Raw Milk Trial Ends in Partial Victory for Farmer

Wisconsin dairy farmer voted not guilty on three out of four charges.

As the jury sat in deliberation around 9 p.m. Friday, dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger stood in a prayer circle with his family, holding hands in a room just downstairs from where he’d hear the verdict of the case against him – in a trial the state insisted was definitely not about raw milk.

After five days of testimony, the jury took four hours to find Hershberger not guilty of three misdemeanor licensing charges and guilty of one misdemeanor violation of a state Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection hold order. Judge Guy Reynolds said sentencing would occur at a later date. Hershberger faces up to a year in jail and a $10,000 fine.

Still, Hershberger walked out of the Sauk County Courthouse beaming and was greeted by a congregation of family and supporters who cheered when he stepped outside. It’s been a long three years, he said.

“I’m excited to get home on the farm and be a farmer again,” Hershberger, 41, told Wisconsin Reporter on the steps in front of the courthouse. “There’s a lot of farmers hurting out there. They need something like this.”

The state accused Hershberger of not having a license from Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to operate a retail food establishment, a dairy plant or to operate as a dairy producer. It also said Hershberger violated a holding order when he broke DATCP-placed seals on the food in his pantry after a raid.

But Hershberger and his many supporters saw the agency’s actions as government abuse and an assault on the right to consume the food of one’s choosing – in this case, raw milk – a phrase that the judge in the case ordered off limits during the trial.

“This is one of the most abusive, most incomprehensible uses of government power I’ve ever seen,” said Hershberger’s attorney Glenn Reynolds. He said the case was a “pathetic use” of state resources and the prosecution of it was “words put together without substance.”

Reynold’s blasted the “schizophrenic” ag and trade agency and the “abusive” state in his nearly 40-minute closing arguments.

The issue, according to the defense, was not compliance; it was an assault on the freedom to choose and freedom of association. Reynolds dismissed the state’s attempt to tag Hershberger a criminal as “Orwellian newspeak.”

“You saw the video of the Hershberger’s two boys watching with shocked faces as Cathy Anderson (of DATCP) steps back from bulk tank, and boom, throws in blue dye and ruins 2,000 pounds of milk,” Reynolds said.

Hershberger testified that DATCP led him to the milk room, to what he thought was an inspection of his cows. Instead they dumped blue dye in the raw milk in his bulk tank to make sure it wouldn’t be consumed.

Reynolds asked the jury to “vote your conscience and send Mr. Hershberger back to his family an innocent man.”

The jury, for the most part agreed with Reynolds, although the guilty verdict for breaking the DATCP seals carries a jail sentence. Still, Reynolds said the verdict was a “great victory” for Hershberger and for other farmers.

The state tried to convince the jury that Hershberger might be a nice guy, but he broke the law.

“Did he have a retail food establishment license? No….Did he operate as a retail food establishment, dairy producer, or a dairy plant? Yes, on all three,” said Eric Defort, assistant attorney general.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Warrren||

    Ha ha!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    “This is one of the most abusive, most incomprehensible uses of government power I’ve ever seen,” said Hershberger’s attorney Glenn Reynolds.

    He's not wrong, and that's a pretty high bar. The amount of public resources put into this bullshit has to exceed the ten grand in fine the state might recoup. But I'm sure in the end it's all worth it to put someone in jail FOR ENGAGING IN A MUTUAL TRANSACTION INVOLVING MILK, for fuck sake.

  • Warrren||

    It's not about the fine it's about the protectionism.

    The money made by the government side is the contributions to politicians who make these sorts of laws and keep them from being changed or repealed and they could not give even the tiniest of micro-fucks about the dead-weight loss to taxpayers or consumers.

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    Every licensing scheme has these liberty-killing traits. Every single one of them. As a 'tribute' to propaganda effectiveness, of a sort, there are plenty of license large numbers of libertarians, even the elite ranks of libertarians, find just fine and dandy.

    Take all of the wrongs highlighted by Ryan in this story and see how they evaporate when the issue becomes travel or relationships.

    So too what you notice, Warren. The politicians and their bureaucratic legions, create an environment where "jut a little more licensing" is perceived as increasing liberty.

  • JW||

    It's not about the fine it's about the protectionism.

    It's also about the power. Can't let those prole get too uppity.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Mr. Hershberger and his family, and his customers, could use religious-freedoms tactics as listed in the web site http://www.churchofsqrls.com/ … Search there for full details, search for “raw milk”… In brief, every customer should be required to swear an Oath to Government Almighty (ideally in the exact same format as would be used in the would-be-prosecuting court) that they want to buy the milk for religious rituals, and not for human consumption. Archive off-site, all such recordings from customers. Then when customers turn out to be Government Almighty rat finks instead, trot out the video in court… And challenge the jury about, just WHY should they believe ANYTHING that the rat finks have to say? It could work, it really could! Search http://www.churchofsqrls.com/ for “raw milk”, all the details are there…

  • ||

    I resent this article distracting from the only truly important issue of our time!

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    Can raw milk be used as a contraceptive or to induce abortion?

  • sarcasmic||

    Obviously not. If it was then it would be subsidized.

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    Or at the very least, licensed and taxed.

  • Homple||

    Oddly enough one of the disease vectors destroyed in pasteurization of milk is the Brucella Abortus bacterium. It causes spontaneous abortions in cows and Undulant Fever in humans.

    Raw milk is fine if you know that it comes from cattle free of Brucellosis, Tuberculosis, and some other milk borne diseases.

    Of course, I abhor government interference with your right to acquire tuberculosis. Seriously.

