“The raw milk debate is not primarily about raw milk — even though those of us who drink it feel strongly about its nutritional values.
Nor is the debate primarily about food safety and health risks.
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, the Centers for Disease Control and other government and corporate bureaucracies will certainly scare one segment of our population with their statistics on raw milk. Another segment of our population will see the manipulation of those statistics and explain why raw milk, when sold from farm to consumer, is far healthier and safer than pasteurized milk, as well as much of what is sold as “food” these days.
But whatever your personal beliefs about raw milk, it’s important to remember this: The debate is primarily about the right to choose your food, and it’s about Vernon Hershberger, a dairy farmer in Sauk County who is facing up to three years of incarceration for the amazingly criminal act of selling milk.
“When they put a farmer out of business for supplying raw milk or any other food, they’re interfering with the food supply,” said David Gumpert, a journalist and author of “The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle Over Food Rights.” “They’re depriving those people of access to food that they choose to eat. When you start looking at it in those terms, it becomes more than just a concept. There’s real cause and effect.
“This is pretty pivotal here. There aren’t too many people who are willing to stand up like Vernon has done, because it’s very intimidating.”
Hershberger, who had a court appearance on Friday, has been charged with four misdemeanors related to sales of raw milk to members of a private buying club. Before his 1 p.m. hearing, about 300 people attended a rally outside the Sauk County Circuit Courthouse to support Hershberger.
Michael Schmidt, a Canadian raw-milk producer facing legal battles there, was among them, and told those gathered that all of North America is facing the same demise of rights.
“Excuse me for what I am saying, but we don’t have a Hitler we can blame,” he said. “We have a faceless bureaucracy which works with cold-hearted, intellectual tactics to destroy this country right at its core and it starts with the food supply. And therefore we need to wake up and we need to commit ourselves to the act of defiance, and the act of a peaceful defiance, the act of non-violent resistance in order that we protect our farmers, our food, our land.”
Currently, Wisconsin law only allows incidental sales of raw milk. In 2010, after being lobbied by the dairy industry, then-Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed a bill he originally supported that would have made it legal to sell raw milk directly to consumers, as it is in other states. Another effort to legalize sales, Senate Bill 108, has stalled in committee.
To many of those gathered outside the courthouse, Hershberger is a hero. Some compared him to Rosa Parks. Others just admired his courage….”