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Raw Milk Farmer’s Contempt Hearing Reset

A court hearing to determine whether Minnesota dairy farmer Michael Hartmann is in contempt of court has been postponed until March 10.

The contempt request is the latest in a conflict between Hartmann Dairy Farm and the state of Minnesota that dates back a decade, when Hartmann lost his Grade A dairy permit over unsanitary conditions. At issue now are impounded food products that disappeared from Hartmann’s farm.

In late December, after ruling that Hartmann’s milk was responsible for an E. coli outbreak, a district court judge said products being held at the farm should be destroyed.

According to an affidavit filed in Sibley County District Court, a state food inspection supervisor who tried to carry out that order said embargoed butter, ice cream and meat were gone, and only 2½ gallons of milk remained.

The state is asking that Hartmann account for the missing food, be held in contempt of court, and fined. A hearing originally set for Jan. 23 was delayed because of bad weather and then rescheduled again Thursday.

In May and June, 2010, after Hartmann’s farm was implicated in an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 that sickened at least eight people, including a 2-year-old child, the state’s Department of Agriculture (MDA) ordered Hartmann to stop selling unpasteurized milk until he cleaned up his farm.

Hartmann contested the order and continued to sell milk, which three months later was linked to seven more illnesses, including three people infected with Campylobacter, and four people infected with Cryptosporidium.

MDA also told Hartmann and his brother to comply with the state law that allows for the sale of unpasteurized milk only on the farm at which the milk was produced. The Hartmanns acknowledged in court testimony that they deliver most of  their products to customers at various drop-off locations.

In December, the court found that Hartmann’s unpasteurized milk was responsible for the 2010 E. coli outbreak.  Sibley County Judge Rex D. Stacey also said Minnesota public health officials were justified in seizing the farm’s raw milk products and ordered the products destroyed. The judge told Hartmann to pay the disposal costs.

Although the Hartmanns told the court they wanted to keep the embargoed dairy products for “personal use,” the judge wrote that “a claim that a family of four will personally consume 900 packages, forty-odd tubs and boxes of cheese and 76 cases of butter is not credible.”

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