A Wisconsin Victory for Raw Milk

Good news for raw milk consumers and advocates.

Raw milk consumers and advocates have both deserved and needed of taste of good news for some time now. Last week, they got their wish.

That's when a Wisconsin jury found area farmer and activist Vernon Hershberger not guilty of three out of four criminal charges against him. The case, in which the state argued that Hershberger had been producing and selling milk without the proper licenses, galvanized small farm advocates and consumers of raw milk around the country and garnered coverage in The Wall Street Journal, NPR, and other national outlets.

Hershberger faced criminal charges for allegedly operating a retail store without a license, operating a dairy plant without a license, producing milk without a license, and violating a “holding order” issued by the state that required him literally to hold perishable food on his farm while the state decided what—if anything—he could do with it.

If found guilty of the charges, Hershberger could have faced more than one year in state prison.

Hershberger’s defense was that he provided milk only to members of a buyer’s club and so was not a retail store or dairy plant.

Hershberger admitted on the stand that he violated the latter order. And, in fact, that was the only count the court found he had violated.

According to reports, the jury ruled on the merits that Hershberger’s buying club meant he didn’t need a license to produce milk and that because he never operated a retail store or a dairy plant he didn’t need a license related to either of those businesses, either.

Hershberger still faces the specter of jail time and a heavy fine for the one guilty count.

The jury’s decision may not be a complete victory for Hershberter. But the jury's decision also doesn’t just get Hershberger off the hook retrospectively. Importantly, it means Hershberger can continue to provide raw milk to members of his buyer’s club—something he’s been doing all along and plans on continuing to do.

That key victory for the future of raw milk has resonated beyond the courtroom, throughout Wisconsin, and across the country.

“The Hershberger trial is a clear indication that people are tired of government agencies criminalizing peaceful farmers for feeding their communities,” says Liz Reitzig, co-founder of Farm Food Freedom Coalition, who helped organize supporters of Hershberger in Wisconsin, in an email to me earlier this week. “This is a huge win for food freedom and personal liberties.”

“The jury verdict in the Vernon Hershberger trial is a victory for 'food sovereignty,'” says David Gumpert, author of the books The Raw Milk Revolution and the forthcoming Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights, by email. “It sends a message to regulators, prosecutors, and judges alike that ordinary people are determined to retain the right to obtain food privately, directly from producers, outside the bounds of regulator restrictions and over-zealous enforcement.”

It’s those regulators and enforcers who have been a constant headache for raw milk producers and consumers.

I noted in a column last year many “recent setbacks” for raw milk supporters. For example, as I wrote in that column, another raw milk case out of Wisconsin (which I posited at the time was and still believe is a blessing in disguise) held they had no fundamental right “to consume the milk from their own cow” or “to produce and consume the foods of their choice.”

Simply put, Vernon Hershberger and his supporters have turned that tide—and not just in Wisconsin.

“It's the greatest court victory for the raw milk movement in the United States,” said Pete Kennedy, an attorney who leads the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, which represented Hershberger at trial, in a phone call with me earlier this week.

I agree. The Wisconsin victory for lactose tolerance and food freedom will reverberate for years to come.

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  • Ted S.||

    It won't be a true victory until we can all get raw milk from our local food truck.

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    (Go to site and open "Home" for details)

  • Bill||

    Raw milk? That's practically poison, isn't it?

  • Ted S.||

    Nah; this is poison.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Not necessarily. I think that the people who claim all kinds of health benefits for it are deluded, and they are running serious food poisoning risks, but milk was drunk for a loooooong time before pasteurization, and the race survived.

    This isn't a case of Government Conspiracy To Keep The Wonderful Truth Hidden. It's just a case of the government should not always prevent people from doing stupid things.

  • Sevo||

    Odwalla was so 'natural' they didn't pasteurize their juices until 1997; one person died in 1996.
    I'll stick with pasteurized milk, but still hope the gov't keeps its nose out of my business.

  • John Galt||

    A little risk, or even alot, is always preferable a life in which Nanny makes all the choices.

  • Homple||

    Raw milk consumers would be wise to verify that their suppliers' herds are free of tuberculosis and Bang's disease and that the milk is produced in sanitary conditions. Wherever there are cows there is cow shit.

  • Kevin47||

    Define "serious". Mostly, they are running a small risk of diarrhea, the prevalence of which among raw milk drinkers is used by regulators to drive hysteria. OMGZ! Thousands of people get sick from raw milk every year, with maladies such as Salmonella!

  • seguin||

  • Ted S.||

  • GroundTruth||

    Sad to see so many of our number buying in to the USDA propaganda. Recall that the problem that resulted in mandatory pasteurization was poor production conditions from unhealthy animals.

    If one knows the source and provenance of the milk, then pasteurization is choice that need not be made.

  • WomSom||

    Wow, I never even thought about it liek that.

    www.WorldPrivacy.tk

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Once the government began licensing food producers, the threat of food poisoning was eliminated.

    And they all lived happily ever after.

  • John Galt||

    Ha ha ha!

  • Ray||

    The cosmo/paleo coalition has great prospects for reformation due to this most critical of issues - raw milk.

  • SweatingGin||

    And food trucks!

  • Ray||

    Nah, only cosmos care about food trucks.

  • SweatingGin||

    I'd love to hear interviews with the jury after this is entirely over.

    "When they got to the middle of a statement, and removed you from the court room, what did you think they were talking about?"

    "Did you figure out this was about raw milk?"

  • John Thacker||

    I wonder how many of them, if any, refused to convict just because of that sort of BS of not letting them hear the real charged.

  • Bernieyeball||

    Cows milk is for baby cows...

  • Generic Stranger||

    I've always hated this statement. It's fucking retarded - all of our food products were "naturally" intended for something other than food. Grains are seeds meant for producing more plants, not feeding humans. Leaves are for producing chemical energy for plants, not for feeding humans. Tubers and other edible roots are for transporting food and neutrients to the plant, not for feeding humans, etc. etc. You get the idea.

    To hell with baby cows. Most dairy cows have been bred to produce way more than they need to raise their offspring, anyway.

  • ZackTheHypochondriac||

    great points GS, I hope you don't mind me using them if someone brings it up. That being said I've been trying to give up dairy(milk etc is easy, it's quitting cheese that's killing me) but I still hate the appeal to nature/god's will fallacy, it is probably one of the most harmful ones out there.

  • carolacosta1||

    my buddy's aunt makes $76 every hour on the computer. She has been out of a job for seven months but last month her check was $14817 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read more here... http://www.Taz1.com

  • 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…

  • Libr8r||

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