Michael Hartmann’s dairy farm is a few miles south of Gibbon, Minn.
Dan Browning, Star Tribune
Minnesota farmer selling raw milk won't be going to jail
- Article by: STEVE KARNOSKI
- Associated Press
- June 12, 2014 - 9:01 PM
MINNEAPOLIS – A Minnesota farmer who pleaded guilty to breaking state law by selling raw milk and other unpasteurized dairy products to consumers won’t be jailed for violating probation, even though the judge who imposed it found he didn’t comply with the terms.
The ruling this week deals yet another blow to regulators in their efforts to impose consequences on Michael Hartmann for sales that he openly continues to make. After a plea agreement in 2012, he was fined $585 and put on probation.
Judge Erica MacDonald ruled in April that he was in clear violation of his probation terms because he continued to sell raw milk and refused to cooperate with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. But she decided at a hearing Wednesday in Gaylord that no penalties were warranted and discharged him from probation. No other cases are pending against him, though the department says he remains under investigation.
Hartmann’s lawyer, Zenas Baer, said the decision was a victory for fundamental liberties, calling it a “rebuke of the state.” He said the judge found that Hartmann had made a good faith argument for why he believes he’s operating legally.
“The court affirmed the bedrock principle that the state cannot insert itself into a private transaction between consenting adults to buy a natural product, or interfere with the type of foods that a parent might choose to nourish their family with,” Baer said.
But the ruling frustrated Assistant Sibley County Attorney Donald Lannoye.
“It’s our position that court orders need to be followed,” Lannoye said Thursday. “And that when they aren’t followed consequences need to be imposed. When a court finds that a person violates a court order and does nothing about it, we believe that calls into question the legitimacy of the court order.”
Raw milk advocates say the milk carries health benefits that are destroyed in pasteurization. Minnesota law prohibits raw milk sales to consumers unless it’s “secured or purchased” on the farm where it’s produced because of the risk that it can carry bacteria that cause serious diseases.
Hartmann’s legal battles go back more than a decade. He began selling raw milk directly to consumers after authorities stopped him from selling it to stores around 2000. In 2010, state officials said Hartmann’s products had sickened around 15 people in an E. coli outbreak. MacDonald threw out a different set of charges last year. Another judge dismissed a contempt charge in 2011.
Baer said about 80 percent of Hartmann’s sales are through drop sites, mostly in the Twin Cities area, with the rest on his farm near Gibbon. They argue that he complies with state law because the customer “secures” the product on the farm.
Even though the ruling that Hartmann violated his probation carried no legal consequences, Baer said they’ll probably appeal anyway. He said the judge failed to address their arguments that he has a right to sell his farm products under the U.S. and Minnesota constitutions and that he’s exempt from state licensing rules because he sells directly to consumers.
Agriculture Department spokeswoman Margaret Hart said her agency isn’t commenting on the ruling because of the ongoing investigation.
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