A Wishlist of Just Laws for Those Who Feed Our Families


At the end of 2017 there were several enforcement actions and investigations underway against raw milk distributors. In a Kansas City district court the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was seeking an order allowing it to seize and destroy $70,000 of camel milk and camel milk products, most of it unpasteurized. Government agencies in four different states were investigating a New Jersey food buyers club in connection with an illness attributed to raw milk consumption. In a separate investigation the New Jersey Department of Health sent cease and desist letters to a number of private residences in that state that were allegedly serving as dropsites for the distribution of raw milk and other nutrient-dense foods.

Out of the three cases, the only illness involved was traced to the administration of a brucellosis vaccine to a cow that resulted in active brucella showing up in the raw milk. In the FDA and New Jersey Department of Health investigations there were no allegations of adulterated raw dairy or other foods being distributed. Still, distributors in all three cases could be subject to criminal and/or civil penalties for distributing food their customers believed best for their health and well-being. As the new year gets underway what laws could be passed to better protect producers and distributors of nutrient-dense foods and improve the chances of those individuals getting justice if the government brings a formal administrative or judicial action against them. Here are some suggestions towards making this happen.

    Jury Nullification
    Jury nullification is the legal concept where the jury has the right to acquit the defendant even if the law points toward guilt if the jury believes that it would be unjust to apply the law given the facts of the case. Jury nullification can take place in either criminal or civil trials. The Alvin Schlangen and Vernon Hershberger trials, respectively in Wisconsin and Minnesota, were jury nullification cases where the juries refused to convict the two for violations of the food and dairy laws even though under the letter of the law either could have been found guilty.

    The U.S Supreme Court has recognized the right of a jury to acquit a defendant when it believes that the application of the law to the facts of the case would be unjust.1 The trouble with jury nullification at the federal level and in nearly all states is that even though the jury has the right to judge the law as well as the facts in a case, judges and defense attorneys are prohibited from informing juries that this right exists. States need to pass laws lifting this prohibition.

    In 2012 the New Hampshire legislature passed a law stating, “In all criminal proceedings the court shall permit the defendant to inform the jury of its right to judge the facts and the application of the law in relation to those facts.” In a 2014 case, State v. Paul2 the New Hampshire Supreme Court held that this law did not impose any obligation on the court to “instruct the jury as to jury nullification.”2,3

      In response to the supreme court’s ruling a bill (HB 133) was introduced in the 2017 New Hampshire legislative session that read: In all criminal proceedings the court shall inform the jury of its right to judge the facts and the application of the law in relation to the facts in controversy. At the request of the defendant or the defendant’s attorney, the court shall instruct the jury as follows: “If you have a reasonable doubt as to whether the state has proved any one or more of the elements of the crime charged, you must find the defendant not guilty. However if you find that the state has proved all the elements of the offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt, you should find the defendant guilty. Even if you find that the state has proved all of the elements of the offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt, you may still find that based upon the facts of this case a guilty verdict will yield an unjust result, and you may find the defendant not guilty.”

    The 2017 New Hampshire bill is the type of legislation that needs to pass to strengthen the juror’s right of nullification. At a minimum it makes no sense that a defense attorney cannot even inform the jury of this right. Jurors should not have to work in the blind as to their nullifying rights as they did in the Hershberger and Schlangen cases where the law prohibited the judge and the defense attorneys from telling the jury directly about jury nullification. Jury nullification is a bedrock of our justice system; jurors should be educated about it.

    Jury Trials in Food Condemnation Cases
    Government agencies generally have to petition courts to destroy food the agencies have seized. The government usually does this on the grounds of protecting the public health but in nearly all cases there is no evidence that the food from the same production batch under seizure has made anyone sick. For some producers or distributors a single court order to destroy food can put them out of business. In cases like the Kansas raw camel milk seizure the government hasn’t even alleged that the milk is adulterated or a threat to human health.

    In one Missouri case, a court ordered the destruction of over 30,000 pounds of raw cheese even though the cheese manufacturer, Morningland Dairy, had never been accused of making anyone sick in 30 years of doing business and neither FDA nor the Missouri Milk Board had tested any of the cheese subject to the destruction order. FDA had taken 100 environmental swabs at the facility all of which were negative for the pathogen. Judges who rule against destroying food are in a no-win situation even if the facts of the case favor the food producer or distributor; they are under tremendous pressure to err on the side of protecting the public health even if there is no real health threat at all. A jury would better take into consideration the evidence on the side of producers and distributors in these cases.

    Jury Trial for Cases Where the Government Seeks a Permanent Injunction Against Food Producers and Distributors
    An injunction is a court order prohibiting someone from doing some specified act or commanding someone to undo some wrong or injury. A permanent injunction is a final court order that is permanently in effect unless the court lifts the order. Those who violate the injunction can face contempt charges with the possibility of fines and/or jail time.

