North Carolina Herdshares Under Attack


The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA), the North Carolina Farm Bureau, and the state’s dairy industry are working to repeal a 4-month-old law legalizing herdshare agreements. It is not known whether they have been able to find a legislator willing to sponsor such a freedom-robbing bill.

Herdshare agreements are a private contractual arrangement in which someone purchases an ownership interest in a dairy animal (or herd of dairy animal) and pays a fee to a farmer for boarding, caring for and milking the animals. The 2018 North Carolina Farm Bill contained a provision stating, nothing . . . shall prohibit the dispensing of raw milk or raw milk products for personal use or consumption to, or the acquisition of raw milk or raw milk products for personal use or consumption by, an independent or partial owner of a cow, goat, or other lactating animal.”1

NCDA Commissioner Steve Troxler isn’t waiting for a change in the law to begin restricting herdshares. The department has issued a directive prohibiting dairies from selling shares in dairy animals at state-run farmers markets. There is nothing in the herdshare law, or any other law, that gives it this authority.

The dairy industry’s push to repeal the herdshare law is coming at a time when many of the state’s Grade A dairy farms are either going out of business or barely hanging on. The distribution of raw milk through herdshare agreements can help save some of these dairies; the state’s dairy farms need all the help they can get. Between April 2017 to April 2018 North Carolina lost a staggering 24% of its Grade A dairies, dropping from 192 to 146. For the past four years, conventional dairies have been receiving a price for their milk that is well below the cost of production–a trend that shows no signs of going away.

The strategy for those trying to repeal the herdshare law will be to play the fear card trying to convince legislators that raw milk is major health threat, especially to children. When the recent deadly foodborne illness outbreaks involving foods such as romaine lettuce, ice cream, and cantaloupe are taken into consideration, there is a double standard in banning raw milk sales for human consumption in North Carolina (raw milk sales are legal for pet consumption). In spite of the efforts of CDC and FDA to make it seem otherwise, there have been no deaths legitimately attributed to raw milk consumption since the current CDC foodborne illness database started up in 1998. According to a recent study, the number of illnesses attributed to raw milk consumption in the U.S. has actually gone down as demand and consumption have increased.2 Reports are that herdshare farmers asking the state-run labs to test raw milk to help assure safety have been turned down.

The dairy industry leaders might also play the fear card with the state’s Grade A dairies, warning them that one outbreak blamed on raw milk could damage the conventional industry. The evidence shows otherwise–that the price of pasteurized milk and the demand for it aren’t affected by a foodborne illness outbreak blamed on raw milk consumption. If Farm Bureau, the dairy industry, and NCDA are successful in repealing herdshares, at least some of the Grade A dairies will be without a potential lifeline that could keep their operations going in the face of the low prices they are receiving for their milk intended for pasteurization. Raw milk produced for pasteurization and raw milk produced for direct consumption are mostly not in competition; if North Carolina raw milk consumers can’t get raw milk in the state, most will not drink pasteurized milk but will look outside the state for raw milk sources.

The Grade A dairies and many other farms can benefit from the herdshare law; raw milk is often the draw that leads to sales of other farm products such as meat, poultry, eggs and produce. The herdshare law can help the small farm sector in the state, enabling the start-up of micro-dairies. Michele Presnell, the state representative for the 118 District, noted that 60 years ago there were around 50 Grade A dairies and 150 other dairies in her home county of Yancy and today she knows of none. Reviving the dairy sector through herdshares can keep more of the food dollar in the community.

The herdshare law can make raw milk the centerpiece of a small diversified farm. In neighboring Tennessee where herdshare agreements have been legal for about 10 years, shareholder dairies have thrived; it is estimated that there are around 300 herdshare programs operating in Tennessee.

If the effort to repeal the herdshare law is successful, the 2004 law expressly banning herdshares goes back on the books, and the state will continue to lose business to South Carolina where the sale of raw milk is legal. Over the years this ban has resulted in millions of dollars of lost revenue.

There never should have been a herdshare ban in the first place; to say that someone with an ownership interest in a dairy animal can’t get milk from the animal unless it is boarded on the owner’s premises is a basic denial of property rights. For those who believe in property rights, freedom of food choice, and the right of dairy farmers to make a living keeping the herdshare law intact is a fight worth taking on.

