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Upcoming criminal trial of Loganville dairy - What is behind it and why we should care

Jan. 17, 2013 | 0 comments

A commentary by Margo Redmond, of the Wisconsin Raw Milk Association.

"If people let the government decide what foods they eat … their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny." (Thomas Jefferson)

What is the legitimate role of public health authorities in protecting us, and when does it cross the line into controlling us?

It has crossed the line with dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger, who provides milk to his and at least 100 other families that have purchased cow shares.

He goes on trial May 20 at the Baraboo Courthouse for the crime of selling natural (raw) milk products (without a license) from his Loganville farm.

Hershberger is not pushing his products to an unsuspecting public on street corners in downtown Waupaca and other Wisconsin cities. He is merely responding to market pressure from informed individuals who prefer natural to pasteurized milk because they consider it tasty and healthy, provided cows are kept clean and well.

The fact that Hershberger's 10 children drink his milk is reason enough for others to trust it.

They are beating down his barn door for the sweet white frothy bovine brew that many a Wisconsin farm kid grew up on without incident of illness and that was delivered until about 1950, unpasteurized, by many Wisconsin milk men.

And, indeed, statistics from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) show risk of illness from raw milk is small.

We are 35,000 times more likely to get sick from foods other than raw milk, with contaminated produce leading. In 50 years no one has died from drinking raw milk, and of the 48 million people who in 2010 had even minor food-borne illness, only 50 cases involved raw milk.

Why, then, is the Federal Food and Drug Administration and its state counterpart, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP), spending so much time and tax money suppressing limited raw milk sales to the 3 percent of the population that, knowing the small risks, want it?

These agencies say they protect public health. But a closer look shows they protect the economic interests of corporate dairies, a powerful lobby in this state.

The Wisconsin Farm Bureau is an advocate of corporate farming. Two years ago I spoke with Jeff Lyons while he was assigned to the raw milk issue at the Bureau. (He is now second in command at DATCP.)

I asked him if the Bureau represented all farmers. He replied that small family farms were an anachronism and should go the way of corporate farming.

I could tell he considered me a romantic for saying I missed seeing cows grazing on Wisconsin grass. But that nourishes them and, in turn, us. I do not apologize for using animal products and even eating them, but I believe they are in return owed a natural, decent life.

They do not get it in a corporate dairy. There they live out three to five years of their 15-year natural life span in small spaces in huge barns, where they are given feed their digestive systems are not designed for.

There they are pumped full of hormones to make them over-produce milk and antibiotics to counteract the sickness that visits them in their confined pens. What we put in the cow goes into the milk that goes into us.

Then, when we pasteurize it, we kill most of the probiotics (good bacteria) that promote health (and control bad bacteria), as well as vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. Most nutrients on store milk labels are synthetic additives.

No wonder raw milk demand is growing, even as suppression grows.

The Hershberger trial is bigger than Hershberger. It's about how free we really are in a free society to do our own thing as long as it doesn't harm our neighbor.

From the other side, it's about how much market share can be grabbed and how much food choice can be controlled under pretence of protecting public health.

Bureaucrats in regulatory agencies like DATCP make rules, without public input, that are treated like laws. Violation of these rules is not the big crime they would have us think it is.

The public should know that it is free to determine cases, not just on whether a rule has been broken but on whether that rule is justly applied.

For example, during prohibition 30 percent of juries refused to convict their neighbors of buying or selling alcohol. This contributed to the 1933 repeal of prohibition.

Bad laws erode respect for all law, and, after years of allowing limited raw milk sales, recent DATCP administrators have instituted a bad law to prohibit them. Now to enforce their bad law, they are ready to put a good man (the father of 10 children) in jail.

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