Minnesota raw milk dairy farmer, Michael O. Hartmann, 59, avoided facing a jury next month by pleading guilty on October 15 to two misdemeanor counts: illegally selling raw milk and raw milk products, and selling other foods such as beef and pork without a proper license. Raw milk is milk that hasn’t been pasteurized to kill harmful and potentially deadly bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter. Symptoms of foodborne diseases caused by these pathogens include stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting, among other symptoms. Some can be fatal. The two counts Hartmann pleaded guilty to were part of a nine-count complaint which alleged that he had continued selling unpasteurized milk and other dairy products, as well as unlicensed meat products, despite an embargo and other state actions forbidding him to do so. In the same legal action, charges and warrants for Hartmann’s wife Diane, his brother Roger and his alleged business associate Linda Schultz, were dismissed, according to an article in The Journal. In pleading guilty to the two misdemeanor charges in Sibley County Court, Hartmann was fined $585 and put on unsupervised probation for 6 months. As part of that, he must comply with all state licensing and labeling laws within 60 days. Had he not pled guilty to the two charges, he would have gone to trial Nov. 13 on all nine counts of improper food sales. Among the charges were the sale of raw milk and unpasteurized cheese, the sale of food without a license and the operation of a dairy plant without a permit. In 2001, the state revoked the farm’s Grade A dairy license. Assistant Attorney for Sibley County Don Lannoye told The Journal that his office decided not to charge Hartmann with a felony because he didn’t believe that the dairy farmer had intentionally harmed anyone. Meanwhile, the state’s Agriculture Department will be contacting Hartmann to see what his plans for the future are. If he doesn’t comply with state regulations, said Lannoye, the department will contact him, and the dairy farmer will be back in court. What’s It All About? In 2010, raw milk and raw milk products from Hartmann’s farm were linked to several foodborne illness outbreaks. It began in May and June, when at least eight people were sickened with a strain of E. coli never before seen in Minnesota that was also found in environmental and animal samples taken from the Hartmann farm. Then in October, three people became ill with a strain of Campylobacter and four people with Cryptosporidium parasites, both of which had been detected at the farm. After the link between the farm and the E. Coli outbreak was established, the state’s Agriculture Department ordered Hartmann to stop selling raw milk until he cleaned up the farm. But Hartmann contested the order and kept selling raw milk dairy products. During investigations of the farm, state health inspectors found serious sanitation problems, including “the extreme buildup of manure on virtually every surface in the dairy barn,” according to evidence presented to the court. They also reported seeing dead flies and an abundance of live flies, dead animals, rodent droppings, rusty and corroding equipment and chickens in the milking parlor. In late December 2010, the court found that raw milk from the Hartmann farm had caused the 2010 E. Coli outbreak. It also found that the farm was selling meat that hadn’t been inspected. A judge ruled that products being held at the farm should be destroyed and that the farm should pay the disposal fees. ‘Quirky Raw Milk Law’ Even though Hartmann’s farm had its Grade A dairy license revoked in 2001, Hartmann was still allowed to sell raw milk — but only if he sold it at the farm. During the legal wrangling, he had admitted to distributing it to locations in the Twin Cities. Under Minnesota’s milk regulations, only milk and fluid milk products for human consumption that have been pasteurized are allowed to be sold in the state. However, this regulation does not apply to milk that is “occasionally secured or bought for personal use by any consumer at the farm where the milk is produced.” In other words, any dairy — licensed or not — is allowed to sell raw milk as long as the customers come to the dairy to get it. However, the state’s current inspection process does not include inspections of unlicensed dairies such as Hartmann’s — unless a complaint has been filed against it or illnesses have been linked to it, according to information supplied to Food Safety News by the state’s Agriculture Department. An important part of Minnesota’s approach to raw milk is based on “free choice.” “The idea is that the choice to drink raw milk is up to the consumer,” said Michael Schommer, spokesman for the state’s Agriculture Department. “If you go to the farm, you can see the conditions there and you can be a little more informed about the milk you’re buying. The more information you have, the better.” Tell that to Mark McAfee, co-owner of California-based Organic Pastures, the largest raw-milk producer in the nation, and you can almost hear him sputtering, outraged at that line of thinking. “Minnesota raw milk laws are not laws that can be defended when considering that 100,000 people every week can go into 400 retail stores in California and buy raw milk that has been tested and inspected by the state of California,” he told Food Safety News in an e-mail. Describing Minnesota, when it comes to raw milk regulations, as “stuck in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s,” McAfee said he can only hope that Minnesota wakes up soon and joins the 21st century of raw milk production technology. “Minnesota is denying its consumers the nutritional rights that are widely available in many other states,” he said, referring to raw milk that has met strict food safety state standards such as California’s. “Unless the people of Minnesota are a different species of mankind, they deserve the same delicious nourishment that we have available in California, Washington, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Arizona, Utah and several other states.” Another Case Still Pending According to court records, Hartmann still faces a lawsuit in Hennepin County, MN. The case was filed by a parent who says his 2-year-old boy suffered permanent kidney damage from E. coli-contaminated raw milk from Hartmann’s dairy. The lawsuit is seeking more than $50,000 for dialysis and other costs to treat the boy, according to an article in The Journal. What’s the Deal with Raw Milk? Raw milk advocates say that raw milk can provide health benefits ranging from curing asthma to boosting immune systems. But in a previous interview with Food Safety News, Dr. Heidi Kassenborg, DVM, director of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Dairy and Food Inspection Division, said that raw milk is “unsafe, particularly in the case of children and the elderly.” “There are no proven benefits from drinking it,” she said. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 1973 and 1992, 46 outbreaks associated with raw milk consumption were reported to CDC. An additional 45 outbreaks were reported to CDC between 1998 and May 2005, accounting for 1,007 illnesses, 104 hospitalizations and 2 deaths. Go here for more information about raw milk.