But he’s not in favor of a bill that would legalize raw milk sales in Wisconsin. If the bill passes, he would be turned into a criminal, Hershberger said Thursday.
“The jury in Baraboo acquitted me of the charges,” Hershberger said. “If I’m allowed to do it (sell unpasteurized diary without a permit), all other farmers should be allowed to do it as well. I will be another criminal because the jury freed me of having to have a license to do what I’m doing.”
Hershberger, who testified against the bill during a public hearing Wednesday, sells unpasteurized dairy and other food products from his farm through a program known as a buyer’s club.
A buyer’s club, known in other parts of the country as a cow-sharing or a herd-leasing program, allows farmers to enter into private contracts with consumers to essentially co-own animals on the farm. The consumer then has access to the milk or meat produced by the animal.
The raw milk bill, sponsored by Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, and Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, would require farmers who sell raw milk to meet or exceed Grade A standards just like farmers who sell to dairy processing plants. Hershberger did not renew his Grade A license three years ago when he made the decision to quit selling his milk to a dairy processing plant and instead sell raw milk through a buyer’s club business model.
Hershberger said the jury made it clear it was his right to sell raw milk without a license, without having to register with the state and without having to meet standards.
“I’m allowed to do what I do without a license,” Hershberger said. “And those with a Grade A license are not allowed to do what I do.”
Another public hearing on the raw milk bill will be held in La Crosse on Monday. Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, will testify at that hearing. Another co-sponsor of the raw milk bill, Clark said he plans to speak about a separate bill that would remove any ambiguity over the legality of buyer’s clubs.
Because the charges against Hershberger were criminal and not civil, the not-guilty verdict applies only to him. That leaves a gray area over whether other farmers would be charged for operating buyer’s clubs.
“My bill is more narrowly crafted and would legalize buyer’s clubs,” Clark said at the Capitol, outside the raw milk hearing Wednesday.
In contrast, the raw milk bill would allow for farmers to sell directly to consumers if certain criteria are met. Clark’s bill legalizes an alternate business model for raw milk to be sold.
Under Clark’s draft bill, farmers who operate a buyer’s club would not need to get a Grade A license from the state, just a buyer’s club permit.
“We are replicating California standards for unpasteurized raw milk sales,” Clark said. “We are not letting (the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection) write the rules.”
One difference is that California allows for the retail sale of raw milk. Clark’s bill would not.
The state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection had been promoting the creation of the buyer’s clubs as a means for farmers to earn additional income.
But that changed in May of 2010 when former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle abruptly changed course and vetoed a bill that would have legalized raw milk sales. A month later Hershberger’s farm was raided by DATCP officials accompanied by local law enforcement officers.
Hershberger said he and his attorney, Elizabeth Rich of Plymouth, have talked with Clark about his bill. Hershberger said Thursday that “depending on how things go, we might work with him some more.”
“What he is trying to do is get a statute into law that correlates to my trial,” Hershberger said, meaning no need for a permit or license to operate a buyer’s club that sells unpasteurized dairy products.
Rich said she appreciates Clark’s efforts to support farmers like Hershberger.
“I think the bill as proposed includes extensive involvement by DATCP in the buyers club. And that’s the area that needs some work,” Rich said. “Neither party wants extensive involvement by the state.”