Minnesota Department of Agriculture Crackdown

Case-MDAcrackdown-600x626By Pete Kennedy, Esq.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) has escalated its campaign to restrict access to raw milk by stepping up enforcement actions against farmers Alvin Schlangen and Mike Hartmann (see their case update pages for background).

Already facing four criminal misdemeanor counts in Hennepin County for violations of the Minnesota Food and Dairy Code, Schlangen has also been charged with six more misdemeanors in Stearns County for violating food and dairy laws. While the two criminal cases are going forward, there is an ongoing administrative proceeding against Schlangen in which MDA is seeking an order suspending all food sales by the farmer for eleven violations of the state Food and Dairy Code. Schlangen is a poultry farmer who also serves as the volunteer manager of the private food buyers club, the Freedom Farms Co-op. He only makes money selling eggs; he earns no income on the raw dairy products and other nutrient-dense foods he delivers to co-op members.

Schlangen’s trial on the charges in Hennepin County was scheduled to take place on May 14 but has been postponed until at least July. In the days leading up to the original trial date, there was considerable national and local media coverage; on the morning of May 14, the Raw Milk Freedom Riders held a rally near the courthouse in support of Schlangen.

MDA would welcome less media attention when the trial does actually take place. The Hennepin County charges are for (1) a labeling violation for the raw milk and milk products distributed; (2) selling food that is adulterated or misbranded; (3) distributing foods without a food handler’s permit, and (4) distributing raw milk at a place other than the farm where
the milk is produced.

Three of the charges in the Hennepin County case have also been filed in Stearns County; the milk labeling charge was not filed in the latter case. The additional charges in Stearns County are (1) selling custom-processed meat (under law, only meat processed at a federally- or state-inspected facility can be sold by the cut, not meat processed at a custom house); (2) violating a June 2010 embargo MDA placed on food at the Schlangen farm (Schlangen remarked, “MDA ordered me not to eat my own food!”); and the capper, (3) a criminal misdemeanor for not refrigerating eggs at the proper temperature. Schlangen has twenty-five years in the egg business and has never had a complaint brought against him for the quality of his eggs.

The charges against Schlangen aren’t about protecting public health and safety; they are about compliance. Schlangen has committed no crimes against the people; there is no claim that he has injured anyone. He is being charged with crimes against the state for his refusal to recognize the state’s jurisdiction over his operation and his refusal to comply with laws he believes are not applicable to his operation.

In addition to going after Schlangen, MDA has ratcheted up its efforts to put dairy farmer Mike Hartmann out of business as well. The department’s latest move against Hartmann was to convince the Sibley County district attorney’s office to bring nine criminal charges against Hartmann, his wife Diana, his brother Roger, and alleged business associate Linda Schultz in April for violations of the state Food and Dairy Code. One gross misdemeanor for selling improperly labeled dairy products plus eight misdemeanors were filed. The misdemeanor charges included the illegal sale of unpasteurized dairy products, the sale of adulterated or misbranded food, selling food without a license, and operating a dairy plant without a permit.

On May 3 an arraignment was held for the four defendants with only Mike Hartmann being present; Hartmann was released on his own recognizance after the hearing. After the arraignment, the Sibley County DA issued warrants for the arrest of Roger Hartmann and Schultz.

Linda Schultz was named as a defendant for allegedly coordinating the dropsites for people purchasing Hartmann farm products. MDA didn’t stop with Schultz and subsequently sent out warning letters to a least nine families that the department accused of being site hosts for the delivery of Hartmann products. The warning letters stated that MDA had “concluded an investigation that revealed you participated in the sale of unpasteurized milk and other foods requiring you to have a Minnesota food handler’s license.” The letter threatened the families with “administrative penalties, criminal prosecution, or other enforcement remedies available to MDA.”

Families using their residence as a dropsite typically don’t make anything from the delivery of products by the farmer to the customer at the site. Site hosts are generally not in business; they let the farmer use their residence as a delivery site to help make it more convenient for the farmer and the farmer’s customers.

In June 2010, MDA, police and local government officials executed a criminal search warrant at the residence of suspected Hartmann dropsite host, Rae Lynn Sandvig; Sandvig was among those who received a warning letter despite not having her residence used as a dropsite since 2010.

Going after families trying to do nothing more than make it easier for others to be able to provide the foods they believe best for their children’s health showed the depths to which MDA was willing to lower itself to shut down Hartmann’s dairy once and for all, seeking to end the long running battle the department has waged against the farmer. The considerable expense of prosecuting Schlangen and Hartmann is more than worth it to MDA so that it can make an example out of those not submitting to corporate-sanctioned food laws.

Pete Kennedy

Pete Kennedy is a Florida attorney who has worked on issues governing raw milk production and distribution since 2004. He compiled a summary of raw milk laws in each of the fifty states and is currently a consultant for WAPF on, among other things, policies and laws regarding raw milk. Pete was a founding board member of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) and served as vice president and then president for many years. He has consulted on and drafted raw milk, cottage foods, and food sovereignty legislation; drafted and reviewed herdshare agreements; worked on embargo, seizure, and recall cases involving raw dairy products; worked on foodborne illness outbreaks attributed to raw milk consumption; handled issues involving on-farm slaughter, custom meat, and poultry processing as well as problems with zoning and local ordinances.

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