A jury has found Wisconsin farmer Vernon Hershberger, 41, not guilty of producing milk without a license, selling unpasteurized milk and cheese without a license, and operating a retail establishment without a license.
Hershberger sold his products to a buying club of about 200 people, who he considers to be “part owners in the farm.” There is no evidence that his customers were unaware the food was unpasteurized.
Pasteurization is a process that removes bacteria from milk. Raw milk advocates say the process eliminates as much beneficial nutrients as harmful bacteria. The Food and Drug Administration denies that pasteurization does not reduce the nutritional value of milk.
While it can be consumed on the farm, raw milk is prohibited from being sold in many states, including Wisconsin. While 30 states allow raw milk to be sold for human consumption, the federal regulations prohibit the movement of those products across state lines.
Hershberger was found guilty of one count of breaking a holding order issued June 2010 that barred him from moving any food without a license.
The jury trial followed four years of investigations into Hershberger’s Loganville farm, Grazin Acres LLC. Their acquittal brings hope to many others that raw milk will one day be sold in Wisconsin, the country’s second top dairy producer behind California.
"This is a huge win for food rights," said Liz Reitzig, a founder of Farm Food Freedom Coalition, which advocates consumer access to natural, unprocessed food. She said the case "should give small farmers renewed courage to continue to operate within their communities."
Mainstream dairies warn that raw milk is unsafe, but also see its potential to steal market share in the industry.
“It’s impossible to make an unsafe product safe said a spokesman for the lobbying group the Wisconsin Safe Milk Coalition, Shawn Pfaff. "We strongly urge lawmakers to keep it illegal to sell raw milk in Wisconsin to protect the state's $27 billion dairy industry and the public health of its residents."
The FDA warns on their website of the risks of consuming raw milk, especially for pregnant women, because a Listeria infection can lead to miscarriage.