See the February 12th action alert posted at www.westonaprice.org

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[1] North Carolina General Assembly, Session Law 2018-113 (Senate Bill 711), Section 15.2, June 27, 2018. Retrieved October 9, 2018 from https://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2017/Bills/Senate/HTML/S711v8.html

[2] Whitehead J, Lake B. Recent Trends in Unpasteurized Fluid Milk Outbreaks, Legalization, and Consumption in the United States. PLOS Currents Outbreaks. 2018 Sep 13. Edition 1. doi: 10.1371/currents.outbreaks.bae5a0fd685616839c9cf857792730d1

Joel Salatin: Illegal to Drink Milk from Your Own Cow in Tenn?

Posted here by permission from Joel Salatin. Originally published at TheLunaticFarmer.com on January 10, 2019, under the title “Tennessee: Illegal to Drink Milk from Your Own Cow”. Be sure to read other posts by Joel. Click to see “What You Can Do

Just when you think you’re making progress in the food freedom arena, along comes a kind, sincere-minded loving zealot to throw a monkey wrench in things.

Such is the case in Tennessee, where Senator Briggs, a medical doctor, has filed Senate Bill 15 [SB 15] to criminalize drinking the milk from your own cow. An ecoli outbreak in Knox County apparently triggered the Draconian response from this well-meaning doctor. Of course, as is common in these cases, the outbreak was never actually tied to raw milk, but government bureaucrats color any opportunity to question and science generally flies out the window.

The bill “prohibits a person who owns a partial interest in a hoofed mammal from using the milk of the animal for the person’s personal consumption or other personal use.” If you ever wanted to see a bill targeted specifically at food freedom, this one is the prime example. Aimed squarely at herdshare, which has been the work-around for raw-milk prohibitive states, it also denies a person who owns a cow or a goat (any hoofed animal) the freedom to consume the milk from their own animal.

“Partial interest” would include both partial and full interest; in other words, if I have a goat that I want to milk and it’s mine alone, I certainly have a partial interest; lots more than partial, but at least partial. You don’t have to be a lawyer or linguist to appreciate the broad reach of this terminology. Every homesteader and farmsteader who has a goat or cow for their own personal milk consumption would be a criminal under this statute.

The sad part is that this doctor is a kind, well-meaning fellow. He doesn’t want to see anyone else get hurt. Therein lies the crux of the problem. It isn’t the government’s responsibility to keep people from getting hurt. If we really want to keep people from getting hurt, we should fill in all the backyard swimming pools, where we know 50 children will drown this year, just like every year. We would outlaw skiing, race car driving, and certainly football. We would outlaw pets because they scratch, bite and sometimes kill.

Safety is highly subjective. I don’t think it’s safe to drink 3 cans of Coca-cola a day, but that’s legal. I don’t think it’s safe to eat veggie burgers, but people do. If we’re going to pick and choose everything that could be unsafe and outlaw it, we might as well all go live in a bubble room and put on respirators. We pick and choose risks. Some eat at McDonald’s; others don’t. Some take the flu vaccine; others don’t. The critical thing to understand is that if the government is responsible for my health, then it necessarily has a fiduciary responsibility to penetrate every health-impactful decision I make in order to protect itself from economic liability.

It comes down to who owns the person. As long as the state owns the person, which is where America is right now, nothing is beyond the regulatory purview of the police, the ultimate enforcer of the laws. As the state micromanages our lives, the need for more police to enforce those regulations increases. The more police, the less freedom. Any society needing more police per capita is a society heading toward tyranny.

So here’s to hoping the good folks of Tennessee raise their milk glasses to liberty and defeat the good senator’s bill, regardless of how well intended. It’s a diabolical attack on freedom and personal autonomy.

Can you think of any food that should be illegal? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

WHAT YOU CAN DO
SB15 has been referred to the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. Email committee members asking them to refuse any hearing on SB15 and to vote NO on the bill.

1. Email these Honorable Senators (PLEASE DO NOT CALL); you may copy/paste the entire block to email the whole committee:

    sen.paul.bailey@capitol.tn.gov; sen.art.swann@capitol.tn.gov; sen.jon.lundberg@capitol.tn.gov; Sen.Raumesh.Akbari@capitol.tn.gov; sen.dolores.gresham@capitol.tn.gov; sen.jack.johnson@capitol.tn.gov; sen.frank.niceley@capitol.tn.gov; sen.steve.southerland@capitol.tn.gov; sen.bo.watson@capitol.tn.gov

2. Please call and email sponsors of the legislation, asking them to withdraw their respective bills.

    sen.richard.briggs@capitol.tn.gov
    Contact Senator Briggs (615-741-1766, his staffer is Sarah Adair) and ask him to withdraw SB15.

    rep.patsy.hazlewood@capitol.tn.gov
    Contact Representative Patsy Hazelwood (615-741-2746, staffer is Kyle Faulkner), the sponsor of the companion bill banning herdshares in the General Assembly (the bill doesn’t have a number as of yet) and tell her to withdraw the herdshare bill.

