MADISON, Wis. (AP) – A Wisconsin dairy farmer who has vigorously fought for the right to sell unpasteurized raw milk lost an appeal Thursday over a misdemeanor conviction stemming from a state raid of his farm in 2010.
Vernon Hershberger is the face of the movement to legalize raw milk in Wisconsin, testifying in support of bills in the Legislature and waging a fight against his 2013 conviction of violating a holding order placed on the sales of products at his Sauk County farm after a 2010 raid by state regulators.
Hershberger argued he operates a private buying club with several hundred members that’s not subject to the same rules as a farmer selling products to the general public. The Loganville farmer also argued on appeal that he wouldn’t have been found guilty had an unedited copy of the state’s holding order been placed into evidence, and that the Sauk County Circuit Court wrongly precluded him from introducing evidence to bolster his defense.
But the state appeals court rejected all of his arguments. Hershberger was fined $1,000.
Hershberger’s attorney, Amy Salberg, said she had not seen the opinion and had no immediate comment.
Wisconsin Department of Justice spokeswoman Dana Brueck heralded the court’s ruling.
“This appeal is not a referendum on the desirability of on-the-farm sales of raw milk products,” she said. “Rather, it involves the ways in which a defendant may – and may not – challenge a (state) holding order.”
Despite the misdemeanor conviction, Hershberger was found not guilty last year of charges alleging he sold retail food, produced milk and operated a dairy plant without proper state licenses. Those victories were heralded by raw milk supporters, who continue to lobby the Legislature to legalize sales.
Opponents, which include dairy farmers, cheesemakers, doctors and others, argue it is unsafe and could lead to an outbreak of food-borne illnesses such as E. coli or salmonella that would put the state’s $26 billion dairy industry in jeopardy.
Supporters believe the government shouldn’t get in the way of farmers who want to sell raw milk to willing customers. They argue raw milk tastes better and is healthier before it is pasteurized, the process that kills harmful bacteria and extends shelf life.
Wisconsin law only allows for infrequent, incidental sales of raw milk.