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Prosecuting Raw Dairy Farmers Becoming Unfashionable, Except in Minnesota

mnmilkseizure.jpg

MN Milk Seizure

MDA inspector James Roettger in a familiar pose: seizing milk from farmer Michael Hartmann in 2010. The Complete Patient.

Around the country, signs are mounting of a growing refusal by law enforcement officials to mount legal actions against small producers of raw milk. Consider:

• In Illinois,  where tough new regulations on raw milk were being prepared over the previous two years, regulators have backed off in the absence of a “prosecutorial imperative” (as one public health official put it) to go after small dairies selling directly from their farms.

• In California, it’s been nearly five years since regulators and prosecutors issued several “cease-and-desist” orders against raw milk herd share operators. Many herd share operators say they owe the subsequent peace to a lack of willingness of local district attorneys to prosecute, and the absence of illnesses associated with California herd shares.

• In Minnesota, the local sheriff’s office in the northeastern part of the state has twice in the previous year refused to enforce requests from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to carry out inspections on raw-dairy Lake View Natural Dairy, in the tiny town of Grand Marais. In the second attempt, last October, sheriff’s deputies wouldn’t assist MDA inspectors attempting to serve a court order to enforce inspections on farmer David Berglund after he informed the sheriff he thought he was protected from inspections by the Minnesota Constitution. These sheriff actions are likely the first time in the U.S. that law enforcement officers have refused requests from agriculture regulators to accompany them to crack down on a producer of raw milk.

While regulators in Illinois and California have taken the hint, and remained on the sidelines, those in Minnesota—well known for their aggressiveness in pursuing raw-dairy farmers like Alvin Schlangen and Michael Hartmann—have taken the sheriff-farmer pushback like dogs having their food bowls removed in the midst of dinner. They’re flashing their teeth and growling, and have sought contempt-of-court charges against Berglund.

A court hearing is scheduled March 9 on the contempt charges. The one tactic MDA has changed over its pursuit of Schlangen and Hartmann is to drop its threat to jail the farmers and instead threaten to bankrupt Berglund via a $500-per-day fine for failure to comply with the inspection order. A big crowd of supporters is expected on behalf of Berglund in the tightly-knit rural community of Cook County. (For more about the Berglund case, see the web site by supporter Greg Gentz, a former law enforcement member and a post by Liz Reitzig at the Nourishing Liberty blog.)