|By JANE HOUIN
MILLERSBURG, Ohio — Holmes County Common Pleas Court Judge Thomas D. White ordered Millersburg farmer Arlie Stutzman to refrain from further violating Ohio’s dairy laws, which means he may not sell unlabeled milk directly to consumers. The recently delivered decision is the result of a June 30 hearing.
Last September, an Ohio Department of Agriculture agent purchased unlabeled raw milk at Stutzman’s farm, a routine procedure used by the department to enforce its statutory responsibilities to assure consumers receive safe and wholesome food products.
Stutzman brought his challenge to court because he felt that the state law violates his religious beliefs as a member of the Amish community by prohibiting him from sharing the milk he produces with others. “While I can and I have food, I’ll share it,” Stutzman said. “Do unto others what you would have others do unto you.”
Though the ODA said they sent an agent to Stutzman’s farm as a result of a tip from an anonymous neighbor regarding raw milk sales, Stutzman believes he was targeted because his cows are partly owned by a group of 150 families in what is known as a herd-share agreement, members in the agreement pay Stutzman a fee for the cows and are entitled to a portion of the milk. While sales of raw milk are illegal in Ohio and 24 other states, herd-share agreements take advantage of a loophole because the group is buying the cows, not the milk.
Judge White in his opinion said Stutzman’s acceptance of a donation for the milk was “a subterfuge to skirt the requirements of the law.” Also, the court found “no merit” to Stutzman’s claim he had been “entrapped” or that his right to freedom of religion had been infringed. Stutzman’s “herd-share” arrangement for his dairy cattle was not at issue in this hearing.
The department revoked Stutzman’s license in January, and he applied for a new license in April. After a required sanitation inspection, Stutzman was issued a new Grade A milk producers license, which means his milk can be sold to a milk processing facility for pasteurization and packaging, most likely to be consumed as fluid milk. At the same time, the department sought the permanent injunction to ensure Stutzman would comply with Ohio’s dairy laws, as required of all of Ohio’s more than 3,500 dairy farmers.
Ohio’s dairy laws do not prohibit dairy farmers from selling milk directly to consumers, provided they become a licensed and inspected milk processor, and meet labeling, pasteurization and other requirements. Currently, it is only legal in Ohio for raw milk retailers who have continuously sold raw milk since prior to 1965 to continue to do so.
Consumption of raw milk products is discouraged by the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Medical Assoc. Raw milk can harbor dangerous pathogenic organisms that can cause diseases such as brucellosis, campylobacterosis, salmonellosis and tuberculosis.
However, groups such as the Weston A. Price Foundation, which is dedicated to restoring nutrient-dense foods to diets, advocate the consumption of raw milk, saying pasteurization diminishes vitamin content and kills beneficial bacteria.
Supporters of raw milk sales claim that it can be both safer and healthier than pasteurized milk and can help consumers avoid health conditions such as asthma, tooth cavities, diabetes, attention deficit disorder, osteoporosis and other ailments. In addition, they claim it can provide a niche market for Ohio dairy farmers and that the state’s current raw milk ban unnecessarily restricts consumer choice.
“There’s a safe way to produce milk and produce raw milk,” said Christina Trecaso, who leads the Weston A. Price Foundation’s Ohio chapter.
The foundation is a national organization that advocates a diet of nutrient-dense whole foods and is an advocate for Ohio House Bill 534, which was introduced in the Ohio legislature in March. The Weston A. Price Foundation contends that raw milk is one of the safest foods in the food supply and that the promise that pasteurization protects consumers against pathogens is not true. The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation supports the legalization of raw milk, though they acknowledge it is a controversial issue.
ODA Director Fred Dailey said he disagreed with raw milk advocates but described them as “good, honest, hardworking people.”
“If people think raw milk makes them feel better, I’m not here to argue,” Dailey told legislators during hearing before the House Agriculture Committee. “But the fact remains that people are going to get sick, and the public will want to hold someone responsible.”
The Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Dairy Division inspects, licenses, and maintains records on Ohio’s more than 2,500 Grade A milk producers, more than 1,000 manufacture milk producers, as well as milk haulers, milk processors, milk transfer stations, and milk receiving stations in Ohio.
Licensing and inspecting these facilities helps to assure the sanitary production, processing, and transportation of these products. Ohio’s dairy law can be found in Section 917 of the Ohio Revised Code and 901:11 of the Ohio Administrative Code.