Dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger was acquitted on 3 out of 4 charges in a jury trial in Baraboo early Saturday.
The one thing he was found guilty of was “holding” – – which means that after DATCP placed tape seals on his products and ordered him to not break those seals, he defied them and shared those products.
What does all of this really mean?
It means that DATCP – and by “DATCP” I really mean “dairy corporations” – can not control every single glass of milk produced in Wisconsin.
It also means that Hershberger can sell raw milk to a private buying club.
From the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund:
“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). DATCP had claimed broad regulatory powers over operations like Hershberger’s asserting that it has jurisdiction over any dairy farm producing milk where any of the milk leaves the farm premise.”
DATCP [The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection] acted as if Hershberger’s enterprise was under its regulatory purview. But if they can not prove he was operating a ‘farm store’ without a permit or a ‘dairy farm’ without a ‘milk producer license’ or that he was operating a ‘dairy plant facility’ without a license, then….
This is likely a temporary state of grace soon to be set back by the State.
If the legislature decides to serve us, it will propose a raw milk bill that allows for buying club sales from the farm but under tightly regulated conditions – conditions that give public health advocates some assurances but still allow small dairies in Wisconsin to turn a healthy profit.
If the state legislature decides instead to serve dairy corporations, it will now attempt to just about outlaw on-farm private buying clubs. But that would not sit well with the Governor’s hard right-wing base.
Censorship on Raw Milk?
If you’ve seen any of the online dialog on this trial or articles during the week, you probably noticed that discussion of raw milk itself inside the courtroom was strictly off limits.
This description by Isthmus writer André Darlington reminds me of the sadness and/or frustration we now expect to feel when we watch the Wisconsin legislature:
“In the courtroom, the constant objections by prosecutors — which are largely sustained by Judge Guy Reynolds — elicit visceral reactions. There are chuckles when the absurdities of the proceedings reach a peak, and there are audible groans when the prosecutors’ arguments seem bent on concealing the facts of the case. Tuesday, after an exchange between prosecutors and defense, a woman in the gallery began to softly cry.”
Writer David Gumpert also wrote of that frustration but picked up on the method within the madness when he wrote,
“To my un-legal mind, it seems as if the judge’s decision will allow the trial to focus on the issues of licensing, permits, and government regulation of food, possibly addressing the larger question of whether farmers and consumers can engage in private contractual transactions, outside the public regulatory system.”
David Gumpert has the best ‘goods’ on what happened in this trial. I suggest you start out with the post “Hershberger victory for private food rights sends message that people can, and will, fight overbearing regulators” at The Complete Patient,
and then go back in time to read the rest of his posts on the trial in sequence.
The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund provided Hershberger’s legal representation.
A Bit of History
In 2010 a raw milk bill made it all the way to Governor Doyle’s desk only to be vetoed because, according to Doyle, one outbreak of disease as a result of raw milk sales in Wisconsin could destroy the entire dairy industry’s image.
Cap Times reported that the Wisconsin bill “would have allowed farms with a Grade A classification to sell raw milk. That classification, the most stringent, allows for up to 100,000 bacteria per milliliter.” The proposed legislation of 2010 also constricted the raw milk market to on farm sales – no supermarkets allowed.
I have to wonder why the proposed 2010 bill did not propose restrictions at least as tight as California’s? California allows for raw milk for human consumption but it can have no “greater than 10 coliform bacteria/mL and not greater than 15,000 bacteria/mL”.
“DATCP, bowing to common sense, largely did not enforce the law until 2009 when new bureaucrats got a toehold in the Division of Food Safety.” – SOURCE