    In Michigan the past couple of years the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) has brought court actions for injunction against two different raw milk producers, Hill High Dairy and Dairy Delight Cow Boarding, for matters that should not have been any of MDARD’s business. In the Hill High Dairy case the department tried to stop individuals leasing cows from having the leaseholders hire someone to process their own raw milk into other dairy products; in the Dairy Delight case the department tried to stop those in a herdshare program from selling, among other foods, oatmeal cookies and apple muffins to other shareholders without proper labeling. Both cases involved private, closed-loop transactions far outside the stream of public commerce; in the Hill High Dairy case, MDARD not only obtained an injunction against the dairy prohibiting it from violating state food and dairy laws but brought contempt charges against the dairy when its leaseholders continued to have their raw milk processed into other dairy products. Thankfully, the judge hearing the case brought some common sense to the matter when he ruled the dairy was not in contempt.

    Agencies like MDARD would be less likely to bring actions for an injunction and contempt suits for violation of an injunction in these type of cases if they knew that food producers and distributors would be entitled to a trial by a jury of their peers.

    Right to Jury Trial for Appeals of Administrative Rulings
    Government agencies seeking to punish food producers with penalties such as license revocation or fines can resort to administrative hearings where the odds of success are not as great for producers as they would be in a judicial court. Several raw milk producers have found out firsthand that administrative hearings are often one-sided proceedings in which those the agency is trying to punish are afforded little due process.

    One Ohio farmer had his dairy license revoked at an administrative hearing for taking a $2.00 donation for a gallon of raw milk he gave to an undercover officer from the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Raw dairy producers have been through administrative hearings where, even if the person presiding over the hearing ruled against the government agency, the agency had the power legally to ignore the ruling and issue the order it wanted to anyway.

    Parties can appeal the ruling to a judicial trial court; the courts sits as an appellate court for the appeal but is limited to reviewing just the record from the administrative proceeding. The system needs to change so that the trial court would sit as a trial court trying the matter from the beginning as if it had never been heard in the administrative proceeding (the legal term is de novo trial) to give the individual the agency seeks to punish a fresh start in a less biased proceeding. To further discourage government harassment there should be a right to a jury trial in the appeal of an administrative proceeding to a judicial court.

Even if a state currently has a favorable regulatory climate for the production and distribution of nutrient-dense food, it is still the right move to pass the laws suggested above in case the enforcement policy of the agencies ever change.

Producers and distributors of raw milk and other nutritious foods who take the risks they do to make those foods available deserve to get justice and not just law if a court action is brought against them. Greater protection is needed for those who provide for our sustenance.

———–
[1] Spanf v. United States 156 U.S. 51 (1895)
[2] State v. Paul 167 N.H. 39,42
[3] The jury instruction the trial court judge gave in the Paul case was: “You should follow the law as I explain it regardless of any opinion you may have as to what the law ought to be. If you have a reasonable doubt as to whether the State has proved any one or more of the elements of the crime charged, you must find the defendant not guilty. However, if you find that the state has proved all elements beyond a reasonable doubt, you should find the defendant guilty.” Paul, p. 41.

Share

Michigan MDARD’s Farewell Present to Mark Baker

This past June heritage breed hog farmer Mark Baker announced that he was getting out of commercial farming and would be moving to a smaller farm where he and his family would continue to grow their own food. After a four-year battle with the state of Michigan over his challenge to an Invasive Species Order (ISO) on feral hogs, Baker had grown tired of dealing with state agencies and an unfavorable regulatory climate and was ready to move on to homesteading. Little did he know that the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) was going to give him a final reminder of why he wanted out of commercial farming.

Baker operates a custom slaughterhouse on his farm in Missaukee County, mainly slaughtering and processing chickens for some 200 families in his community. He also has a permit from MDARD enabling him to sell chicken and pork raised on his farm and each year pays a renewal fee for the permit. His plan was to keep the permit and continue sales of pork and chicken until he sold the farm.

In July Baker received a letter from MDARD stating that he was being denied a permit to conduct his custom slaughter business because he hadn’t paid his renewal fee. When Baker’s wife Jill produced the canceled check showing he had paid, the department changed its story, now claiming it was denying the permit because Baker refused to let MDARD officials conduct an inspection of his farm during a December 2015 raid of his farm, Baker’s Green Acres (BGA). MDARD had obtained a warrant to search the farm; someone contacted the department to notify it that there was a picture in a magazine story of a chef holding a ham that the story said was produced by BGA. MDARD wanted to search Baker’s premises to make sure the meat he was selling was slaughtered and processed at a USDA facility.

