Acquitted on Three of Four Charges
In what Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund vice president Elizabeth Rich called a victory for the food rights movement, a Sauk County jury acquitted dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger on three of four criminal charges for violations of the Wisconsin food and dairy code after a contentious five-day trial.
Hershberger was acquitted on charges of operating a farm store without a retail food establishment permit, operating a dairy farm without a milk producer license and operating a dairy plant facility without a license. He was convicted of violating a hold order that Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) officials had placed on food in his on-farm store during a June 2010 raid; Hershberger removed tape that had been put on store refrigerators. Hershberger leases cows to members of a private buyers club and provides raw dairy products and other nutrient-dense foods to club members at the farm store. A sentencing date has not been scheduled.
The jury’s verdict sets a major precedent in distinguishing between those producing and selling food to the public and those producing and distributing food through a private contractual arrangement (e.g., agreement with a food buyers club). DATCP had claimed broad regulatory powers over operations like Hershberger’s asserting that it has jurisdiction over any dairy farm producing milk where any of the milk leaves the farm premise. With its powerful dairy lobby, Wisconsin has been one of the most draconian states in limiting raw milk sales and distribution.
Hershberger’s lead attorney in the case Glen Reynolds said, “This is as close to Prohibition as anything I have ever seen, but this time it’s milk and an Amish farmer rather than liquor and gangsters.”
The verdict should be a major step in increasing the freedom of people around the country to be able to obtain the foods of their choice from the source of their choice regardless of whether that source has a license from the state. This should advance the right to be left alone by the government when two parties enter into a private contract for food.
Congratulations to Vernon Hershberger for his courage in standing up to an agency trying to deny freedom of choice and to the members of his buyers club for the support they have given their farmer. Congratulations to attorneys Glenn Reynolds and Elizabeth Rich for their great work in representing Hershberger and to attorneys Amy Salberg and Anja Wilson for their help in the case. Congratulations to Liz Reitzig, Gayle Loiselle and the others who planned the events of Grow Your Food Freedom Week in support of Vernon Hershberger.
It’s a great day!
Vernon’s response to the verdict: “Praise the Lord! Now I can feed my community again.”