If a Wisconsin raw-milk seller is convicted of the misdemeanor charges against him, it could have a “chilling effect” on dairy buying clubs or cow-share schemes, according to a commentary on the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund website.

Vernon Hershberger of Loganville, WI, who leases his cows to a “food buyers club,” has been charged with operating a retail food establishment without a license, operating a dairy farm as a milk producer without a license, operating a dairy plant without a license and violating a holding order of his dairy products issued by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP).

Hershberger maintains that he does not need a state dairy license because he sells unpasteurized milk and raw-milk products to about 100 buyers through a private club, not to the general public. The DATCP contends that the Wisconsin Food and Dairy Code covers any farm selling milk and milk products, and that Hershberger must abide by the code.

“If Hershberger is convicted of the charges against him, it could have a chilling effect on consumer access to raw milk for those who don’t own and board their own cows,” wrote attorney Pete Kennedy in the commentary.

Kennedy pointed out that last year, a Dane County Circuit Court judge ruled that a farm in Elkhorn, WI also needed to comply with state dairy regulations.

In that case, Judge Patrick J. Fiedler said the families who reported they were boarding their cows for a fee and then getting the milk were, in fact, running a dairy farm.

“They do not simply own a cow that they board at a farm. Instead, plaintiffs operate a dairy farm. If plaintiffs want to continue to operate their dairy farm then they must do so in a way that complies with the laws of Wisconsin,” Fiedler wrote in his ruling.

In 2010, legislation that would have allowed Wisconsin dairy farmers to sell unpasteurized milk directly to consumers was vetoed by then Gov. Jim Doyle, who cited public health concerns. A bill now under consideration would allow a dairy farmer with a license and a grade A permit to register with DATCP to sell unpasteurized milk and milk products. 

Vernon Hershberger’s next hearing on his case is scheduled tomorrow (Friday) at the Sauk County Courthouse, and will be preceded by a support rally.

Raw milk advocates have recently had several setbacks to their cause for unregulated sales. In addition to a four-state outbreak of at least 80 Campylobacter infections traced to raw milk sold by a Pennsylvania dairy, the federal government obtained a permanent injunction against a different Pennsylvania raw milk producer who was delivering milk across state lines.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study showing that the rate of disease outbreaks linked to raw milk was 150 times greater than outbreaks linked to pasteurized milk.