SALEM, Ohio – Ohio’s raw milk drinkers are raising their glasses in victory after the Ohio Department of Agriculture dropped its appeal last week in the case against Carol Schmitmeyer.
Schmitmeyer, a dairy producer in Darke County, had been providing raw milk through herd share agreements for about a year when the ODA yanked her Grade A milk producer license in September. The department said she was violating Ohio’s dairy laws by selling raw milk, processing milk without a processor’s license and selling milk that wasn’t properly labeled.
Background. Darke County Common Pleas Court Judge Jonathan Hein overturned the ODA’s decision in January, basing his ruling on how the department handled the case. The department appealed the decision later that month, which prevented Schmitmeyer from resuming her herd share agreements.
Schmitmeyer’s Grade A license was reinstated in October on the grounds that she stop distributing raw milk to herd share customers.
Dropped. The case was awaiting its turn in court when Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland stepped in and ordered the ODA to drop its appeal.
“Fundamentally, the governor agreed with the judge,” said Keith Dailey, Strickland’s press secretary.
The governor’s decision was based on the herd share concept. Dailey said there’s “not enough evidence to suggest part ownership in a herd is problematic.”
“We feel justice was finally served,” said Schmitmeyer, who makes a living on her 100-head dairy farm with her husband, Paul.
Now that the appeal has been dropped, the dairy farmer can resume the herd share agreements, although she’s not sure when that will happen.
“We want to start as soon as possible,” she said.
Not for sale. Throughout the case, Schmitmeyer has said she never sold raw milk. Instead, she provided the product through herd share agreements with customers who paid a $50 membership fee to own a portion of the herd, plus a weekly $6 boarding fee. Raw milk sales are illegal in Ohio, but there is no law that prevents those who own dairy cattle from drinking the milk.
In October, Schmitmeyer told Farm and Dairy she never intended to break the law and her herd share agreements were written by an attorney to make sure the process complied with Ohio’s legislation.
Officials began investigating Schmitmeyer’s dairy operation in January 2006 when two people who drank raw milk from the farm became ill with campylobacterosis, an illness that includes diarrhea, cramps and fever. But Schmitmeyer said her milk never tested positive for the campylobacter bacteria.
Freedom. More than anything else, Schmitmeyer said the fight was about consumers’ freedom to choose. The dairy producer knows raw milk isn’t for everyone, but said those who want it should be able to make that choice.
“It’s great that they can have that right,” she said.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)