|By CELESTE BAUMGARTNER
DARKE COUNTY, Ohio — The Darke County Common Pleas Court has temporarily permitted Darke County dairy producer Carol Schmitmeyer to continue operating as a Grade-A dairy producer on the condition that no raw milk is distributed to her “herd share” customers.
Schmitmeyer’s Grade-A license was revoked by ODA Director Fred Dailey on Sept. 28.
“The Schmitmeyers (Carol and her husband, Paul) have failed to comply with a number of Ohio dairy laws including processing milk without a processors license, selling raw milk and selling raw milk that was improperly labeled,” said ODA spokesperson LeeAnne Mizer.
“These are laws that are on the books to protect public health, and these are the same laws that are required of all of Ohio’s more than 3,500 dairy producers.”
Carol Schmitmeyer said, “We were trying to abide by the law by doing herd-shares, which are legal in Ohio.”
Ohio Farmers Union (OFU) saw this as an issue affecting family farmers and consumers and issued a press release in the Schmitmeyers’ defense.
“The Schmitmeyers were operating a herd-share agreement, which allows participants to drink raw milk from a dairy herd in which they have purchased ownership,” said Jeff Eschmeyer, government relations director for OFU.
The sale of raw milk in Ohio is illegal; however, state law allows an owner of a cow to consume raw milk, the OFU said.
There is nothing against this herd-share agreement in current law, Eschmeyer explained.
“The law is silent on this, and there have not been any cases in the courts on this,” he said.
The Schmitmeyers have a herd of 100 cows. About 87 percent of their gross income is from sales of Grade-A milk to processors, not through herd-share agreements.
Yet Paul said the herd-share program of 150 members has been one of the most rewarding things he’s done because of the consumer to farmer relationship.
“Herd-share owners came to me,” Paul said. “They wanted to have access to raw milk. We wouldn’t sell it to them. We eventually came up with the herd-share program through an attorney. We had legal documents drawn up.”
“These herd-share owners are a group of doctors, nurses, attorneys, a microbiologist, housewives, farmers, professors, nutritional dieticians - these are smart, well-educated people,” he said.
Those members recently testified before the Ohio House on the benefits of raw milk. Debate on HB 534, which would permit the sale of raw milk is taking place in the House Agricultural and Resource Committee.
“If they wish to have the law changed they’re doing it the right way by going through the legislature but in the meantime we need to enforce the laws the way they’re written,” Mizer said.
However, the ODA indicated last week that it would not object to the temporary permit granted by Darke County and, unless otherwise modified by the judge, it will remain in effect until the court hears Schmitmeyer’s appeal regarding the order that revoked her license.
Still, everyone is frustrated.
“It’s important to note that we are not trying to keep people from being dairy farmers in Ohio,” Mizer said. “We want that industry to flourish.”
Said Eschmeyer, “The ODA’s intervening to place farmers in this position while discussion is taking place at the Statehouse, seems heavy-handed.”
Paul said, “Under no circumstances did we ever intend to break the law nor do we think we have.”
“It’s just been cruel,” Carol said.
This farm news was published in the Oct. 11, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.