A state regulator said the Wednesday shutdown of a Sauk County farm was a routine enforcement action against an unlicensed business, but raw dairy advocates say the move bespeaks a larger effort by state officials to curtail the industry following the veto of a bill that would have expanded raw dairy sales.
Inspectors with the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and the Sauk County Health Department sealed refrigerated cases of cheese, butter and other unpasteurized daily products at Vernon and Erma Hershberger’s farm outside Loganville Wednesday and told them to stop selling to their approximately 100 regular customers.
Authorities had to get a warrant to take the action after the Hershbergers refused to let inspectors in without one, Vernon Hershberger said. He said the state sent him a questionnaire in late January asking him about his business practices after he stopped selling his products to a dairy processer. Having a processer is a requirement for being licensed.
Hershberger said he refused to answer most of the question on the form.
DATCP spokesman Lee Sensenbrenner said that the department was required to see if the Hershbergers were operating an illegal dairy farm and that the action had nothing to do with the broader controversy over the sale of raw milk or other dairy products.
Advocates for raw dairy say that the products are safe and that pasteurization kills nutrients. Public health officials and those in the pasteurized dairy industry say the products can be unsafe and lobbied Gov. Jim Doyle not to sign a bill last month that would have allowed for a raw milk pilot project. Farmers can still sell “incidental” amounts of raw dairy directly to consumers.
“There’s been no change in the raw milk laws,” Sensenbrenner said. “We’re operating under the same laws as before.”
But Vernon Hershberger, who was defying the state action Thursday and still selling to his customers, said targeting his farm is part of a broader effort by government to infringe on the “right to choose the foods we want to eat” and on private contracts between producers like himself and consumers.
Joe Plasterer, a raw milk advocate and a member of a DATCP task force on raw milk, said it’s disingenuous for DATCP to say it is willing to work out a pathway to legal raw milk sales and still conduct crackdowns like the one at the Hershbergers.
“As soon as they veto (the bill), they start going after another farm,” he said.
Sensenbrenner said it would be up to the Sauk County district attorney to pursue charges against Hershberger for defying the state shutdown. The district attorney’s office declined to comment on the case Thursday.