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Letter From The Editor: Minnesota Nice

Musings about the raw milk jury verdict in Minneapolis

Opinion

About five years ago, I was on a jury in a criminal case in Colorado.

Those memories came back to me yesterday with the news that organic egg farmer Alvin Schlangen was found not guilty by a jury in Hennepin County, Minnesota.

This outcome had to be a crushing disappointment for food safety officialdom in the State of Minnesota, which is almost always on top of these things. They were quick to issue a statement saying the jury verdict did not make raw milk safe or make it open season for food safety violators.

But, it also set me thinking about a story I wrote not so long ago about a possible jury nullification strategy being advanced at the Falls Church, Virginia-based Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. Was the verdict on Schlangen jury nullification?

An organization that promotes jury nullification seems to think so. The Fully Informed Jury Association, based in Helena, MT, issued a statement over the weekend applauding the jury’s verdict in the Schlangen raw milk case. It said he’d be charged with “victimless offenses.”

Being on a jury is a truly interesting experience. I know no two juries are the same. Trial lawyers fear juries only because they are so unpredictable. And for all the analysis that is done around juries, and seating juries, understanding them remains elusive.

But being on a jury gives one a perspective for what can go on behind those closed doors. One lesson I learned from being on a jury is that most jurors do not want to send people to jail who aren’t mean or violent.

The jury I was on clearly did not at the onset want to send a hapless middle aged guy who was also a meth-head to jail, especially after he buddied up to all of us while serving as his own defense counsel.

But we did send him to jail because that’s where you go after being convicted for robbery, resisting arrest and intent to manufacture meth. But the deliberations required were amazing.

So juries do it, if they must, and our prisons contain many who are neither mean nor violent as a result.

In Colorado, juries hearing criminal cases are guided by lists of required elements that must be proven for a conviction on a specific crime. Without these check lists, you are really left with the narrative that the lawyers spin for the juries.

I don’t know what they do in Minnesota and I was not in the court room. But what we kept hearing was narrative from defense attorney Nathan Hansen that I found to be inspired.

Both the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund and the raw-milk promoting Weston A. Price Foundation helped with the defense, and they may have had a hand in enlisting Hansen, but he is an independent St. Paul attorney with an impressive decade’s worth of experience.

His trial strategy was to paint an entirely different picture for the jury. His client was just sitting around with a bunch of like-minded friends, maybe on a porch someplace. Everybody planned to pick up raw milk at the Amish farm, and then Alvin just told everybody he was going there and could pick it for everybody.

They don’t call it “Minnesota Nice” for nothing. People do that kind of thing for their friends and neighbors all the time.

“Dat so?” you might say.

Yea sure, you betcha,” I’d reply.

From there we’d start talking about how that Minnesota Department of Agriculture is getting too big for its britches.

MDA moved on the Freedom Farms Coop, which reportedly had about 130 households signed up in the Minneapolis urban area who longed for natural eggs and milk and other farm products. Schlangen filled some of these orders, presumably those including his eggs, and delivered with them raw milk from the Amish farm.

Hansen artfully painted a picture that it was just all done privately among friends with no business or corporate structure. Just a good buddy bringing “nutrient-dense” food to people demanding it.

Jury nullification? Maybe, but my gut tells me no. The sense I have is Hansen was the better attorney in that courtroom. He knew the audience. Alvin Schlangen looks to me to be a salt-of-earth kind of guy.

At home in Stearns County, he still faces six additional misdemeanor counts for alleged violations of Minnesota laws involving food and dairy farms. It will be interesting to see of a jury from the more rural Stearns County is open to the narrative as were jurors from the big city.

© Food Safety News
  • This picture was not an illusion. It was black and white. I will make the transcript public as soon as possible. We hide nothing, although careful to protect our farm sources when harassment is expected. At the time of this “action” by the largest marketing corporation in Minnesota, we had nearly 60 member families. We were all members, by private contract, of a small local club that had a legal private lease of all of the animals of this chosen Amish dairy, chicken and hog farm. The farmer could not manage this farm without our support and we could not have the quality of food that we demand, without the mutually beneficial trust. Nathan Hansen made a case for discrimination and motioned for dismissal accordingly. This motion was denied, but noted. This was yet another point for appeal if the jury was unable to find justice in the supposed “facts” of the case. When you look at this basic law, you see that it requires several factors be followed. YOU must (individually) go to the farm of your choice – with a container, and pay the farmer directly for this naturally wholesome food. What if you can’t (physical limitation) walk, drive or otherwise travel to this farm, which might well be more than 100 miles away. There are very few 100% grass-fed dairies around. What if you can’t afford to drive, don’t know how to or can’t risk the trip in MN winters. During the planning of the amendment to allow fair access to raw milk in MN, the proponents of the bill suggested that it was a far greater risk of injury from being on the road with children – to travel to your choice of farm, than any risk of illness from this food. This was not a narrow decision as the MDA advertising suggested in their damage control P R. This was a well thought out discourse in a fair, statute abiding decision. The only question I had was whether these six seemingly normal individuals could differentiate between a private group – functioning in quiet cooperation, and a commercial business operating in this state. If they had known about their right to jury nullification, they would not have needed to sit down to deliberate. Be well, Alvin

