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Raw milk supporters speak out

Raw milk supporters speak out

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Despite objections inside and outside the courtroom, an Amish raw milk farmer was fingerprinted, photographed and booked Wednesday in the basement of the Sauk County Courthouse in Baraboo.

A crowd of supporters rallied outside the building just before Loganville dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger appeared in court to face charges filed last month by the state Department of Justice.

"It's not like (raw milk) is being forced on me," said Deb Jacobs, who lives east of Madison and leases a portion of a cow that Hershberger cares for on his farm. "I seek it out. I've done the research."

Jacobs was one of about 50 people who gathered in front of the courthouse entrance and drank from a cooler of raw milk in defiance of the corporate food system.

State regulators have warned of health risks associated with the consumption of unpasteurized dairy products.

DOJ prosecutors allege Hershberger operated an unlicensed retail food establishment, and that he produced and processed dairy products without state licenses. He also is charged with violating a hold order that state inspectors placed on his products after they raided his farm in June 2010. Hershberger openly violated the hold order following the raid.

The maximum penalties for all charges total to $13,000 in fines or 2 1/2 years in jail.

Just before he headed inside the courthouse, Hershberger spoke to the crowd with a megaphone and sang a hymn with his family.

"It doesn't really matter what happens here today because we already have won," Hershberger said. "If people lived and obeyed God's law (in biblical times), they were free. If they disobeyed God's law, they were slaves."

The raid on Hershberger's farm occurred weeks after then-Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed a bill that would have allowed limited sales of raw milk in Wisconsin. Despite the timing, state officials said the case had nothing to do with the debate over raw milk.

Hershberger did not renew his Grade B dairy license and was operating a retail food establishment without a license, state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection officials said.

After the raid, Hershberger established a new system in which groups of people lease the animals he cares for on his farm. The leaseholders consume products only from the animals they own, Hershberger says.

Hershberger claims the new system exempts him from state licensing requirements. However, the criminal case against him is not likely to test that claim because the charges allege criminal behavior took place during time periods before the lease agreements were established.

Inside the courtroom, Assistant Attorney General Eric Defort asked the judge to place Hershberger on a signature bond. He requested that conditions of bond prohibit Hershberger and others on his farm from processing or selling food without the proper licenses.

"Since 2007, Mr. Hershberger has been advised of his requirement to have a certified license," Defort said, adding that Hershberger has consistently refused to comply with state regulators.

He also asked that Hershberger be booked.

"I object, your honor," said Hershberger, who appeared without an attorney. "There is no proof of criminal acts against me."

Sauk County Circuit Court Judge James Evenson ordered that Hershberger be placed on a $500 signature bond, which included the provisions requested by the prosecution. He scheduled Hershberger for a pretrial conference with prosecutors Jan. 30 and a return court appearance Feb. 13.

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