By KEVIN WALKER
MIDDLEBURY, Ind. — The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning letter to David Hochstetler, an Indiana dairy farmer, for his transport of unpasteurized raw milk across state lines.
This farm news was published in the March 21, 2007 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.
“Our investigation determined that your firm distributes unpasteurized raw milk and cream in interstate commerce,” the letter, dated Feb. 8, states. The letter also says, “The milk and cream you produce in Indiana and distribute to Cooperatives in Michigan and Illinois for further distribution to their Co-op members, is in final package for direct human consumption.”
According to the FDA these activities are illegal under the Public Health Service Act.
The letter, signed by Joann Givens, director of the Detroit office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, also takes issue with Hochstetler’s labeling of his dairy products. The letter directs Hochstetler to respond to the letter within 15 working days.
In response to the letter Hochstetler met with Givens and other officials at the FDA, and told them he believed he was not in violation of the FDA’s regulations. At the meeting he was told he would need to state his position in writing.
“He’s allowed to take it up to a higher level in the agency,” said Peter Kennedy, an attorney who represents Hochstetler. Kennedy said Hochstetler would respond to the FDA in writing within approximately a week.
The FDA has also responded in writing to U.S. Sen. Carl Levin’s (D-Mich.) Nov. 3 letter to the FDA asking for more information about the FDA’s investigation into Hochstetler’s activities that involve the sale or distribution of raw milk.
The FDA’s letter, dated Feb. 21, states that MDA informed the FDA of shipments of raw milk into Michigan from Hochstetler’s farm in Indiana. The Indiana Board of Animal Health (BOAH) was also told of the situation.
The FDA then conducted an investigation of Hochstetler’s farm, in conjunction with MDA and BAH, “to determine the circumstances related to the production, sale, and distribution of raw milk and raw milk products in Michigan, Indiana and Illinois.”
As a result of this investigation the FDA sent Hochstetler a warning letter, noting several violations of its regulations regarding the sale or distribution of raw milk, and requiring him to respond.
In response to a question from Levin, the FDA stated that it has investigated similar cases in the past, including Dee Creek Farms in Woodland, Wash.
It states that in December 2005, 18 cases of E. coli infections occurred that were linked to raw milk in Washington and Oregon. The letter states that this infection can result in sudden, short-term kidney failure in children.
Cow-sharing was a method for the distribution of raw milk in that case. The letter also states that “FDA considers the cow-sharing agreements it has observed to be an attempt at circumvention” of FDA’s regulations.
Regarding the MDA’s criminal case against Richard Hebron, the Vandalia, Mich. farmer who runs Family Farms Cooperative, it’s still not known what the Cass county prosecutor will do.
Kennedy, who represents Hebron as well as Hochstetler, stated that he believes the prosecutor’s delay in the case is due to a lack of personnel at the prosecutor’s office, not politics.
The Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) has been seeking to have Hebron prosecuted for distributing raw milk to his co-op’s members in a manner that violates state law. Hebron also does business with Hochstetler.
In a recent interview, the MDA’s Food and Dairy Division Director Katherine Fedder struck a conciliatory note.
“MDA would like to see this issue resolved sooner rather than later,” Fedder said. “We would like to engage in a discussion about where we go from here. How can we ensure that those activities are occurring in a safe manner? We don’t want to drive these activities underground.”
Meanwhile, Hebron is still waiting to get his computers, records, supplies and other items the police took from him last year.
“I don’t know why they can’t make a decision,” Hebron said of the Cass County prosecutor. “They haven’t given us anything back.”