Since a Wisconsin jury decided Vernon Hershberger did not need a license to sell raw farm products directly to consumers, he is not in a mood to support a bill to allow on-the-farm sales of raw milk but only with a license requirement.
The Sauk County farmer was an early star witness Wednesday at a public hearing at the State Capitol in Madison on newly introduced House and Senate bills to allow licensed dairies to sell raw milk directly to the public. In May, 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 without a license.
In his appearance before the Senate Financial Institutions and Rural Issues Committee, Hershberger said he understands the need for some licenses, such as the one he has for driving on public roads. But, he said, just as his 14-year old son does not need a license to drive a farm truck around his or his neighbor’s farm, the jury in Baraboo agreed he does not need a license to sell his raw products directly to the public.
“I am allowed to do what I do without a license,” he told the packed hearing room. Hershberger was found guilty on one misdemeanor count for breaking the seal on food put under a hold by state inspectors. He is appealing that conviction.
For the first time since former Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed a bill to permit on-the-farm sales of raw milk in 2010, the Wisconsin Legislature is taking up the issue again in its session now under way in Madison. The committee assigned to review Senate Bill 236 (and its companion bill in the House) was scheduled to take five hours of public testimony on Wednesday. It has another public hearing scheduled for Sept. 16 on the campus of the University of Wisconsin in Lacrosse.
State Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, said the reason a similar bill passed in 2010 when the state was under control of the Democratic Party (and will likely do so now under the Republicans) is because enforcement has changed only in the past few years. Prior to that, he said the state accepted that raw milk would be a “niche” product that, while technically not legal, was not seen as a problem.
Grothman said he became involved in the issue when farmers in his district approached him about the problems they were encountering due to the change in enforcement. He acknowledged that his bill was not going to be supported by all raw-milk advocates.
“We felt some regulation was necessary,” he said.
That’s why his bill includes requirements for licensing, testing and meeting certain standards such as those for water on dairy farms, Grothman added.
While those requirements were too much for Hershberger, many raw-milk advocates showed up to support SB 236. Vincent Hunt, a 62-year old farmer who has consumed raw milk all his life, was among those wearing white ice-cream vendor hats with the word “Freedom” on them.
“Just trust the people,” Hunt told committee members. “I believe the opponents of this bill have only one thing to offer and it is fear.”
Numerous proponents said raw milk can cure all sorts of health problems, including allergies and diabetes.
Not buying any of it were spokesmen for the Wisconsin Safe Milk Coalition, which represents both the state’s $26.5-billion pasteurized dairy industry, and numerous public and private health organizations.
Two dairy farmers representing the Wisconsin Farm Bureau, a coalition member, said they will not even give raw milk to their calves because of its potential for spreading disease. They instead pasteurize the milk beforehand.
“Pasteurization exists for a reason,” said Chris Pollack, who runs a 150-cow diary farm and was one of the Farm Bureau representatives.© Food Safety News