Farmer, Wife and Law on Trial in Florida

On October 21st and 22nd, Dennis and Alicia Stoltzfoos, owners of Full Circle Farm, went on trial at the Suwannee County Courthouse in Live Oak, Florida. The dairy farmer and his wife were both charged with one criminal misdemeanor for selling food without the proper permit. The couple represented themselves; their three-and-a-half-month-old daughter, Luanna, was at the defense table for much of the trial. Judge William F. Williams found Dennis and Alicia both guilty but deferred sentencing until April 14, 2020. With the way the trial turned out, applying the law to the Stoltzfooses’ situation was on trial as well.

There have been a number of “what’s wrong with this picture” moments in the case since the state filed the charges in May, raising the question of why did this case have to go to trial. Dennis attended several pretrial hearings at which most of the cases before the court were for shoplifting along with possession or distribution of crystal meth or opioids; so, in the midst of a group of people charged with causing injury to others or themselves was a farmer and his wife both charged with activity that has made others well.

A trial like the Stoltzfooses’ would usually be held in a misdemeanor court room, but the crowd was too big; so, the trial was moved to a larger courtroom. For most misdemeanor cases, it’s typical to have two or three people present; at the Stoltzfoos trial, it was estimated that close to 100 people, including a number of children, were in the gallery. The first day of the trial, Judge Williams commented, “These kids are so much better behaved than I was at that age. My compliments to the parents of the kids.” The second day of the trial, the judge said, “My parents would have given their right arm for me to behave like that.”

While the state called no witnesses saying the food produced by Full Circle Farm (FCF) had made them sick, Dennis and Alicia submitted into evidence over 100 testimonials from customers on how FCF’s food had benefited their health.

State investigations are usually complaint-driven, but the state investigated the Stoltzfoos operation on its own initiative. There has never been a consumer complaint filed against FCF in all the years it has been in business.

Dennis had a prior run-in with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) in 2005 over selling food without a permit; that case was settled when he agreed to obtain a Master Feed Registration that enabled him to sell pet food. He’s sold raw dairy products and other nutrient-dense foods under the registration [other than aged raw cheese, sales of raw dairy products in Florida are only legal for pet consumption]. Customers place orders on the farm’s website and pick up the orders at various delivery sites around north and west central Florida.

From 2006 until 2018, Dennis renewed the registration then let it lapse a year ago. In January of this year, an undercover agent from FDACS made a “buy” of raw milk and other foods from the farm, leading to the charges against farmer and wife.

Dennis admitted at the trial that he did not have a permit when the undercover officer made the purchase and, going forward, would obtain the permits he needed to be in compliance. He was negotiating with the state’s attorney right up to before the day of the trial to reach a settlement in which the charges would be dropped in return for Dennis obtaining the Master Feed Registration and submitting correct labels for the products he wanted to sell. Just 15 minutes before the trial was to start, the state’s attorney told him he would need to get a food establishment permit to sell at least some of the foods he lists on his website for human consumption as well. What foods the farm would have to sell for human consumption the attorney did not say.

There are a number of small farmers in Florida producing safe, nutritious food that, because of the costly requirements of producing and selling food for human consumption (i.e., installing bathrooms, triple sink, etc.), can only afford to sell their food for pet consumption. Those farmers cannot advertise pet food as being for human consumption but, at the same time, the producers have no legal responsibility to stop their customers from eating pet food. There is high quality human food being sold as pet food and people are seeking it out for their own health and the health of their families.

Dennis was a trailblazer in the 1990s in Florida for promoting the principles of the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) and was one of the first Weston Price chapter leaders in the country. He is an educator and has been operating his farm as a healing ministry for nearly two decades, always looking for ways to produce the healthiest food possible. Dennis used the trial as an opportunity to educate the court on the need for changes in the law such that there would be no government interference with producers benefiting health and decreasing medical expenses through the sale of nutrient-dense food. In addition to introducing the customer testimonials as evidence, Dennis also submitted a copy of Joel Salatin’s book, Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal, to be a part of the court record. Judge Williams admitted the testimonials and the book as evidence, carrying the trial over to a second day so that he would have a chance to read both before rendering his verdict.

After Judge Williams found both defendants guilty, the prosecution asked the judge to sentence the defendants to six months probation, payment of $273 in court costs, and the payment of over $900 to FDACS for the cost of its investigation. The prosecution also asked that the court issue an order prohibiting Full Circle Farm from advertising food on its website and selling food until it obtained the required permits, a possible ‘death sentence’ for the farm given how long the licensing process could take. The judge responded to the state’s request by deferring sentencing for six months so that the Stoltzfooses would have enough time to get the needed permits. The crowd at the trial and the testimonials made the difference in the judge’s decision to defer sentencing.

One of the frustrations Dennis had with the labeling requirements was that his operation was transparent without having to have labels on his products. Customers order only through the farm website so they know what they are purchasing. The couple also has an open-door policy; people can call anytime they have questions or go to the farm to look around. Instead of spending $5,000 per year on labeling, why couldn’t that money go towards further enriching the soil on the farm?

The couple had surveyed its customers on labeling earlier, and the consensus was that the customers didn’t want labeling nor any other regulation. As the globalization of the food supply continues, it’s becoming more apparent that unregulated locally-produced food is safer and more nutritious than regulated food from the industrial food system, especially when that food is coming from countries with food safety systems that are substandard to the one in the U.S. Florida has found out how free ”free trade” is with greening disease, an imported malady that has devastated the state’s citrus industry. FDACS’s time would be better spent on imported food than on investigating farms like Full Circle that have never had a customer complaint. There is significant transparency in the operation of the farm without regulation.

The more local food producers there are in Florida, the safer the state’s food supply will be. Passing a law allowing for more unregulated sales from local producers direct to consumers would be the path towards that goal. It’s time for the legislature to consider doing so.

2019 Raw Milk Legislation Summary

Seventeen states had bills legalizing or expanding the sale/distribution of raw milk and raw milk products before the legislatures during the 2019 session. Three states have passed legislation so far this year but, with many states in the first year of a two-year session, there are a number of bills that still have a chance of passing in 2020.

An untapped source of revenue for producers is the sale/distribution of raw dairy products other than milk and aged cheese. The sale of butter, cream, yogurt, and kefir is illegal in a majority of states but, given the excellent track record for food safety of all these products, there is a good chance that more states will be passing bills in the near future to legalize the sale of these products.

States having raw dairy bills in 2019 include:

ALASKA
The distribution of raw milk through herdshare agreements is currently legal by regulation; House Bill 16 (HB 16) would make it legal by statute and would also allow herdshare dairies to distribute all other raw dairy products to their shareowners in Alaska. HB 16 has passed out of the House and was assigned to a Senate committee before the 2019 session adjourned; so, it will start the 2020 session in the Senate Resources Committee.

ARKANSAS
Current law allows raw milk producers to sell up to a total of 500 gallons of raw goat milk and/or raw cow milk on an average monthly basis. House Bill 1699 (HB 1699) amends the law to also legalize the sale of raw sheep milk as part of the 500-gallon limit. HB 1699 passed the legislature and became law on April 10.

MISSOURI
House Bill 1090 (HB 1090) will allow licensed dairies meeting sanitary standards to sell raw milk and raw cream to grocery stores, restaurants, and similar establishments. Under current law, licensed raw milk dairies can sell raw milk and cream on the farm and through delivery. HB 1090 has been referred to the House Agriculture Policy Committee. The Missouri legislature just finished the first year of a two-year session.

MONTANA
House Bill 490 (HB 490) would have legalized raw milk sales and created a two-tier system in which those producing ten gallons of raw milk per day would operate under a small-scale raw milk license while dairies producing more than ten gallons per day would need to obtain a commercial raw milk license. In effect, HB 490 would have acted as a de facto ban on raw milk.

Those producing more than 10 gallons per day would have had to have the dairy’s physical facility be up to Grade A standards, a cost of tens of thousands of dollars. Even small-scale raw milk dairies could have been subject to onerous physical facility requirements. The bill also could have subjected dairies to expensive testing requirements and have made them pay for costs of a foodborne illness outbreak investigation even if they weren’t held responsible for the outbreak. HB 490 died on the House floor vote.

Two other bills died without a hearing that, respectively, would have legalized herdshare agreements (House Bill 521 – HB 521) and would have legalized sales of raw milk and raw milk products by producers with herds of less than 10 cows, 20 goats, or 20 sheep (House Bill 516 – HB 516).

NEVADA
Under current law, producers can only sell raw milk and raw milk products where a county milk commission has specifically certified those foods; Nye County has the only county milk commission in the state. Senate Bill 418 (SB 418) would have allowed producers to sell statewide the raw milk and raw milk certified by a county milk commission. SB 418 also would have exempted micro-dairies [with up to 5 cows, 10 goats, 10 sheep] from certification standards and allowed them to sell raw dairy without regulation directly to the consumer at the farm where the milk is produced. SB 418 passed the Senate but died without a hearing in the Assembly Committee on Health and Human Services.

NORTH CAROLINA
Sponsors introduced three raw milk bills in the 2019 session. House Bill 103 (HB 103) would allow the licensed sale of raw milk in retail stores by dairies with no more than 10 lactating cows, 10 lactating goats, or 10 lactating sheep. Companion bills, Senate Bill 509 (SB 509) and House Bill 385 (HB 385), would ban herdshare agreements; the state legalized the distribution of raw milk and raw milk products through herdshare agreements as part of the 2018 North Carolina Farm Bill. None of the three bills have received a hearing but the legislature’s rule allows bills to be tacked on to unrelated legislation; this is what happened in 2004 when the legislature passed a herdshare ban at the end of the session. As long as the legislature is still in session, SB 509 and HB 385 remain dangerous.

NEW YORK
Assembly Bill 5867 (AB 5867) would legalize herdshare agreements, referred to in the bill as “shared animal ownership agreements”, without regulation. Currently, in New York, the licensed on-farm sale of raw milk is legal. AB 5867 has been referred to the Assembly Agriculture Committee.

TENNESSEE
There were several raw dairy bills before the legislature. Senate Bill 358 (SB 358) which allows the sale of raw butter by producers with a dairy plant license became law on April 30; the bill requires dairy plant operators to keep the butter-making separate from the production of other dairy products. Producers must also put a warning label on the packages containing the raw butter.

Senate Bill 15 (SB 15) would have banned herdshare agreements; the bill died because no companion House bill was introduced. The sponsor of SB 15 later tacked on an amendment to an unrelated bill, Senate Bill 1123 (SB 1123), but that bill died in committee. Current law allows the unregulated distribution of raw milk and raw milk products through herdshare agreements.

UTAH
The final version of House Bill 182 (HB 182) would have allowed licensed dairies to sell raw butter and raw cream; currently, the only raw dairy products licensed producers can sell are milk and aged cheese. HB 182 passed out of the House and the Senate committee, but time ran out on the 2019 session before a vote of the full Senate could take place.

VERMONT
House Bill 525 (H.525) became law on June 17. Among other things, the bill legalizes the sale of raw milk at consumers’ homes and at farmers markets if the producer is in compliance with statutory requirements for animal health, sanitation, labeling, recordkeeping (as well as signage and registration requirements for those selling at farmers markets). Prior to the passage of H. 525, those producers meeting the same requirements could sell milk only on the farm and then deliver it to their customers (either at their homes or at farmers markets).

South Dakota Raw Milk Legislation Goes Into Effect

In March 2015, South Dakota passed a bill to legalize the sale of raw milk for human consumption. This new legislation officially went into effect on July 1, 2015, much to the satisfaction of food freedom fighters across the state.

The new law, Senate Bill 45, creates a new category of “raw milk for human consumption” which makes unpasteurized dairy products like milk and cream legal products regulated by the state, just like Grade A milk. These regulations will differ from those that are required of Grade A dairies and manufacturing plants because, as raw milk supporters have pointed out, raw milk produced for direct consumption and raw milk produced for pasteurization are two different products. The new law acknowledges this difference.

A unique aspect of the South Dakota raw milk legislation is that, while the state will monitor raw milk producers’ coliform levels, there are no set standards and producers won’t be fined for coliform counts. There are those who believe that coliform testing is not a good indicator of milk safety.

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Raw Milk Consumers React Surprisingly to Georgia Bill That Would Allow Sales of Raw Milk in Grocery Stores

Proposed Atlanta legislation might allow raw milk to be sold in grocery stores and, though one might think this would be beneficial for local dairy farmers and consumers alike, some residents have expressed concerns that the move “…will force regulations on farmers and compromise the relationships they have with customers.”

Georgia law currently bans the sale of unprocessed milk except for pet consumption yet there are residents who purchase raw milk directly from local farmers, often driving more than half an hour and paying $7-8 per gallon to get it. Some of these consumers say that they intentionally “…bypass grocery stores and buy milk directly from farmers because they like knowing where the milk they’re drinking comes from and that the product is pure.”

These customers are worried that, once allowed in grocery stores, government regulation will change the quality of the products because, as one speculates, “Regulation is always tilted toward big agriculture, not small farms.”

One consumer says that while it would be nice if raw milk was more widely available, she doesn’t want to compromise what is already available to her. And at least one farmer agrees: Daniel Seedorf says, “I do not want to have faceless transactions. Every single one of my customers come here to my farm and meet me face-to-face. The best food is not convenient. It’s a lot of effort, a lot of work, but incredibly rewarding to grow food like this.”

The Campaign for Real Milk is a project of the nutrition education non-profit, The Weston A. Price Foundation. Donate to help fund research into the benefits of nutrient dense foods.  http://www.westonaprice.org/lab