Baker responded to this latest accusation by explaining that he hadn’t refused an inspection but had only asked the inspectors to wait until some friends of his arrived at the farm to observe the proceedings. The inspectors decided to leave rather than wait.

On August 5 MDARD relented and renewed Baker’s permit; before the renewal, an official from the department called a farmer who relied heavily on Baker’s establishment for her meat sales and told her that she couldn’t use the facility at BGA because it wasn’t permitted.

The harassment from MDARD over the permit convinced Baker to move his timetable up on his sales of chicken and pork; on August 27 Baker decided to surrender his permit saying that MDARD’s jurisdiction over his business was like a forced partnership that he no longer wanted to have. It’s the kind of partnership where the farmer supplies the labor and innovation and MDARD supplies the red tape.

Baker said that regulation by MDARD is not about food safety but control; a belief many others hold. He pointed out that bureaucrats should not be able to use their influence to pick winners and losers. He said that he was no longer going to put his family through MDARD’s harassment.

The MDARD permit denial of BGA was retribution for Baker’s successful challenge to the ISO on feral swine issued by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in December 2010. The ISO, which had the strong backing of the Michigan Pork Producers Association prohibited the possession of a number of breeds of swine. When asked to clarify what the ISO meant, DNR issued a declaratory ruling establishing that whether a pig violated the ISO was not going to be determined by whether the pig was living in the wild or outside containment but rather on its physical characteristics. According to the declaratory ruling, a pig could be prohibited if it has either “curly or straight tail structure” or “either erect or folded/floppy ear structure.”

Baker, who was raising heritage breed mangalitsa pigs, filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the ISO in April 2012. DNR, through the state attorney general, responded to the lawsuit by filing a countersuit of its own, seeking to have Baker’s pigs condemned and destroyed for violating the ISO. Later, after Baker became publicly critical of Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette for his handling of the case, DNR amended its complaint and sought a court order fining Baker $700,000–$10,000 for each pig Baker owned that it claimed was illegal.

Just weeks before the case was to go to trail, DNR changed its position on Baker’s pigs, now saying they were legal; this shift by the agency resulted in the dismissal of both Baker’s lawsuit and DNR’s countersuit in February 2014. DNR officials did not want the case to go to trial because they knew Baker would expose the declaratory ruling for the sham that it was. DNR subsequently withdrew the declaratory ruling but the ISO is still on the books to this day. As Baker has said many times, there is no evidence that there is a feral swine problem in Michigan.

Even though the focus has been more on DNR and the Michigan Pork Producers Association, MDARD was right in the middle of the creation of the ISO. Nancy Frank, state veterinarian in MDARD’s Division of Animal Industry, had a major role in the creation of the order. MDARD was also responsible for significant losses in Baker’s business because he stood up to the state. Shortly after Baker filed his lawsuit, MDARD employees started contacting restaurants purchasing pork and other products from Baker intimidating them into dropping their business with the farmer; Baker lost almost all of his restaurant accounts. MDARD also worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to inform slaughterhouses not to process feral swine, effectively limiting Baker’s access to those facilities.

Food produced at Baker’s Green Acres has never been accused of making anyone sick.

Baker and his family have paid the price for his successful challenge to government and industry’s attempt to create the conditions for cutting out the market share for heritage breed hog farmers. MDARD’s latest harassment was one final message to the farmer that it’s time to move on.

Share

Michigan Raw Dairy – How One Consumer Made an Impact


Michigan raw dairy consumers and producers owe Mike Lobsinger a debt of gratitude. Lobsinger, a retired businessman and leaseholder in a herd lease arrangement, along with farmers Joe and Brenda Golimbieski are the ones most responsible for a favorable court ruling establishing that consumers can obtain raw dairy products other than milk under a herdshare or herd lease agreement. 1 Thanks mainly to Lobsinger and his attorneys, John Stiers and Elise Arsenault, legal action taken by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) to stop the distribution of cream, butter and other raw dairy products to leaseholders at the Golimbieski farm was not successful, establishing a case law precedent. The case shows the power to make an impact that consumers have.

Lobsinger believes it is the consumer’s right to select the farmer from whom they get their food but also that it should be the consumers’ responsibility to do what they can to back up their farmer when the farmer is facing an enforcement action from a government agency. Lobsinger, who is a member of both the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) and the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF), went far beyond what consumers would typically do to protect their farmer in supporting the Golimbieskis.

In March 2013, MDARD issued a written policy, Policy 1.40 which legalized the distribution of raw milk through a written herdshare or herd lease agreement. Policy 1.40 stated that herdshare programs were to include distribution of only raw whole milk and that products such as butter, yogurt and cheese, etc., could only be sold or distributed by licensed producers. The “catch 22” is that Michigan law prohibits even licensed producers from selling products such as raw butter, cream and yogurt.

