State inspectors who recently sought to seize and destroy products from rogue dairy farmer Michael Hartmann found that much of the raw milk and other products had gone missing, according to court filings.
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture claims Hartmann is in contempt of court, because a judge found last month that Hartmann's products were produced under unsanitary conditions and ordered them destroyed.
Raw milk produced by Hartmann was blamed by the state for causing eight cases of E. coli O157:H7 in May, and seven instances in July and August of other bugs that can cause diarrhea and abdominal pain. Unpasteurized milk isn't heat-treated to kill pathogens, and its sale is limited by state law.
In a statement through a spokesman, Hartmann said he denies "either knowingly or intentionally violating any court order and relied upon the advice of counsel and ongoing conversations with the court concerning practical compliance with the orders."
Hartmann said he will respond to the state's allegations in court.
The state last spring "embargoed" and essentially impounded hundreds of containers of dairy products and other food produced at Hartmann's Gibbon farm. After finding unsanitary conditions in Hartmann's barn, the state also ordered Hartmann to stop production, though Hartmann continued anyway.
The state sought the destruction of the embargoed food, but Hartmann fought back in court, saying his goods should be returned. While the court case dragged on, the condemned food remained on Hartmann's property, which the state allows if it doesn't have enough storage capacity.
Last month, state district Judge Rex Stacey rejected Hartmann's claim that his farm wasn't culpable for the E. coli outbreak. Stacey ordered the Agriculture Department to destroy the seized products, including 100 cases of raw milk, 20 cases of skim milk, 125 tubs of yogurt and 900 packages and four large boxes of raw-milk-derived cheddar cheese.
If Stacey issues a contempt order, Hartmann most likely would be fined, said Mike Schommer, an Agriculture Department spokesman.
State inspectors noticed during a late October inspection that several embargoed items were missing, according to an affidavit filed Thursday in Sibley County Court.
Only 10 of the 100 cases of raw milk remained while the skim milk was gone; three large tubs of condemned cheese couldn't be found; and a portion of the packaged cheese appeared to be missing, according to the affidavit by Greg Pittman, a food inspector for the Agriculture Department.
The Agriculture Department didn't take any action then because at the time, it was looking for a court ruling to come down soon and "and we wanted that ruling to guide our next steps," Schommer said.
On Jan. 3, when the state went to destroy the embargoed food, only five half-gallons of embargoed milk remained and the yogurt inventory had been whittled down to four or five containers, according to the affidavit. All embargoed meat products were gone, too.
The state condemns food when it believes there's a public health hazard, implying there's a danger that an adulterated product could be sold to the public. However, Hartmann and his family were allowed to privately consume the embargoed food.
"There's bound to be some shrinkage," Hartmann's erstwhile lawyer, Zenas Baer, said during the court proceedings. Baer on Thursday notified the court that he'd been discharged as Hartmann's attorney.
"It was a mutual understanding between Mike and myself, and that's all I can say," Baer said in an interview Friday.
Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003