  • The jury has shown disdain for Minnesota law. It is unequivocal:
    No milk, fluid milk products, goat milk, or sheep milk shall be sold, advertised, offered or exposed for sale or held in possession for sale for the purpose of human consumption in fluid form in this state unless the same has been pasteurized and cooled, as defined in section 32.391; provided, that this section shall not apply to milk, cream, skim milk, goat milk, or sheep milk occasionally secured or purchased for personal use by any consumer at the place or farm where the milk is produced.”
    In other words: the only way you can purchase raw milk is directly at the farm.
    Having a middle man deliver it is just playing games with the law. What will need to happen, now, is a change in the law to prohibit all raw milk sales–since those who drink it think themselves above the law.

  • allicansayiswow

    Shelley, some laws are stupid and should only be shown disdain. Why is the state of MN telling its citizens that can’t go to a farm what they’re allowed to eat or drink? I think what you meant to say at the end of your comments is that what needs to happen now is a change in the law to LEGALIZE all raw milk sales.

  • Kathryn

    I believe that the cow share is the difference. If a person owns a portion of their cow, they are not actually buying the milk. They are buying/leasing the cow and paying the farmer for milking and feeding the cow.

  • KenB

    “… secured or purchased for personal use by any consumer at the place or farm where the milk is produced.”
    “Having a middle man deliver it is just playing games with the law.”
    The law specifically states that the raw milk is to be secured OR purchased from the farm. It does not specify that the purchaser must physically pick up their own milk.

  • Elicia

    Prohibiting raw milk sales is ridiculous, and would be a waste of much government time and money. Especially in the face of nutrition and science, let alone the history of the consumption of raw milk, which was the norm for thousands of years. Any person has the RIGHT to choose the food they eat. That means they can also take the burden of the risks, if any. If a private group of citizens want to band together to purchase nutritious food instead of the commercially produced, less nutrient-dense options at the store, then they should absolutely have that right. The solution is not to prohibit raw milk, the solution is to educate people on safely choosing their milk producer and how to use it properly. The Weston A Price foundation, (along with other organizations) has hundreds of articles, based on science, research, as well as analysis of a historically healthy traditional diet, from studying cultures worldwide, most of which used raw milk products. In addition, there are hundreds of studies on the beneficial bacteria in raw milk products that support our health and protect us from bad bacteria we may ingest. Those who do not know the facts about the differences in raw and pasteurized milk ought to research them before forming an opinion. When we lose control of our own right to choose our basic nourishment, then we are slaves to the government and corporations that profit from their sale. Sometimes the laws are wrong, especially when they are lauded, proposed and lobbied for by those big interests who profit from being a middle-man. The food companies force farmers to only sell products to be distributed by them, and have the power to put those farmers out of business if they do not abide by their wishes. The risk people run from drinking raw milk is that they don’t have a healthy enough digestive system to handle it, which is perpetuated by the very mass-produced, processed foods that are the majority of the American diet. A healthy digestive system can kill salmonella, for instance. Low microflora and hypochlorhydria are the problems in weak digestive systems and weak immunity. The problems lie in our food production and consumption, not a food that was considered safe and healthy by much less technologically-advanced cultures for all of history. This case is a step in the right direction for preserving one of our basic rights.

  • No, allowing raw milk sales just increases consumption–which means more tax payer money having to chase down yet more foodborne illness outbreaks.
    In other states, when people have played with the semantics related to raw milk laws, the lawmakers have usually worked to close the loopholes.
    But I’ve spent too much time arguing with Ron Paul/Weston Price devotees related to a Mother Jones article on raw milk, I’m not going to start here.

  • allicansayiswow

    Shelley, if your argument about saving taxpayer money were sincere, you would be wanting to outlaw a host of other foods and methods of food production that cause way more foodborne illnesses than raw milk, but I suspect you don’t. All this intense focus on raw milk does make one wonder what the real motivation is behind it when it accounts for such a tiny fraction of foodborne illness outbreaks in our country.

  • Don

    I drink raw milk because it a food that does not exasperate my acid reflux.
    Raw milk is full of protein and is enzyme rich which, when taken into my empty stomach, is (1) easy to digest with NO acid complications, and (2) keeps me from being hungry for several hours.  Rock on Alvinbuddy.