Farmer Acquitted of Producing Milk Without License

May 28, 2013

28 May (WASHINGTON EXAMINER) - It is a sad fact of modern life that seemingly everything is both heavily regulated by the government and politicized. This applies to, yes, even cow’s milk. Witness the case of Wisconsin farmer Vernon Hershberger, who was prosecuted for selling raw milk to willing consumers — in this case friends and neighbors.   The Wall Street Journal reports that jurors found Vernon Hershberger, a 41-year-old Loganville, Wis., farmer, innocent of producing milk without a license, selling milk and cheese products without a license, and operating a retail establishment without a license. He was found guilty of one count of breaking a holding order issued by the state in June 2010, which barred him from moving any of the food he produced without a license.

The verdict means Mr. Hershberger can continue to sell his farm’s products to members of the buying club he started, said one of his attorneys, Elizabeth Rich. He faces as long as a year in jail and $10,000 in fines for the one guilty count; a sentencing date has yet to be announced.  

“This is a huge win for food rights,” said Liz Reitzig, a founder of Farm Food Freedom Coalition, a group advocating for greater consumer access to natural, unprocessed food. The case “should give small farmers renewed courage to continue to operate within their communities.”

 Milk is commonly pasteurized to remove harmful bacteria, but advocates of raw milk say the process also wipes out many beneficial nutrients. Raw milk can be consumed on the farm but can’t be sold legally in many states, including Wisconsin. 

 The case followed a nearly four-year investigation of Mr. Hershberger and his farm, Grazin Acres LLC, by the state, the No. 2 dairy producer after California. During deliberations, which capped a five-day trial in Sauk County Circuit Court, dozens of farmers, food-rights activists and Hershberger family members filled the courthouse, sharing raw milk from Mr. Hershberger’s farm.  

The prosecution might have made sense if the consumers were not aware that the milk was not pasteurized but there is no evidence that was the case. In fact, it appears that people bought Hershberger’s product precisely because it was raw. The milk was apparently sold to only 200 people that Hershberger considered “part owners in the farm.”  

So, why was the state eager to prosecute Hershberger? As the Journal article notes, it is being lobbied to do so by the “Wisconsin Safe Milk Coalition,” an industry lobbying group that doesn’t like competition from raw milk farms and is trying to bully them.  

Meanwhile, many vegetarians and radical animal rights activists are anti-milk, arguing that drinking any form of it is both unhealthy and cruel to cows. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals once went so far as to urge college students to drink beer instead. (As if they needed any encouragement to do that.)