A victory for food freedom

Some great news yesterday for Michael Schmidt, an Ontario raw milk dairy farmer who risked jail time challenging Canadian regulators. In a remarkable ruling, the court decided that his program by which customers by shares in cow ownership in exchange for the milk they produce is a legitimate enterprise not covered by existing law. In broader context, it seems an encouraging precedent for allowing consumers to opt out of restrictive safety regulations:

Although it is not illegal to consume raw milk in Canada, selling or distributing violates laws that require pasteurization of most commercial milk products.

The Schmidt case, which began when his farm was raided in 2006, has captivated food-rights academics and advocates in Canada, and around the world, who argue the court’s decision will ripple well beyond the raw-milk community. At its crux, they argue, the case is really about the extent to which consumers should be free to buy foods, however rarefied, and whether constitutional rights stretch as far as the grocery basket, farmer’s market and the people who own shares in – but do not live on – food-producing farms.

[Thanks to Kimberly Hartke for the tip. My article on raw milk for Reason is here, and a visit to a Virginia cow share program here.]

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War on flavor continues

Hot on the heels of the FDA’s ban on flavored cigarettes (menthol excluded, of course), other governments are taking even more drastic steps against flavored tobacco. First Canada:

Canada has banned the manufacture, importation and sale of most flavored cigarettes and small cigars, which have been slammed as little more than an enticement to get children to start smoking. [Again, menthol excluded.]

The law, which came into effect on Thursday, was backed by both government and opposition lawmakers. It also bans tobacco advertising in newspapers and magazines, closing a loophole that had allowed ads in publications that claimed they were read only by adults.

Then New York City:

The council, by a count of 46-1, voted to ban the sale of all flavored tobacco in the city, with the exception of tobacco used in pipes and hookahs. This goes a step further than the recent FDA ban, which banned flavored cigarettes (including cloves, but not menthol), because it bans flavored little cigars and chewing tobacco. Mayor Bloomberg has 10 days to decide to sign or veto the measure. If signed, the ban could go into effect in 120 days.

These bans are, in essence, forbidding the processing of tobacco to make it taste good. This sets a dangerous precedent for premium cigars. Might cask-aged cigars be next? Why allow leaves to be cured at all? After all, the aging process “masks” the harsh flavors of tobacco just as surely as adding a dollop of fruit-flavor does.

And after we do that, why not ban the flavoring of any other product that can be unhealthy?

[Via The Stogie Guys.]

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Smokers need not apply

This didn’t take long. The Quebec Council on Tobacco and Health has a job opening for a webmaster. It’s open to any qualified candidate, with one exception: smokers aren’t welcome. You can probably guess the justification:

[QCTH president Mario] Bujol also cites the other costs employers must incur when an employee smokes, as well as the public health issues surrounding second hand smoke and the toxic fumes that settle on smokers even after they have butted out, often called third hand smoke, as reasons why it is fair to limit job placement based on smoking status.

I defend the right of private organizations to discriminate against smokers for the same reason I support bar owners’ rights to host a smoking environment. Freedoms of contract and association trump the desire to impose a uniform standard. What’s troubling here is the abuse of junk science to justify a policy that’s really motivated by nothing more than anti-smoker bigotry. There’s absolutely no evidence that remnant smoke particles harm anyone, especially adults working in a smokefree office environment. Just as public health arguments allowed to smoking ban advocates to impose their preferences onto others in a socially acceptable way, the shoddy third hand smoke study has opened the door for discriminating against smokers under the veneer of sound science.

The Quebec Council on Tobacco and Health is financed in part by the government, opening the door to a legal challenge. It will be interesting to see what kind of debate that stirs up. Should groups that receive taxpayer money be allowed to discriminate against the smokers who fund them?

[Via Michael Siegel.]

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