The Golimbieskis, who have a Grade A dairy operation, Hill High Dairy, were distributing raw butter and cream under their herd lease program to consumers who had signed a herd lease contract. Lobsinger, who obtains raw cream to put in his coffee was one of them.

Whenever the MDARD inspector was conducting her semi-annual inspections of Hill High Dairy, she would seize raw dairy products she found in a refrigerator located in a utility room, on the farm. In 2015 MDARD filed a court action against each of the Golimbieskis, Hill High Dairy and B.J.’s Boarding, an entity that was formed to lease cows to those wanting to get raw milk. The department petitioned the court to issue an injunction prohibiting the four parties from among other things, distributing raw dairy products other than milk to leaseholders.

Lobsinger entered the fray by successfully intervening as a third-party defendant in the case, claiming that MDARD was interfering with his property right to have milk produced by his cow separated into cream. Despite the successful intervention into the case, Judge James Jamo issued an order enjoining the Golimbieskis, Hill High Dairy and B.J.’s Boarding from violating any applicable Michigan food and dairy laws. The Judge did state in the opinion granting the injunction that there was no proof the defendants had violated any laws.

During a June 2016 inspection of Hill High Dairy, inspectors again seized and confiscated raw dairy products, including Lobsinger’s cream; subsequently, MDARD petitioned Judge Jamo to find the four defendants in contempt of court for violating the injunction. Lobsinger successfully intervened in the case again as a third-party defendant in the contempt petition and also filed a separate action against MDARD in the Michigan Court of Claims, suing the agency on the grounds that seizure of his cream violated his due process rights. The relief Lobsinger sought included a ruling that “another individual or agent may separate Lobsinger’s cream and skim milk on Lobsinger’s behalf without MDARD licensure or oversight and may deliver Lobsinger’s cream and skim milk to Lobsinger as long as the milk and cream are used exclusively for the personal consumption of Lobsinger and his family.”

In December 2016 Judge Jamo ruled that the defendants were not in contempt, establishing a legal precedent that raw dairy products other than milk can be distributed under a herd lease or herdshare arrangement without violating Michigan law. Ironically, at the time the Golimbieskis received word about the ruling on MDARD’s inspection, MDARD inspectors were once again seizing raw dairy products at the farm as they conducted an inspection.

When the inspectors finished their next scheduled inspection in June 2017 without seizing Lobsinger’s cream (or any other raw dairy products), Lobsinger withdrew his lawsuit figuring that he already had a favorable ruling in the contempt case that he didn’t want to jeopardize and seeing that MDARD was no longer confiscating products it once saw as contraband during its inspections of the Golimbieski farm. Lobsinger made it clear that if MDARD tampered with his cream in the future, he wouldn’t hesitate to sue the department again for its violation of his rights.

Lobsinger hired attorneys to fight MDARD because he wanted the public to know that the department was going after individual property rights in seizing dairy products from the Golimbieski farm. A look at the transcripts in the Golimbieski court case shows the contempt MDARD had for the leaseholders’ property rights. MDARD’s attorneys characterized Lobsinger retaining another leaseholder to separate Lobsinger’s own milk into cream as an illegal activity. The attorneys claimed the case was about a Grade A dairy violation and had nothing to do with property and contract rights. MDARD’s position was that there was no difference between sales of cream to the general public and distribution of cream to the owner of the milk from which the cream was processed. The department was in effect claiming that if someone went to Lobsinger’s house to separate milk into cream that it would have jurisdiction and could stop this “illegal transaction.”

Fortunately, Judge Jamo wasn’t buying into what Lobsinger called MDARD’s “jibberish”. He asked MDARD attorney Danielle Allison-Yokum if there was any case law to back up this assertion; the attorney admitted there was not.

Lobsinger’s intervention changed the dynamic in the Golimbieski case. Instead of the focus of the case being on a Grade A dairy violation, it was on property rights. Lobsinger’s willingness to hire attorneys to protect those rights made that happen. It shows the impact one individual can make.

1 A herdshare agreement involves someone purchasing an ownership interest in a dairy animal or animals and hiring the farmer to board, care for, and milk the animal(s); the difference in a herd lease agreement is that someone leases the dairy animal(s) and has ownership rights in the animal(s) for the term of the lease.

Share

Michigan Group Works to Find Common Ground Between Raw Milk Advocates and Policy Makers

All across the United States, raw milk is a controversial issue. Over the past year alone there have been several high-profile legal cases and legislative battles surrounding the question of whether raw milk should be available for sale to the public and in what capacity.

Michigan was the first state to ban raw milk sales in the late 1940s and the least likely state to deregulate it now – yet it is there that a group of 13 individuals, made up of farmers, academics, healthcare professionals and regulators, have been quietly working together for six years to find common ground between raw milk advocates and legislators. Continue reading

Share