Milk War

The battle over raw milk is now a documentary

Milk War, a documentary about the much-heralded organic dairy farmer Michael Schmidt, screened at The Toronto Underground Cinema on Sunday as part of an event to raise awareness about the status of raw milk in Canada. Currently, unpasteurized milk cannot legally be sold in Canada and consumers who wish to purchase raw milk have a difficult time getting their hands on it. Many people, including Michael Schmidt and the producers of Milk War, believe this regulation should be changed and are willing to fight for it. Milk War is about their story.

Not surprisingly, the event drew a throng of raw milk supporters. Harmony Organics made an appearance handing out free milk and cookies but, as per the current ban on raw milk, everything served was pasteurized.

The film itself functions as a kind of expose on the raw milk war that has been well documented by local media.It begins with footage from the raid on Schmidt's farm in 2006 where his equipment is seized and Schmidt arrested and charged with several criminal offenses for selling raw milk to his neighbours. The doc then contrasts this with footage from post-war Germany where Schmidt grew up.

Schmidt's first memory, we're told, is seeing his mother stand up to a military tank. This creates a lasting impression - it was a lesson he learned at a young age to not be afraid to stand up for what he believes. In his life today, this means standing up for the right to choose what kind of milk he drinks.

The film proceeds to interview a host of interested parties including raw milk proponents, scientists, government officials and other dairy farmers. While unpasteurized milk is legally sold in many other developed nations around the world, it has been outlawed in Canada since 1981. Some claim it's a source of dangerous bacteria which can cause serious health issues, while proponents insist it can cure everything from low energy to cancer.

The film serves as a thorough introduction to the topic of raw milk and Schmidt's battle with Canadian authorities, although it's cleary one-sided in it views. Much of the evidence for both sides in the film is anecdotal at best and not always approached from the most educated perspective.

At one point in the film Schmidt states that his milk doesn't contain pathogens or harmful bacteria because of how he pretreats his fertilizer - a complicated process that involves burying fecal matter in a horn and later stirring it into water while creating "chaos" - but the connection between the two isn't made entirely clear.

The quality of the editing also leaves something to be desired. There are many instances of poor quality audio and it comes across as a high school documentary - a cheesy one at that (pun intended). This probably explains why it's not showing at Hot Docs. Nevertheless, it's an interesting story about a topic that affects all of us - how much control the government should have over what we eat.

Photo by scorchez on Flickr

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