Courts - Wisconsin State's raw milk ban at stake

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Wisconsin dairy farmers who believe they have found a way to legally sell raw milk in the state will make their case in court on Tuesday.

The operators of Grassway Organic Farm in Calumet County allege in a case before a Dane County judge that the state has no right to stop them from selling milk to customers who have become part-owners of the farm.

The case isn't a direct challenge to Wisconsin's ban on raw milk sales, but if Kay and Wayne Craig prevail, it would open up a loophole large enough to drive a herd of dairy cows through.

"Our entire system of licensing would be in jeopardy," said Cheryl Daniels, the food safety division attorney with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

The Craigs' lawsuit is one of two in the court system related to the state law banning all but incidental sales of raw milk. Another one, involving Walworth County farm Nourished by Nature, was transferred last week to Dane County and may ultimately be combined with the Craig lawsuit.

Access to raw milk has also led to controversy in Minnesota, where the Department of Health says at least eight people got E. coli from raw milk at a farm in Gibbon. Minnesota law allows incidental milk sales on farms, and the owner of the southwestern Minnesota farm in question has disputed its milk is at fault.

Officials said some of the Minnesota cases came from milk purchased through special clubs barred under state law.

The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, which is based in Virginia and advocates for raw milk sales nationally, is defending the farmers in both Wisconsin cases.

The Craigs' filed their lawsuit in December, before the issue caught fire in the Legislature. They were motivated by DATCP's refusal to renew their license for operating the on-farm store, citing the sales of raw milk. The Walworth County lawsuit was brought in February.

Wisconsin law allows only incidental sales of raw milk that are not part of a farm's regular business and are not advertised.

The Craigs argue in the lawsuit that the state can't stop them from selling raw milk to customers who are part-members of their farm. It costs $10 to belong and the Craigs have about 300 members. They charge $6 per gallon of raw milk and sell about 260 gallons a week, Kay Craig said. That equates to more than $81,000 a year in raw milk sales alone.

The Craigs' filed the lawsuit seeking a ruling that they are not breaking the law by offering raw milk to the part-owners of their farm and that they can continue to do so. They are also seeking an injunction stopping the state from taking any enforcement action against them.

The state is seeking dismissal of the lawsuit, which Dane County Judge Patrick Fiedler has scheduled to rule on Tuesday.

Published: Tue, Jun 15, 2010

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