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‘Maine’s Cliven Bundy’ Gets His Day in State’s Supreme Judicial Court

Outside Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court this week, Dan Brown was being celebrated as another raw milk outlaw, but inside, one justice was comparing him to Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. Bundy is the guy who has refused for years to pay U.S. Bureau of Land Management fees for the right to graze his cattle on federal land.

State of Maine v. Dan Brown was one of about 20 cases the Maine Supreme Court heard this week during tightly clocked oral arguments. There’s no way of knowing exactly when the high court will render its decision, but it’s likely to be before it hears another group of oral arguments in June.

Brown is a Blue Hill farmer told by the Maine Department of Agriculture in 2005 that he did not need a license to sell raw milk from an on-the-farm stand. Based on that advice, both he and his wife quit their day jobs and went at making a living from a $22,000 farm stand they built. About six years later, different Maine agriculture officials decided the department made a mistake and operations such as those run by the Browns should be licensed and the raw milk products they sell should be labeled with consumer warnings.

In between, Blue Hill became one of those Maine “food freedom” towns that passed local ordinances stating that small-scale farmers selling products directly to consumers are exempt from state and federal food safety regulations.

Brown decided to thumb his nose at both the state licensing and labeling requirements — although he put up a warning sign on his farm stand — and, after losing at the trial court level, he appealed to the state’s high court. That resulted in Maine’s Superior Court entering a summary judgment in favor of a state complaint alleging that Brown unlawfully sold milk without a milk distributor’s license in containers that were not properly labeled, and that he operated without a food establishment license, which is required to sell other products such as bakery items.

Before Maine’s high court, Ohio attorney David G. Cox argued that the summary judgment by the trial court was improper on the basis that the state is equitably estopped from requiring the license, the local “food freedom” ordinance, Brown does not fit the definition of a milk distributor, and the posted warning sign means he “substantially complied” with the labeling requirements.

In the clocked arguments that lasted just under 33 minutes, lawyers answering questions from the justices mostly focused on whether the state’s interest in preventing foodborne illnesses and potential deaths is enough to override the “esstoppel doctrine.”

“This is an essential policy,” Assistant Attorney General Mark Randlett told the court, referring to the state’s interest in regulating the deadly pathogens often associated with illnesses linked to raw milk.

Brown, who started out with one dairy cow and now has eight, filed an affidavit with the trial court claiming that complying with state licensing and labeling requirements would cost him an additional $62,500 in improvements. Maine has 150 licensed raw milk producers, and the legality of raw milk sales was not one of the issues before the high court. Only the state’s interest in regulating raw milk to prevent or control illnesses was in play before the justices.

Brown’s Gravelwood Farm sold raw milk without a license and sold other items without a food establishment license required to sell such products. In addition to sales at his own farm stand, Brown was known to sell products at the Blue Hill farmer’s market.

The trial court ordered Brown to pay a $1,000 fine and $132.86 in court costs. During the oral arguments, justices asked why, if Brown was damaged by the advice he received from state officials, he did not file a claim with the state. Brown’s attorney said he probably would.

The Maine Legislature did consider a bill during the recent session that would have made on-the-farm raw milk sales easier, but it still would not have allowed sales at farmer’s markets. Farms with raw milk for sale could not advertise or solicit sales. The bill was drafted to get Maine Gov. Paul LePage to sign it, but it didn’t make it through the legislature.

In a recent update, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that 81 outbreaks traced to raw milk occurred between 2007 and 2012, and 51 of those occurred between 2010 and 2013. Nearly 1,000 people were sickened and 70 were hospitalized in those raw milk-related outbreaks.

© Food Safety News
  • Randy

    How is it biased? The article I just read is a timeline of events that presents the view points of both parties. Nowhere did I read anything that resembled an opinion of the author or the publisher. Infact I gathered positive points of view from both sides.

    • Yankee doodle

      The overall tone of comparing this milk man with another whom is accused of being

      a “terrorist”, a “racist” and “violent” is unwarranted. I don’t believe Cliven Bundy fits those descriptors either. The demonization of both persons because they are standing up to a government that can’t decide what they want, a government that believes they should be able to protect us from ourselves for our own good, and a government that is trying to make money with all their “rules and regulations” with the power of law, might be a suggested bias. The free are not free any longer when they can no longer see they have no rights. If I want raw milk then I am old enough to decide. How many cases of food poisoning take place with restaurants that comply with all the government rules and regulations? MONEY and CONTROL.

      • http://burningbird.net Shelley Powers

        Are you old enough to pay the $400,000 dollars the state will most likely pay if you and others get sick from raw milk and it has to investigate why?

        Are you old enough to accept responsibility for your child dying?

        Are you old enough to pay your entire medical bill, rather than use health insurance and thus raise premiums for everyone else?

