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Raw Milk: Dairy Farmers Fighting Back in Wisconsin

By David E. Gumpert

From his blog, The Complete Patient.

The on-again-off-again enforcement activities by Wisconsin regulators against distributors of raw milk over the last four years have left at least two dairy farmers facing “a Hobson’s choice,” in the words of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund.

The legal defense organization invokes that phrase in a new suit filed in state court against the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP), on behalf of Kay and Wayne Craig, owners of a dairy farm and store in New Holstein, WI.

The suit asks the court to force DATCP to allow the Craigs to distribute raw milk from their store (open only to members of a limited liability company), without need for a retail license. The suit also seeks an injunction against DATCP to prevent it from enforcing its expanding ban on raw milk distribution against the Craigs. A court victory would strike a huge blow against DATCP’s tough campaign launched earlier this year against raw dairy producers in the state, following several years of allowing a few producers permission to distribute, and turning a blind eye to dozens and possibly hundreds of farmers selling raw milk directly to consumers.

According to FTCLDF lawyer, Gary Cox, “The suit seeks declarations that nobody is selling raw milk in violation of the law, and that the LLC store does not need to possess a ‘retail food establishment’ permit in order to operate. “

The FTCLDF essentially argues that the state since 2005 has been entirely inconsistent in its approach to allowing the dairy and store to sell raw milk—first explicitly allowing sales by the Craigs and then this year, reversing itself and refusing to renew the store’s retail licence. Now, in threatening to prohibit raw milk distribution, DATCP gives the Craigs “a Hobson’s choice, i.e., either comply with an unlawful interpretation of a statute or ignore the unlawful interpretation and face the possible consequences of noncompliance.”

Wayne Craig told me in November that he thought he was “next on DATCP’s list” for the lifting of his raw dairy license. This suit most immediately represents an effort to forestall such an effort for the Craigs, but if it’s successful, for possibly hundreds of Wisconsin dairies selling raw milk, now deemed to be in violation of state law.

Among those previously targeted have been Scott Trautman, a dairy farmer, and Max Kane, the owner of a buyers club, who has been ordered to appear in state court on Monday to explain why he shouldn’t divulge his customer list to DATCP. A number of protests are planned that day, including a courthouse rally prior to his appearance before a judge.

***

Separately, oral arguments of the appeal in the case involving Barb and Steve Smith’s Meadowsweet Dairy in upstate New York is due to be heard Jan. 13 before the state’s supreme court Jan. 13. The case has been dragging on for nearly two years.

***

These legal actions follow on the heels of the okay yesterday of raw milk in Framingham, MA, and a rescinding of potentially onerous rules in South Dakota, which I wrote about a few days ago in my posting about John Sheehan’s imaginary job performance review. Suddenly, it seems like lots of action on the raw milk legal and regulatory fronts.

***

A very incisive review of The Raw Milk Revolution (admittedly, I’m biased) from the popular site, Treehugger. But I appreciate it when reviewers are pleasantly surprised, per this comment:

“I entered this book expecting a treatise whose pages would be turned only by a compelling curiosity on the issue of raw milk. Instead, I found 228 pages packed with interesting and personal stories, knit together by an overarching philosophical question: can individual choice survive when the agents of government raise their sights against a minority practicing their beliefs?”
Photo: Wayne and Kay Craig, and family, at last month’s Weston A. Price Foundation conference.


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