  • An0nB0t||

    If only the government would interfere with your bad decision/right to spew authoritarian dreck on the internet, we wouldn't have to listen to it.

    Seriously.

  • Homple||

    You misunderstand me, as far as I'm concerned, anyone who wants to can drink all the raw milk they can swallow and the government can get out of the business of hindering them. I was raised on the stuff, but it came from our own cows and we knew they were healthy.

    I only advise people to be aware of and minimize such risks to their health as they want to minimize.

  • An0nB0t||

    If only the state would interfere with your bad decision/right to spew authoritarian dreck on the internet, we wouldn't have to listen to it.

    Seriously.

  • ||

    Saying something is a bad idea isn't authoritarian. Disapproval /=/ desire to force out of existence. For a commenter at Reason....

  • mike c.||

    Has anyone clicked on the SQRL link?

  • Ted S.||

    You go first.

  • db||

    Asps. Very Dangerous.

  • JW||

    Squirrels. Why did it have to be squirrels?

  • SQRLSY One||

    Why Squirrels? Because the "Church" of Scientology, for a LONG, time, dating all the way back to chief nut-job Hubba-Bubba, has called those of us who want to “steal technology from the Church of Scientology”, yes, “squirrels”… But actually SQRLS stands for Scienfoologists Questing for Religious Liberty, Sincerely… So glad you asked! -Chief Nut Job of Scienfoology, The SQRLSy One

  • sarcasmic||

    How dare he engage in economic activity without asking permission and taking orders!

    The fuck does he think this is? A free country?

  • np||

    Raw milk is a vice! Therefore, it does not qualify as an economic activity! It is license, not liberty! That's why we need licensing, duh. It's too dangerous to go unchecked.

    (More seriously, this is why it is inaccurate and foolish to separate economic liberties, which simply entails mutual exchange, and personal or individual liberties)

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    More seriously, this is why it is inaccurate and foolish to separate economic liberties, which simply entails mutual exchange, and personal or individual liberties

    True, separating liberties in that manner only serves to give openings to those who want to restrict liberty.

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    Licensing of milk does not restrict one's right to consume whatever they like. Same as licensing the operation of one's motor vehicles does not restrict one's right to travel. (continuing the sarcasm)

  • sarcasmic||

    You are free to do all those things and more, provided you first ask permission.

    And once you have asked permission you are free to continue to do all those things and more, provided you take orders from the people who gave you permission.

    You can do it your own way, if it's done just how I say.

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    Of course, asking permission is never enough. You must be granted permission after asking. The words "shall not be infringed" were written like 100 years ago and they don't mean what people think they mean anyway.

  • Otto Partz||

    Government drones can't mind their own damn business.

  • db||

    Don't you White Folks know nuthin? That cocksucka not only mean an' dangerous, he ignint in regards to the preparashum of foodstuffs! Even in San Quentim, I never seen no nobody eat a raw chitlin! That muthafucker be crazy! And when that garbage make it' way th'u da digestshum process, you best be hopin' you on yo' way outta heah!

  • WomSom||

    Sounds like one heck of a trip to me dude.

    www.GetYourAnon.tk

  • VG Zaytsev||

    No one was allowed to talk about raw milk...

    So WTF is up the judge being able to restrict the central point of the case from the trial?

    Seriously, it would be like banning any mention of death in a murder trial.

  • juris imprudent||

    I'm thinking the prosecutor has some incriminating photos on file.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    I speculate that it's something like this - he is accused of operating illegally without a license, and if that charge is true he wouldn't be allowed to sell milk of any kind, raw or otherwise. Therefore there is no point in discussing whether he might have sold raw milk had he possessed a license. Since he didn't.

    "if you think you can think about something which is attached to something else without thinking about what it is attached to, then you have what is called a legal mind." - Thomas Reed Powell

  • Robert||

    I'd drink blue milk. Wouldn't kids love it for the novelty if nothing else?

  • SQRLSY One||

    Drink blue milk, are you kidding me?!?! Read your James Bovard tales about the booze prohibition era, the anti-boozer moralizer enforcers CELEBRATED when they heard of people dying from methanol poisoning! Treat the bah-stahds right, they get what they deserve! “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime”! So Government Almighty-type folks will just be ecstatically happy to go ahead and add lethal poisons to their blue milk-dyes, just go ahead and kill the law-breaking scum who DARE to drink raw milk without the blessings of Government Almighty! Do NOT disobey, or we’ll kill you! Government Almighty is a Mighty Jealous God, and will stand for NO competitors! Get it straight now! Love Government Almighty, it loves you back! Hate it, and it will kill you! Submit NOW!

  • SQRLSY One||

    PS, did y’all ever think about this? For decades by now, if you buy “pure” ethanol for chemistry or scientific or industrial purposes, Government Almighty POISONS it before you buy it! The polite word is that they “denature” it… Government Almighty loves you SO much, that they want to kill you if you drink this stuff! But if they only half-kill you, they’ll make sure you get good health care. Ain’t guv-mint just GRAND!?!?

  • Jayburd||

    C.jejuni outbreaks in Alaska.

  • crunchy.mama||

    The food he was charged with violating the hold order on represented not only his livelihood but his family and his children's families main nutrient base. In other words, it not only shut down his business operations, but locked his personal store as well. Should he have bought grocery store consumables to replace the food he produced but was not allowed to consume? I hope they will appeal. A trial about selling raw milk, where the words raw milk cannot be uttered. Absurd.

  • OBD2 Scanner||

    vote your conscience and send Mr. Hershberger back to his family an innocent man.
    http://5054a.wordpress.com/

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement