Virginia Ag Department Clarifies Policy on Herdshares


After two consecutive legislative sessions in which unsuccessful efforts were made that would have either banned or severely restricted herd share agreements, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has clarified its policy on herd shares. In an email to the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF), a VDACS official stated, “The agency has currently taken a hands off approach to herd shares as long as there is a legitimate contractual relationship conveying ownership between the consuming individual and the animal/herd. Value added products such as yogurt, etc. (again in the context of a contractual relationship between owner and consumer) are still on the table and I’m not sure where we are going with that but the agency is not taking any action regarding those types of products at this time.”1

Herd share agreements are private contractual arrangements in which someone purchases an ownership interest in a dairy animal (or herd of dairy animals) and pays a fee to a farmer for boarding, caring for and milking the animal(s). The owner has the property right to obtain raw milk from the animal(s). It’s legal to purchase ownership in a dairy animal and it’s legal to obtain milk from a dairy animal you co-own; currently, there is nothing in the Virginia Code on herd shares. Herd share programs have been thriving in Virginia for many years.

In 2017 an amendment to a food freedom bill was introduced that would have banned herd shares; the inducement for the ban was the legalization of the regulated on-farm sale of raw milk. The Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association (VICFA) and others–including the bill’s original sponsor, Nick Freitas–was successful in killing the legislation.

In 2018 opponents of herd shares–such as Virginia Farm Bureau, Virginia Agribusiness Council, and the Virginia State Dairymen’s Association–took a different tact; supporting the introduction of legislation in the Senate (SB 962) and the House of Delegates (HB 825) that would have officially legalized herd shares while attempting to intimidate both consumers and farmers from either entering into or continuing on with herd share agreements. Both bills required that shareholders assume joint liability if the herd or any milk produced by the herd was responsible for injury or illness; the way both bills read, giving raw milk to family or guests would be a crime. Both bills provided that violating any of the requirements in them would be first degree misdemeanors with criminal penalties of up to one year in jail and $2,500 in fines; everyday the violation continued would be a separate offense. Strong grassroots mobilization led by VICFA with help from the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF), FTCLDF and other organizations, carried the day; both bills died in committee.2

VDACS has long had a hands-off policy towards regulating herd share agreements but there have been reports of agency inspectors telling farmers that herd share agreements are illegal. Having a statement in writing from VDACS should help increase the sizable number of herd share programs in the state that already exist. The position of VICFA and its members has always been that the state has no jurisdiction over property rights in dairy livestock acquired through private contract, but there are others who were more hesitant to enter into herd share agreements without something in writing from VDACS on herd shares; they now have it.

In the past VDACS has been reluctant to acknowledge the legality of value-added products distributed through a herd share agreement, but recent precedent in other states shows the wisdom of VDACS current hands-off policy towards the distribution of raw dairy products other than milk.

In 2016 a Michigan court found a herd share operation not guilty of contempt for distributing butter and cream, among other product, to its shareholders; there was an injunction against the operation prohibiting it from violating Michigan’s dairy laws. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) had adopted a written policy allowing only the distribution of fluid raw milk through herd share agreements; in spite of the policy and plenty of evidence showing that other raw dairy was distributed through the herd share, the judge ruled that MDARD had not made its case that there were any violations of the state dairy laws. The case turned in favor of the herd share operation when one of its shareholders, Mike Lobsinger, successfully intervened as a party to the contempt proceeding. One of the arguments made by Lobsinger’s attorney was that, with the raw milk being his property, it was none of MDARD’s business if he had that milk processed into cream.3,4

In 2012 the Office of the Tennessee Attorney General issued an opinion finding that an “independent or partial owner of any hoofed mammal” may use a dairy product made from the milk produced by such animal for the owner’s personal consumption or other personal use.”5 Tennessee has a herd share statute recognizing that anyone who has an ownership interest in a dairy animal can use “the milk from such animal for the owner’s personal consumption or other personal use.”6 When the Tennessee Department of Agriculture claimed that the statute only allowed the distribution of raw milk and no other dairy product, State Senator Frank Niceley, the sponsor of the herd share bill that passed into law in Tennessee, sought the attorney general opinion.

Herd share programs are at the heart of Virginia’s local food system; the written statement of policy from VDACS should only strengthen that. Hopefully, it will help convince herd share opponents not to introduce legislation again in the next legislative session; if they do, the grassroots will be there once more to contest them.

[1] Email dated August 7, 2018
[2] Pete Kennedy, “Victory in Virginia – Bills Threatening Herd Shares Now Dead”, RealMilk.com, 6 February 2018. Last viewed 9/12/18 at https://www.realmilk.com/victory-virginia-bills-threatening-herd-shares-now-dead/
[3] Pete Kennedy, “Wild Day in Michigan: A Court Victory and A Raid”, Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund website, 13 December 2016. Last viewed 9/12/18 at https://www.farmtoconsumer.org/blog/2016/12/13/wild-day-michigan-court-victory-raid/
[4] James S. Jamo, “Opinion and Order”, MDARD v Hill High Dairy, LLC et al, File No. 15-574-CZ, 8 December 2016. [view PDF]
[5] Robert E. Cooper, Jr., “Owner’s Use of Milk and Licensing of the Sale of Eggs”, State of Tennessee Attorney General Office, Opinion No. 12-04, 13 January 2012
[6] Tennessee Statute 53-3-119

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.

STATE RAW MILK BILLS – 2018 UPDATE


There have been raw milk bills before the legislature in ten different states so far this current session. A bill has made it to the governor’s desk in Utah and there is legislation in at least a couple of other states that has a realistic chance of passing, including Louisiana which is one of seven states left where any raw milk sales or distribution is illegal. Bills before the legislatures include:

IOWA House File 2055 (HF 2055) would allow the unregulated sale of raw milk and raw milk products on-farm and through delivery. There is a labeling requirement that there be a statement on the container notifying consumers that the product has not been inspected and is not subject to public health regulations. Bills have also been introduced in the Iowa legislature that would legalize raw pet milk sales (HF 2057) and the distribution of raw milk through herdshares (HF 2056) but HF 2055 is the only raw milk bill the legislature has considered so far. On January 30 a subcommittee of the House Committee on Local Government recommended passage by a 2-1 vote; the bill is now before the full committee. Iowa is one of the remaining states that prohibits any raw milk distribution.

LOUISIANA companion bills, Senate Bill 188 (SB 188) and House Bill 437 (HB 437), have been introduced that would allow the on-farm sale of either cow milk or goat milk of an average of 500 gallons per month. No permit is required but producers are subject to inspection and must comply with milk testing, herd health, and sanitary standards as well as a labeling requirement that there be a warning that the raw milk may contain harmful bacteria. The bills are a reintroduction of Senate Bill 29 (SB 29) that nearly passed in 2016. SB 29 passed out of the Senate and was defeated in the House committee by one vote.

MASSACHUSETTS Senate Bill 442 (S.442) and House Bill 2938 (H.2938) are companion agricultural omnibus bills that include provisions which would officially legalize herdshare agreements and would allow the off-farm delivery of raw milk by licensed dairies. Under the bill, farmers with no more than twelve lactating cows, goats or combination of cows and goats can enter into herdshare agreements with those wanting to obtain raw milk. There must be a written contract that includes a statement that the raw milk is not pasteurized nor subject to inspection by the state Department of Health nor the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR). MDAR has power to issue rules on testing but cannot require testing more frequently than once every two months. The bills allow from a licensed raw milk farmer to deliver raw milk to a consumer with whom the farmer has a contractual relationship, including through the farmer’s agent and through a community supported agriculture (CSA) delivery system. The bill gives MDAR power to issue regulations governing delivery; the regulations must allow for non-mechanical refrigeration. The bills have passed out of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture and will likely next be assigned to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

NEW JERSEY Assembly Bill 502 (A502) is the same bill that has been introduced the prior three legislative sessions, A502 allows for the on-farm sale of raw milk and raw milk products by a licensed dairy. Producers must comply with labeling, signage, herd health, and milk testing requirements. The bill also legalizes herdshare agreements and states that no permit is required for the distribution of milk through a herdshare contract. New Jersey is one of the remaining seven states that prohibits any raw milk distribution. A502 has been referred to the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

TENNESSEE House Bill 2229 (HB 2229) and Senate Bill 2104 (SB 2104) would have allowed the unregulated direct sale from producer to consumers of all foods except meat, on the farm, at farmers markets and other venues. There were labeling and signage requirements but no licensing or inspection under the bills. The bills were both defeated in committee; under current law, the distribution of raw milk and raw milk products is legal through herdshare agreements. Herdshare programs have been thriving in the state.

UTAH Senate Bill 108 (SB 108) has passed through both the Senate and House and are on the desk of Governor Gary Herbet. SB 108 allows the delivery and sale of raw milk through a mechanically refrigerated mobile unit by licensed dairies. Currently only the on-farm sale of raw milk by license holders is legal unless the producer has a majority ownership interest in a retail store (only one of the state’s ten licensed dairies meets this qualification). SB 108 also allows for the unlicensed on-farm sale of up to 120 gallons per month by unlicensed dairies if the producer is in compliance with labeling, recordkeeping, milk testing, and milk cooling requirements. Producers wanting to sell under this exemption must notify the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF) that they are doing so. UDAF has power under the bill to order a producer to stop selling raw milk if the producer’s dairy is linked to a foodborne illness. The department has the power to levy administrative fines against producers who have been linked to a foodborne illness outbreak.

VIRGINIA Senate Bill 962 (SB 962) and House Bill 825 (HB 825) would have officially legalized and regulated herdshare operations. State policy in Virginia has long been to leave the many herdshare programs existing in the state alone. The original versions of both bills would have criminalized the refusal of either farmers or consumers to turn over copies of their contracts to government agencies. Both bills stated it was illegal for anyone besides the party to the contract to receive raw milk; in other words, giving raw milk to family or guests would have been a crime. Criminal penalties for violations of the bill’s requirements were up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine; every day the violation continued would be a separate offense. The bills also required that the herdshare contracts contain a clause that shareholders assumed joint liability if the herd or any milk produced by the heard was responsible for any injury or illness. SB 962 was in Senate committee and shortly afterwards was stricken in the House committee.

For further updates on the progress of raw milk legislation, go to the bill tracking page at realmilk.com.

Making a Difference in Tennessee


The story of Michele Reneau serves as an example of how a consumer can make an impact in advancing freedom of food choice. Reneau, who along with Nate and Anju Wilson manages a Chattanooga food buyers club, was the one most responsible for turning a potential enforcement action by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA) into a legislative breakthrough and a new law benefiting food buyers clubs throughout the state.

Reneau, a Weston Price chapter leader and Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) member, has the right temperament and personality to take on government regulators. She doesn’t accept their general assertions of authority, contesting the regulators point by point—asking for specific citations in the law to back up their claims. She gives up ground to regulators grudgingly and is a strong believer that there is a legal distinction between the private and the public distribution of food.

Reneau, along with the Wilsons, manages the Weekly Fig, a private membership association. Among other foods, Weekly Fig distributes meats, eggs, raw dairy and baked goods to its members. On May 4, 2016, an official from TDA attempted to inspect the Weekly Fig’s facility for the storage and distribution of food. TDA had discovered Weekly Fig through the inspection of a neighboring licensed facility in the same complex. Reneau refused to let TDA conduct the inspection of the buyers club facility claiming TDA did not have jurisdiction over her operation. On June 6 counsel for TDA sent Reneau and the Wilsons a warning letter identifying violations the Weekly Fig had allegedly committed, including operating an unlicensed establishment, offering for sale raw juice, and offering for sale raw milk and raw milk products.

An informal hearing was held on the matter June 30 between a representative for Weekly Fig and TDA officials; subsequently, the department sent Weekly Fig correspondence upholding the written warnings against their unlicensed operation of a “food establishment” and their sale of raw milk, putting Reneau and the Wilsons on notice that “future violations of the same or similar sort—i.e. unlicensed operation as a food establishment or sale of raw milk—will be considered grounds for the Department to seek actions for injunction and/or criminal charges.”

With there not being favorable case law on a legal distinction between public and private distribution of food, Reneau took the legislative route to fight back against the threat from TDA. On February 8, 2017, Tennessee State Senator Frank Niceley and State Representative Kevin Brooks introduced, respectively, Senate Bill 651 and House Bill 702, legislation providing that no permit is required to operate “a farm to consumer distribution point” (e.g., food buyers club). The bills were amended to add that the facility must register with the state department of revenue for purposes of paying sales tax 1 and must agree to only allow deliveries of meats produced by farmers who comply with the Tennessee Meat and Poultry Inspection Act; these are both existing requirements the facility is expected to comply with anyway. On May 11, 2017, SB 651 was signed into law. Reneau testified at the Senate committee hearing on the bill and, according to Senator Niceley, did a great job. FTCLDF worked on the development of the bill.

SB 651 is a big help for farmers; consumers like their convenience and will go more often to a centrally located buyers club site to spend their food dollar than they would going to a farm. Unless there was an exemption from the permit requirement, many food buyers clubs would not bother having a fixed central location for the distribution of food.

It would be great to end by saying the government is leaving Weekly Fig alone with the new law in place but that hasn’t been the case. Even though state regulatory agencies have stopped bothering the food buyers club 2, for the past several months USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) has been requesting that FSIS personnel be allowed to conduct an inspection of the Weekly Fig facility. FSIS has broad jurisdiction to inspect firms handling meat products but almost never uses it to inspect a facility like the Weekly Fig’s. The agency is asking for customer records detailing meat purchases and sales. The Weekly Fig’s charter prohibits the sharing of member information with anyone.

Reneau doesn’t know who made the complaint to FSIS but it doesn’t look like a coincidence the complaint was made shortly before SB 651 became law. Reneau, as she did with TDA, is contesting FSIS jurisdiction to inspect the facility by requesting that the agency give her specific citations in the law giving it the authority to inspect Weekly Fig; she is not giving FSIS an inch until it does so. To this point the agency has yet to attempt an inspection.

What Reneau and the Wilsons have done is to realize the potential consumers have to make changes in the laws governing local food. They have shown it doesn’t take many to make a difference.

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1 Food sold for human consumption is taxable in Tennessee.

2 TDA has stopped pursuing any action against the Weekly Fig over the allegation that it was selling raw milk. The Weekly Fig does not sell raw milk and raw milk products, rather it distributes them to its members pursuant to a herdshare agreement; herdshare contracts are legal in Tennessee.

“I Like to Eat Whole Foods:” Why Some Tennesseans Choose Raw Milk

Despite the health risks and state law, many Tennessee residents choose to drink raw milk. In a riveting radio segment from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, reporter Michael Edward Miller investigates why.

In Tennessee, the sale of raw milk for human consumption is illegal – but consumers can legally obtain raw milk through herd shares. At one dairy farm, for example, customers pay $30 plus a monthly boarding fee to become co-owner of the farm’s five-cow herd. As co-owners they are allowed access to a share (one gallon per week) of the fresh milk.

In the segment, Miller looks at why Tennessee residents are willing to skirt the law or jump through hoops in order to have access to fresh, unpasteurized milk.

“I like to eat whole foods,” says one resident. “I like to buy my food at the farmer’s market, I like to grow my food. I am of the opinion that it’s healthier than what is provided to me by the industries.”

Raw milk drinkers emphasize the importance of knowing the cows from which they get their unpasteurized milk. Dairy farmers encourage customers to visit the farm to see how the cows graze, where they live, and the cleaning and safety measures behind the milking process. Both are quick to point out that while small, family-owned dairy farms are able to produce safe batches of unpasteurized milk, larger industrial dairies cannot. They agree with authorities that raw milk from large, commercial dairy farms is unsafe for human consumption and should not be allowed.

Listen to the complete broadcast here.

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