Popular Tennessee Herd Share Dairy Shuts Down


On June 14 the Knox County Health Department (KCHD) lifted a directive it had given Knoxville dairy French Broad Farm nine days earlier to stop distributing raw milk to its shareholders. In Tennessee the distribution of raw milk through herd share agreements is legal by statute. The department had issued the directive because it suspected the dairy was responsible for seven cases (all children) of illnesses caused by the pathogen E. coli O157:H7. The dairy had complied with KCHD’s request and had stopped distributing raw milk on June 5.

The ordeal of the investigation has led the owners of French Broad Farm, Earl and Cheri Cruze, to shut down their herd share operation, a huge loss for the local food community in the Knoxville area. Earl Cruze, 75 years young, has milked cows for 68 years and has always been the only milker for the herd share. Raw milk drinkers in the metro Knoxville area are now out a source of their sustenance.

The department decided to lift the directive, in part, because according to County Health Director Martha Buchanan, “there is no ongoing transmission” of E. coli; the last illness KCHD connected to the dairy occurred on June 3. Buchanan indicated that the department believed that French Broad Farm was the source of the E. coli O157:H7 bacteria that sickened seven children that drank raw milk the farm produced. Interestingly, at the same time the department was investigating the dairy, it had also determined that at least four children had become ill through E. coli O157:H7 poisoning at a daycare center through direct or indirect contact with farm animals. KCHD’s investigation found no connection between the dairy and the daycare center.

What Buchanan or anyone else with KCHD never did explain was why there were no test results from milk and manure samples the department had collected from the farm over a week earlier. KCHD had gone to the farm to take milk samples on June 5 and manure samples on June 6. In addition, the department also collected an unopened container and opened container of raw milk that were produced on the suspect batch dates of May 24 and May 25.

KCHD originally sent the samples to a Tennessee lab but then on June 11 had them transferred to a more sophisticated laboratory in Iowa.

It only takes lab technicians 48 hours to make a preliminary determination on whether a sample is positive for E. coli O157:H7. Typically, if a sample is positive, a health department or other agency will issue a press release announcing the positive test and will continue with its order prohibiting the producer from distributing the suspect food. The likelihood was that all tests the Tennessee and Iowa labs took of the milk and manure samples were negative for E. coli O157:H7; it’s possible that the department didn’t announce any test results because the Iowa lab was still running tests to find e. coli.

Campylobacter, the pathogen most commonly responsible for outbreaks of foodborne illness attributed to raw milk is rarely found in samples tested in a lab; campylobacter grows and disappears quickly. E.coli, including E. coli O157:H7, is different; e. coli will often continue to grow after a sample is taken to a lab for testing. As a result it would be more likely to have a positive test result for e-coli than campylobacter. While all negative test results wouldn’t necessarily clear French Broad Farm of blame for the illnesses, they are evidence that the dairy is not responsible for the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak. The more negative tests the Tennessee and Iowa labs have the greater the evidence the dairy is not responsible for the illnesses. Buchanan did say the department looked for other commonalities among the sick children such as ground beef consumption and swimming pool usage but there are possibly other common activities among the seven children KCHD is unaware of.

Something to look at would be the multi-state foodborne illness outbreak this spring attributed to romaine lettuce contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. There have been five deaths and nearly 200 illnesses in the U.S. blamed on romaine lettuce consumption, including at least three illnesses in Tennessee. From May 16 to June 1, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) identified an additional 25 cases of illness it blamed on romaine lettuce. Reports are that there is a high level of secondary transmissions from the outbreak.

Earl Cruze ran a Grade A operation, Cruze Farm Dairy, for over thirty years. Cruze Farm Dairy is a completely separate operation from French Broad Farm and is now run by Cruze’s daughter Colleen Cruze Bhatti and son-in-law Manjit Bhatti.

The Tennessee herd share law went into effect in 2009. Since that time, herd share programs have thrived in the state; hundreds of dairies have operated herd shares at one time or another in Tennessee. The French Broad Farm investigation marks the second time herd share operations have been blamed for a foodborne illness outbreak in the state.