County sheriffs and federal officials bickering over land, guns and water policies are as old as the West, but the Constitutional Sheriffs Convention, underway for the past three days in Las Vegas, has something new on the menu — food safety regulation. 

“I made the decision that the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office was not going to be the milk police,” Sheriff John D’Agostini told his Board of Supervisors in California ahead of the convention.

Sheriff D’Agostini was testifying in favor of the “Local Food and Community Self-Governance” ordinance that El Dorado farmer Pattie Chelseth was asking the supervisors to adopt.

Last April 7, Sheriff D’Agostini refused a request from the California Department of Food and Agriculture to provide back up while state agents issued a “cease and desist” order for Chelseth’s “unlicensed dairy.”  

Sheriff D’Agostini’s decision not to cooperate with state and federal food safety agents during enforcement actions may not be that unusual.   

In Indiana, Elkhart County Sheriff Bradley D. Rogers went a step further, telling federal regulators that repeat inspections of Forest Grove Dairy amounted to harassment of raw milk producer David Hochstetler and could result in the feds being arrested.

The sheriff sent an e-mail to federal officials advising them to obtain warrants before they returned to the raw milk dairy, an action the U.S. Justice Department has declined to comment about.

“I think its great that the local sheriff is supporting the local farmers,” Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund’ s Gary Cox said.

Rogers will join Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Gun Owners of America’s Larry Pratt, and Richard Mack, founder of the Constitutional Sheriffs and a Texas congressional candidate, on stage tonight for the only public part of the convention.

The Food Rights Coalition, one of several food sovereignty and food and farm freedom groups in California that have cropped up in recent months, urged its followers to recruit their county sheriffs to attend the Las Vegas convention.

“We recommend a personal visit to his office, and/or an email invitation. This event will prominently feature food and farm rights. (Former) Sheriff Mack, through his County Sheriff Project, is reaffirming the Oath of Office taken by every Sheriff, citizens’ personal freedoms and the importance of the office of Sheriff to defend those freedoms.

“The Sheriffs will be shown the Farmageddon movie trailer, and hear a talk by WAPF chapter leader, Kristin Canty about the farm food freedom issue. Raw milk activists will be in the exhibit hall with a Raw Milk Freedom Riders booth, and do raw milk tastings to share news about the struggle for access to this nutritious food.”

Organizers were expecting 200 sheriffs to be in attendance, with each helped to attend with a $1,000 stipend.  The agenda items for the closed meetings that would appear to have something to do with food safety and regulators are:

– Tenth Amendment and State Sovereignty

– Sheriff’s Success Stories

– Joint Declaration notifying specific federal agencies about specific violations that the county sheriff will no longer tolerate in their counties

Back home, however, the issue could be more difficult. The five-member El Dorado Board of Supervisors did not approve the Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance. 

While they sympathized with Chelseth, her two dairy cows, and the 16 other families involved in her cow-share operation, the El Dorado supervisors did not want to run afoul of the California state constitution.

For her part, Chelseth says enforcement actions by the state on her 10-acre farm and on five other goat and cow-share operations in California is why there is now a food freedom movement in the state.

Food freedom bills in Utah and New Hampshire have been introduced with provisions calling for jailing state and federal officials who act contrary to provisions shielding food produced for local consumption from federal regulation.