Wisconsin Aims to Jail Amish Farmer

Amish Farmer

Story at-a-glance -

  • Wisconsin dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger provides raw milk to members of a private buying club; he was charged with four criminal misdemeanors and acquitted of three of them
  • The Wisconsin Department of Justice filed a motion to revoke Hershberger’s bail and instead send him to jail; fortunately he was sentenced to pay a $1,000 fine and avoided jail time
  • Regulators claim they are trying to protect public health, but properly produced raw milk is a safe, healthful food
  • The fight over raw milk stands as a symbol of the much larger fight for food freedom. Who gets to decide what you eat? You? Or your state and federal regulators?

By Dr. Mercola

As Americans increasingly seek access to healthful, fresh-from-the-farm foods like raw milk, private buying agreements like herdshares are becoming more popular. A herdshare is a private agreement between a farmer and an individual in which the farmer is paid to take care of an animal, a cow for example that belongs to one or more people.

You essentially pay a onetime purchase fee to “buy a share” of a farmer’s herd, which entitles you to the benefits of owning that cow, such as a certain amount of milk each week.

Wisconsin dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger provides food to members of such a private buying club, supplying them with fresh raw milk and produce.

If you believe that you have a right to eat what you want, without having to get the government’s permission first, it’s hard to imagine what could be wrong with such an agreement, but Wisconsin is one of a handful of states that is aggressively targeting raw-milk farmers, seeking to criminalize their peaceful practice of food production.

Vernon Hershberger’s case is particularly glaring, as even though a jury nullified the case, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) still tried to put him in jail.

Wisconsin Seeks to Jail Raw Milk Farmer After Jury Finds Him Innocent

On May 20, Hershberger’s trial began at the Sauk County Courthouse. He was charged with four criminal misdemeanors for supplying a private buying club with raw milk and other fresh produce.

  1. Operating a retail food establishment without a license
  2. Operating a dairy farm as a milk producer without a license
  3. Operating a dairy plant without a license
  4. Violating a holding order by removing the members’ food from the embargoed refrigerators

However, since Hershberger only supplies food to paid members in a private buying club, he has long maintained that he is not subject to state food regulations, and jurors must have agreed.

On May 25, he was acquitted of three charges of producing, processing and selling milk without state licenses. They did, however, find him guilty of violating a holding order, which required that he not sell any food or milk from his store as a condition of his bail.

Following a Capital Times online article in which it’s reported that Hershberger stated he had continued to supply his buying club members with fresh food all along, the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a motion to revoke Hershberger’s bail and instead send him to jail – after he’d already been acquitted!

Fortunately, Hershberger will not be going to jail for this “crime,” as on June 13 he was sentenced to pay a $1,000 fine plus $513 in court costs – avoiding jail time, probation and the maximum possible fine of $10,000.

Still, the fact that the motion was filed in the first place is deeply disturbing. The Cornucopia Institute reported:1

“Hershberger’s attorney, Glenn Reynolds, called the motion very disappointing because the bail terms he’s accused of violating are the same activities that led to the charges of which he was acquitted. ‘It seems vindictive in my view,’ he said. ‘He goes to trial and wins and now they want to put him in jail? What is the point of this sort of motion?’”

What’s the point is a very good question, indeed, as it seems clear the state is trying to take a stand against Hershberger for example’s sake … but why?

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How Can They Continue to Claim This Is About Safety?

One of the most common excuses given for why farmers are raided, prosecuted, and shut down is that raw foods may be potentially harmful to human health. But those buying these products are doing so willingly, in many cases travelling great distances to access these fresh-from-the-farm foods.

Wisconsin is not doing these food buyers any favors by taking away their right to fresh food. Instead, they are taking a stand against Hershberger because his acquittal could have a major impact on increasing raw milk sales in the state. As noted by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF):2

"'There is more at stake here than just a farmer and his few customers,' says Hershberger, 'this is about the fundamental right of farmers and consumers to engage in peaceful, private, mutually consenting agreements for food, without additional oversight.'"

Back in 2010, after weeks of lobbying by the Wisconsin dairy industry, former Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle vetoed a bill that would have made sale of on-the-farm raw milk legal, stating he "must side with public health and safety of the dairy industry."

But high-quality raw milk is no more a threat to public health than sunshine or natural supplements (against which similar “public-safety” wars have been aged). CDC data3 shows there are about 412 confirmed cases of people getting ill from pasteurized milk each year, while only about 116 illnesses a year are linked to raw milk. And research by Dr. Ted Beals, MD, featured in the summer 2011 issue of Wise Traditions,4 the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, shows that you are about 35,000 times more likely to get sick from other foods than you are from raw milk!

So when officials say they are siding with public health and the safety of the dairy industry, they are really only siding with the dairy industry, in an attempt to protect them from all competition. The reason why small-scale organic, raw dairy farms are so threatening to the dairy industry is because they simply cannot produce safe raw milk in a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO). Cows raised under such conditions produce milk that must be pasteurized in order to be safe to drink, as the unnatural diet and environment dramatically alters the nutritional and bacterial composition of the milk, making it otherwise unfit to drink.

The FDA Is Leading the War Against Raw Milk

State-level efforts against raw milk are only part of a larger problem, which is the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) 25-year-old regulation banning raw milk for human consumption in interstate commerce. But even this is up for challenge. Pete Kennedy, president of FTCLDF wrote:

At the federal level, a bill that would repeal the interstate ban has been introduced the last two sessions of Congress and will likely be reintroduced this session; the bill would allow raw milk to be taken across state lines either by consumers or their agents who obtain it in another state or by producers or their agents delivering it to consumers in another state. The bill would not affect the power of states to determine whether the sale of raw milk would be illegal within its borders.”

Currently, legislation that would either legalize or expand the sale of raw milk has been introduced in Arkansas, Hawaii, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Montana, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, and Wyoming. A bill is also expected to be filed shortly in Wisconsin, according to Kennedy. Many are simply getting fed up with the FDA and their state governments trying to dictate what its residents are allowed to eat. This is not an issue of a few “rogue” farmers trying to sell an illegal product; it’s an issue of food freedom. Kennedy continued:

The fight over raw milk stands as a symbol of the much larger fight for food freedom. Who gets to decide what you eat? You? Or the FDA? If the FDA and state agencies are allowed to impose their view of ‘safe food’ on consumers, raw milk won’t be the only thing lost – all our food will be pasteurized, irradiated, and genetically engineered. The effort to reclaim our right to buy and consume raw milk is leading the way for everyone who wants to be able to obtain the food of their choice from the source of their choice.”

Right now, your food freedom is on the chopping block. In North Dakota, a new bill threatens to make herdshare illegal.5 In New Mexico, a bill has been introduced that would ban the sale of raw milk, while a proposed regulation in Illinois that is currently in the drafting stage would similarly restrict access to raw milk. So the time to take action is now

Stand Up for Your Right to Food Freedom

The effort to reclaim your right to buy and consume raw milk is leading the way for everyone who wants to be able to obtain the food of their choice from the source of their choice. So please, get involved! I urge you to embrace the following action plan to protect your right to choose your own foods:

  1. Get informed: Visit www.farmtoconsumer.org or click here to sign up for action alerts.
  2. Join the fight for your rights: The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) is the only organization of its kind. This 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization provides a legal defense for farmers who are being pursued by the government for distributing foods directly to consumers. Your donations, although not tax deductible, will be used to support the litigation, legislative, and lobbying efforts of the FTCLDF. For a summary of FTCLDF’s activities in 2012, see this link.
  3. Support your local farmers: Buy from local farmers, not the industry that is working with the government to take away your freedoms.