SALEM, Ohio – Darke County dairy farmer Carol Schmitmeyer could soon be back in business after a judge ruled the
Ohio Department of Agriculture didn’t have enough evidence to revoke her Grade A milk producer license.
The producer lost her license in September when the department said she failed to comply with the law by processing milk without a processor’s license, selling raw milk and selling milk that wasn’t properly labeled.
The action was taken based on the recommendation of a hearing officer.
Not for sale. It’s illegal to sell raw milk in Ohio, but Schmitmeyer said that’s not what she was doing. The dairy farmer contended she was providing raw milk through herd share agreements. Her customers paid a $50 membership fee to own a portion of the herd, plus a weekly $6 boarding fee.
There is no law that prevents those who own dairy cattle from drinking the raw milk produced by those animals.
Victory. Schmitmeyer said the ruling is more than just a victory for raw milk drinkers – it’s a victory for consumers who want the freedom to choose.
“We’re just really happy they have a choice,” she said.
The ODA has until the end of January to appeal the ruling. In the meantime, Schmitmeyer must wait to begin operating any herd share agreements.
If the department does not appeal, Schmitmeyer said she will continue to provide raw milk to herd share customers.
ODA spokesperson LeeAnne Mizer said the department “respectfully disagrees with the court’s decision.” However, the department is still reviewing the ruling and no decision has been made on whether or not to appeal.
If the ODA does appeal, Schmitmeyer said she will “continue to fight the war.”
Schmitmeyer has been allowed to operate as a Grade A dairy producer since October when a judge issued a temporary permit on the grounds that she stop distributing raw milk to herd share customers.
Decision. In his decision, Darke County Common Pleas Court Judge Jonathan Hein did not discuss issues regarding public health. Instead, he wrote that his ruling was based on how the department handled the case.
In one part of the ruling, Hein wrote that the court couldn’t determine if the ODA is arbitrarily enforcing raw milk laws since some people who own cattle, like dairy farmers, are permitted to drink it. Also, the judge found the department did not give Schmitmeyer a “reasonable amount of time to correct” any supposed violations.
When the case was heard originally, the hearing officer said Schmitmeyer’s herd share agreements were “nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to shield (her) from liability for her illegal sales of raw milk.”
In his decision, Hein wrote, “If the herd share agreement is a circumvention of the law, so is the department’s inexact practice of allowing owners and their families, etc. to consume raw milk.”
Laws. Ohio dairy laws do allow farmers to sell milk directly to consumers if they are a licensed and inspected milk processor. They also have to meet labeling, pasteurization and other requirements.
Schmitmeyer has been under investigation since January 2006 when two people who drank raw milk from her farm became ill with campylobacterosis, a sickness characterized by diarrhea, cramps and fever.
The dairy producer said her milk never tested positive for the bacteria.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Dairy farmer can keep milking, October 12, 2006