The long-delayed trial for a Wisconsin farmer accused of selling milk is scheduled to begin soon amid the protests of supporters who believe authorities are stepping over the line.
The Wisconsin Department of Agricultural Trade and Consumer Protection has charged Vernon Hershberger with selling milk without a retail license.
His argument? He was only providing food products to paid members in a private buying club that should not fall under the state’s commercial retail regulations.
The trial originally was scheduled for last year.
Now, activists plan to meet May 20 in Baraboo, Wis., to support Hershberger, who is to face the beginning of a trial that day on four criminal misdemeanors that carry the penalty of up to 30 months in jail with fines of more than $10,000.
State officials allege he was running a retail food establishment without a license.
“There is more at stake here than just a farmer and his few customers,” said Hershberger, “This is about the fundamental right of farmers and consumers to engage in peaceful, private, mutually consenting agreements for food, without additional oversight.”
Last year, food-rights activists from around the country stood in support of Hershberger at a pre-trial hearing. They read and signed a “Declaration of Food Independence” that asserts inherent rights in food choice.
After court proceedings each day during the trial, activists and others will gather at the Al Ringling Theater across the street from the courthouse and hear presentations by leaders in the food-rights movement. Notable speakers include Virginia farmer Joel Salatin, Mountain Man show star Eustace Conway and Maine food-rights organizer Deborah Evans.
Hershberger, like several others around the country, is facing charges for providing fresh foods to customers. In recent months the Food and Drug Administration has conducted several undercover sting operations and raids against farmers and buying clubs that have resulted in farms shutting down and consumers without access to the food they depend on.
WND has reported on the dispute that has swept across the country.
The Farm to Consumers Legal Defense Fund said the case already has created ripples across the industry.
In Wisconsin, while the state Department of Agriculture “once supported farmers who offered raw dairy through direct-to-consumer sales,” the state agency has reversed its position under pressure from the FDA.
When the state legislature tried to block the newly developing crackdown on farmers who provide their products directly to consumers, the governor vetoed the proposal.
In the case, the state of Wisconsin is arguing it can regulate when consumers gain access to such products through private deals.
Pete Kennedy in a Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund commentary on the case wrote that the evidence will show that Hershberger had private contractual arrangements with the purchasers to provide the food.
“If Hershberger is convicted of the charges against him, it could have a chilling effect on consumer access to raw milk for those who don’t own and board their own cows. The farmer currently is leasing his cows to the Right to Choose Healthy Food Buyers Club,” he said earlier as the case was beginning to develop.
Kennedy noted that in a similar argument, a Dane County Circuit Court judge ruled that “owners of cows boarded at the Zinniker farm in Elkhorn could not legally obtain raw milk produced by their own cows at the farm.”
WND previously reported when the Weston A. Price Foundation criticized a federal study about outbreaks of illness blamed 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 skewed because of the way federal report 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 the judge ruled that Americans simply 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.”
“It’s always a surprise when a judge says you don’t have the fundamental right to consume the foods of your choice,” said Kennedy.
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.