|By DOUG GRAVES
VERONA, Ky. — Gary Oaks’ only trouble with the law was a single traffic violation. But a friendly gesture to help a few cow owners landed him in more trouble than he imagined.
Last March, Oaks delivered raw milk from his farm in Verona, Ky. to a central location in Cincinnati, saving these cow-share families the trouble of coming to his farm to get the raw milk. But according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA), the transportation of raw milk across state lines is a violation of Ohio laws.
Last March, the Hamilton County Municipal Court found Oaks guilty of violating Ohio’s dairy licensing and labeling laws. A department investigation said Oaks illegally sold raw milk in the Cincinnati area, and found him operating without a raw milk retailer’s license and his products were not properly labeled, both required by the state of Ohio.
“We do not sell milk and are not a commercial dairy,” Gary’s wife, Dawn said. “We offer a cow-share program, and the cows in our fields belong to other families who are paying us a boarding fee. These families come to our farm to get the milk because they want milk directly from the cow.”
Each state has its own set of guidelines pertaining to such matters while some states don’t have any laws on the books.
“My husband was confronted by agents as if he had 100 pounds of cocaine in his possession,” Dawn said.
“It was similar to a drug bust. He was converged upon by eight separate agents and there were police cruisers as backup. Gary collapsed and was taken to the hospital. He has been in and out of the hospital four times with posttraumatic stress disorder.”
All this occurred because Oaks was trying to help save farmers with transportation of their milk.
“As a gratuity to save all these separate Cincinnati-area families from having to drive to Kentucky to get their milk, my husband drove to a central location, and they met him to make it easier for everyone,” Dawn said.
Last March, state agents converged on the Oaks farm and the Kentucky Milk Safety Board also got involved, as did the Food and Drug Administration.
“Kentucky didn’t pursue charges because there is no regulation involving cow share programs,” Dawn said. “No charges were filed. But we received a warning letter from the FDA, telling us that because we physically transported the raw milk across state lines we were in violation of distributor and transportation guidelines.”
Kentucky state officials didn’t pursue charges, but Ohio didn’t drop the issue. Ohio decided to pursue charges against the couple. Pretrial hearings were to begin Nov. 2 in this state but the couple decided to file a no-contest plea, getting them out of trial proceedings with no admission of guilt.
“We just wanted to get on with our lives and pay a fine because we wanted this thing over with,” Dawn said.
“It was not financially in our best interest. With a no-contest plea it shows up on our records as a conviction. However, since there is no admission of guilt, if they ever brought up any other charge they’d have to recharge this case.”
On Nov. 2 the couple settled the issue with the state of Ohio. According to Dawn, the whole issue has taken a toll on the family.
Because of all the headache (and since March 6 of last year) the couple now requires the owners of the cows to retrieve the milk on the premise.
“We now don’t take the milk off the property,” Dawn said. “Finally, all the legal issues are over with. Gary was not found guilty, and we entered a no-contest plea to continue with our lives.”
The Ohio Revised Code also states that anyone wishing to sell raw milk must hold a valid raw milk retailer’s license, registered with the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA), and the milk must be sold directly to a processor for pasteurization or for use in milk products such as cheese.
The sale of raw milk directly to the consumer is illegal in Ohio and 24 other states. Ohio’s dairy laws do not prohibit dairy farmers from selling milk directly to consumers, provided they meet pasteurization and other requirements and become a licensed and inspected milk processor.
The initial investigation was a joint effort by the department, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Kentucky Department of Public Health.
Oaks was fined $415 and an additional $85 in court costs. Oaks was also issued a warning letter from the FDA resulting from illegal interstate sales of raw milk.
Raw milk can harbor dangerous pathogenic organisms that can cause diseases such as brucellosis, campylobacterosis, salmonellosis, and tuberculosis. Pathogens such as Listeria monocytogenes and E. coli O157:H7 can also be introduced during and after milking and have been responsible for foodborne disease outbreaks.
Consumption of raw milk products is discouraged by the FDA, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Medical Assoc.
ODA’s Dairy Division helps to ensure that milk and dairy products are wholesome and safe for consumption.
The division inspects, licenses, and maintains records on Ohio’s 2,535 Grade A milk producers, 990 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 ensure the sanitary production, processing, and transportation of these products.
This farm news was published in the Nov. 29, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.