“Dairy farmer acquitted on three of four charges in raw milk trial”

by Walter Olson on May 28, 2013

“Dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger was acquitted on three of four criminal charges early Saturday morning in a trial that drew national attention from supporters of the raw, unpasteurized milk movement.” Hershberger sold his products through what he characterized as a consumer buying club, but prosecutors charged that the set-up was too much like a retail store, with price stickers and a cash register; Wisconsin law bans the sale of raw milk products through a retail store. “‘This is as close to Prohibition as anything I have ever seen, but this time it’s milk and an Amish farmer, rather than liquor and gangsters,’ [defense attorney Glenn] Reynolds said.” [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel; Ryan Ekvall, Reason]

{ 13 comments }

1 Anonymous Nicholas 05.28.13 at 9:25 am

Safety standards are tyranny! We must allow parents to poison their children in order to be free people! First they come for your babypoison, then they come for your guns!

I didn’t follow this trial. If he was (mostly) acquitted by a jury, then I presume that is justice and I presume that he (mostly) didn’t break the law. That doesn’t change the goodness of the law, though.

2 Hugo S. Cunningham 05.28.13 at 9:39 am

@AN–
I suspect the reason libertarian groups are hailing this verdict is that it looks like jury nullification: the jury rejected the three charges most clearly involving fully-informed consent.
Personally, I much prefer pasteurized dairy products. I trust the medical experts, just as I do with fluoridated drinking water and genetically modified foods.
I have seen claims that certain kinds of gourmet cheeses only come out right if not pasteurized.

3 gitarcarver 05.28.13 at 10:09 am

That doesn’t change the goodness of the law, though.

That assumes there is any “goodness” in the law to begin with.

At what point in time did a person having to defer their well informed choice (which will harm no other person) to a government agency become “good?”

4 Walter Olson 05.28.13 at 10:35 am

Hugo — Knowing the very real risks associated with raw milk, I am like you a dedicated customer of the pasteurized variety (as also of fluoridated water and GMO foods).

As gitarcarver notes, the interest of the Wisconsin trial only begins there. Among other issues, it raises the question of how far our consciences will allow us to go in coercing other persons whose choices differ from ours. And if we feel no unease at all about coercing other persons, that tells us something too, if only about ourselves.

5 Don 05.28.13 at 11:30 am

There is lots and lots of good information out there about 19th century Cholera epidemics related to raw milk

There is also lots of information out there about how farmers use to mistreat their cows and adulter raw milk

None of this relates to 21st centry production techniques

But yes, there is a very good reason we pasteurize

6 Small Government Guy 05.28.13 at 11:46 am

I have been following this case and the raw milk issue fairly closely, and I will probably stay with pasteurized because I like the taste and I don’t buy the additional nutritional claims for raw milk at this point.

However, I don’t see much risk in the consumption of raw milk in the numbers put forth by the CDC- certainly not enough to characterize it as a “poison” nor restrict its consumption.

7 Ron Miller 05.28.13 at 12:13 pm

There is a brother’s keeper issue here that is woven into most of these things. Reasonable people differ.

But the moral high horse rides both ways: we should also feel uneasy sometimes when we don’t coerce others and we are willing to let them harm themselves and just stay out of it.

8 MattS 05.28.13 at 1:18 pm

Ron Miller,

“we should also feel uneasy sometimes when we don’t coerce others and we are willing to let them harm themselves and just stay out of it.”

Why?

9 Ron Miller 05.28.13 at 3:38 pm

Cain raised the brother’s keeper issue first. But I guess he agrees with you.

A free society requires people to take personal responsibility for themselves and give them the freedom to make choices. But we have chosen as a society to intervene when people make bad choices that we think may cause them great harm. We ban heroin. We make people wear seat belts. Sometimes we do so because it it helps protect us all. But sometimes we do it just because we think the choice is so poor we should intervene. You have to give your kid a blood transfusion if she needs one. Period.

Sometimes we should not intervene because we balance all of the interests and decide we shouldn’t. Society draws the line in different – and sometime contradictory – ways. But we should feel a little uneasy about it when we think someone is hurting themselves and we just let it go? Yeah, I think we should even when the balance of interests says we should.

10 gitarcarver 05.28.13 at 7:22 pm

Cain raised the brother’s keeper issue first. But I guess he agrees with you.

Are you really trying to equate a response from a person who was not willing to accept responsibility for their choices and actions (Cain killing Abel) to those who are willing to accept responsibility for their choices and actions (those who choose to drink raw milk)?

11 Ron Miller 05.28.13 at 9:44 pm

Actually, I was just, ah, making a joke. Besides, Cain’s line in response and in fact that whole fact pattern there have no bearing on these facts. But good hustle trying to find a way to make me unreasonable. You’ll get em next time, I’m sure.

12 Judy K. Warner 05.30.13 at 6:26 pm

There are many more cases of illness from salad greens than from raw milk. But various state governments choose to prosecute (and persecute) farmers who sell raw milk that has sickened nobody, not farmers who grow greens with e coli on them. By contrast, Pennsylvania has had for many decades a certified milk program that allows farmers to sell raw milk if they follow certain guidelines like more frequent inspections.

Government’s notions of what is healthy are not always based on the best science. Take the idiotic food pyramid, for example, which will leave many people protein-deprived and fat-deprived. In fact, the maker of the current USDA pyramid doesn’t seem to understand the concept of a food pyramid at all.

13 Noah Kovacs 06.24.13 at 10:27 am

Whether or not you agree with the health side of raw milk, I think the bigger issue at hand is whether or not the farmer should be able to sell the raw milk in a retail setting. I’m a firm believer in a free market with different options for food. If you don’t want to partake in consuming raw milk, that is fine. We each have our individual diets and we deserve options. Now I will agree that if this “buying” club closely resembles a retail outlet, he’s probably just trying to find a loop hole but don’t we have more important crimes to be perusing?

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