        I’ve long noticed that people who deliberately put themselves in harm’s way, rarely take responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

  • Trutherator

    Randy is right, it is not overly “biased” but more like neutral, which probably means the writers are a bit tilted in favor of the state, which would make more sense given the domain name “foodsafetynews”.

    The best place to regulate food safety is the free market. The guy that sells rotten tomatoes goes out of business by sunset. The one fast-food restaurant that sold me bad hamburgers once upon a time was closed down a couple of days later I saw. Someone who would rather get the benefits of natural raw milk from a trustworthy farmer without the tax robbery imposed by a Big Agriculture and its lobbyists, should be able to buy it straight up.

    • http://burningbird.net Shelley Powers

      Well, the free market did control food safety a hundred or so years ago, which is why so many people died from foodborne illness outbreaks.

      Most of those illnesses were from raw milk, as a matter of fact.

  • bwgirl

    Isn’t it strange that this is the first time we’ve heard of raw milk causing illness in the past decade? I think it’s cooked up.

    • oldcowvet

      I would suggest checking the archives of FSN, many reports of illnesses, or maybe check today’s…..

    • http://burningbird.net Shelley Powers

      New reporting of illness from raw milk just in last few days. It’s common as dirt.

  • sarahcuse

    …..And he goes on to say, “The free are not free any longer when they can no longer see they have no rights”…..BULL-PUCKY. All you and your kind want is a handout when your affected by such criminal acts from irresponsible people…..like yourselves. THEN, “all-of-a-sudden” your totally “PRO governemnt” because you want and “EXPECT” the government to step in and do something for your sorry ass, like compenate you a bundle of money because of your “All American tax paying citizen” belief. You have no problem then supporting the government don’t you. Then you want them to go away so you can repeat the same activity you were just protected from from another jackass “just like you”. But thats look at things at another angle. Cliven Bundy is lucky. Because if he were a “South-of-the-boarder-type” or heavens forbid, a “NEGRO”, he would have been shot dead on the spot on day one. And no one then would have spoken about his “rights” and or “beliefs” as well except the NAACP. As a matter of a true fact, most Americans, especially those just like you, would have expected the government officials to kill him on the spot for disobeying UNCLE Sam, because “THIS” is how you people (don’t you just love that phrase?) genetically and culturally think, That “this land was made you and your kind”, not for you and me. And by the way, your “freedom brothers” eloquently demonstrated that in 1492 at Plymouth Rock Massettusetes and then again in 1619 in Virginia. And you believe in rights. MY ASS you do.

  • sarahcuse

    OOOhhh, I guess I”M the racist now because I came out with the truth and reminded you of yourselves……and your “history” uhn.

  • Trutherator

    Trutherator: The best place to regulate food safety is the free market.

    Shelley Powers: Well, the free market did control food safety a hundred or so years ago, which is why so many people died from foodborne illness outbreaks… Most of those illnesses were from raw milk, as a matter of fact.

    Trutherator: Where did you get your numbers to show this. But what you have now with “food safety control” are heavy-handed government agencies ruled by the same operators that run the government-connected rent-seeking corporation executives. Get the contradiction, and get it good: the control freaks demand control of food safety, to protect other people, whether they like it or not. So they get a control freak agency run by the Big Food Industry executives. They get wolves from the local wolf-pack to protect us from the local wolf-pack!

    Great idea! Policemen in the pay of Al Capone will protect you from Capone’s triggermen!

    Stalin will protect you from abuses by secret police!

    Hugo Chavez will protect the poor from abuses by the rich, even if he has to put in his own rich friends to do it!

    Obama will protect us from Wall Street by appointing Wall Street bankers to control banking safety!

    (Cross posted to my blog, http://www.trutherator.wordpress.com)

    • http://burningbird.net Shelley Powers

      Oh good lord, do a search of newspaper archives circa 1900 to read about the many, many deaths due to milk and foodborne illness outbreaks.

      https://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=milk%20illness%20pasteurization%20site:news.google.com/newspapers&source=newspapers

      As for the rest of your self-pretentious dribble, I have no time for it.

      • Trutherator

        So what?! Government will save you? How about REFRIGERATION? That did a LOT more for healthy RAW milk that any army of enforcers sent out at the command of a BIG DAIRY executive who took a leave to work awhile to “help” the government “protect” us from evil malicious Amish farmers wanting to trade his RAW milk with his neighbors!

        A good laugh riot. After posting some self-righteous dribble about the government saving us from bad raw milk, without THINKING about refrigeration..

        So now who’s going to protect us from GOVERNMENT-approved aspartame and industrial rat poison in our food?

  • TinkyWinky

    IF the stats by the disease control and prevention are true. In SEVEN years less than one person a month was “hospitalized” for drnking raw milk…. “hospitalized” could mean someone getting a tummy ache and going in to the doctor to get an anti gas pill….. are we REALLY that threatend by raw milk? My hell I drank it growing up as a kid on our family farm.