack and Edmonton farms he has taken under his wing, backing the former and rejecting the latter.
"This is exactly why we cannot allow how it is done in Canada now. Everything is pushed underground. People start up doing certain things and there is no proper regulation in place," says Mr. Schmidt, who welcomes regular inspections at his farm in Durham, Ont. "It is not an Ontario issue, it's a national issue."
Across Canada, the Food and Drug Act and several provincial laws bar the sale or distribution of raw milk – but drinking your own cow's milk is legal. Instead, pasteurization has long been the industry standard, a simple heating process that removes bacteria such as listeria, salmonella and E. coli 0157. Cow sharers feel insists it's "not rocket science" that other milk "benefits" are lost in this process. There are also set allotments, or quotas, of how many dairy cows provinces can have. Effectively a licence, they go for upwards of $30,000 per cow in Western Canada.
Raw-milk drinkers try to circumvent all of these regulations through quota-crashing cow shares. Mr. Schmidt's model has participants buy into a farm, thereby owning a part of the cow and being allowed to drink its milk. Some provinces say his scheme is illegal. B.C. has even gone after Ms. Jongerden, saying Mr. Schmidt's scheme puts her in contempt of a court order to stop producing. (No ruling has been made.) Mr. Schmidt's farm was first raided in 2006; he's spent years and thousands of dollars fighting to continue.
Raw-milk advocates are fervent in their populist revolt against pasteurization.
"As an informed consumer, I feel I have the right, living in Canada, to choose. To me, that's the biggest part of it," says Toronto resident Peter Marsh, 59, a client of Mr. Schmidt.
As for the rejected Alberta farm, they're regrouping. To avoid the province, they're taking Mr. Schmidt's advice to come up to his standards.
"We're actually going to start right from the basics," Mr. Pudlow says. "It will be an updated model."
The Schmidt model, that is.