A Wisconsin jury’s acquittal of a farmer charged by state regulators for supplying raw milk to customers without government supervision should send a message to regulators nationwide, contends the legal defense organization that backed the farmer.
The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund said the weekend verdict in favor of Wisconsin dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger “should be a major step in increasing the freedom of people around the country to be able to obtain the foods of their choice from the course of their choice regardless of whether that source has a license from the state.”
Hershberger was charged with running a farm store, a dairy and and a dairy plant facility without state licenses.
He argued that he was providing supplies to members of a farm produce club and, therefore, didn’t need state oversight and approval.
Hershberger’s attorney, Glen Reynolds, said in a statement: “This is as close to Prohibition as anything I have ever seen, but this time it’s milk and an Amish farmer rather than liquor and gangsters.”
The jury agreed with Hershberger, acquitting him on the main counts. The only one on which he was convicted dealt with his admission that he removed state security tape from his supplies of food.
The jury was allowed to know only that the tape had been affixed and he had removed it. The judge refused to allow the defense to present arguments that the placement of the tape to lock up the supplies was unsupported.
On The Complete Patient blog, David Gumpert cited another member of Hershberger’s legal team, Amy Salberg, who explained: “As it turns out, that holding order never should have been issued, based on the verdict of acquittal of the licensing violations. But pretrial motions by the state kept out any argument that the order was not valid. All the jury was told was that there was an order and it was violated.”
The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund said the jury’s verdict “sets a major precedent in distinguishing between those producing and selling food to the public and those producing and distributing food through a private contractual arrangement (e.g., agreement with a food buyers club).”
The organization said the state “claimed broad regulatory powers over operations … asserting that it has jurisdiction over any dairy farm producing milk where any of the milk leaves the farm premise.”
“With its powerful dairy lobby, Wisconsin has been one of the most draconian states in limiting raw milk sales and distribution,” the organization said.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Hershberger testified he had tried to set up something the state would not fight.
“I tried to work with people. I would have been happy to sit down with them and come up with a workable solution, and I would still do that,” he said.
Wrote blogger David Gumpert: “Make no mistake, Vernon Hershberger won a huge victory. … The state threw everything it had at this humble father of 10 children, and when it was over, its guys in the dark suits scampered out of the courtroom in the darkness of the night after a jury of 12 ordinary Americans handed them their heads on a platter.”
The trial on charges brought by the Wisconsin Department of Agricultural Trade and Consumer Protection repeatedly had been delayed.
In recent months, the Food and Drug Administration also has conducted several undercover sting operations and raids against farmers and buying clubs that have shut down farms.
WND has reported on the dispute that has swept across the country, including when the Weston A. Price Foundation criticized a federal study that blamed outbreaks of illness on raw milk. The Centers for Disease Control report said outbreaks because of raw milk were 150 times greater than outbreaks attributed to pasteurized milk, citing statistics from a 13-year period ending in 2006.
But the Price Foundation said the results were invalid because of the way the federal report’s authors “cherry picked” data.
Sally Fallon Morell, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, said the study listed an average of 315 illnesses a year “from all dairy products for which the pasteurization status was known.”
“Of those, there was an average of 112 illnesses each year attributed to all raw dairy products and 203 associated with pasteurized dairy products,” she said of the study period ending in 2006.
“The CDC’s data shows that there were significant outbreaks of foodborne illness linked to pasteurized dairy products the very next year, in 2007: 135 people became ill from pasteurized cheese contaminated with e.coli, and three people died from pasteurized milk contaminated with listeria,” the Price Foundation report said.
And shortly before the time frame for the study, there were 16,000 confirmed cases of Salmonella traced to pasteurized milk from a single dairy, the foundation reported.
The foundation suggested that the time frame was picked by government reporters to portray raw milk in a negative light.
It was in another case that a judge ruled that Americans do not have a right to choose their food, not even when they own the cows and the milk.
The judge decided in a fight over families’ access to milk from cows they own that Americans “do not have a fundamental right to consume the milk from their own cow.”
Circuit Court Judge Patrick J. Fiedler said the families who reported they were boarding their cows for a fee and then getting the milk, instead were running a “dairy farm.”
The judge wrote:
The court denied plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, which means the following:
(1) no, plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to own and use a dairy cow or a diary (sic) herd;
(2) no, plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to consume the milk from their own cow;
(3) no, plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to board their cow at the farm of a farmer;
(4) no, the Zinniker plaintiffs’ private contract does not fall outside the scope of the state’s police power;
(5) no, plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to produce and consume the foods of their choice; and
“(6) no, the DATCP did not act in an ultra vires manner because it had jurisdiction to regulate the Zinniker plaintiffs’ conduct.