By Nancy Allen
Following recent action in Darke County Common Pleas Court, a dairy farm in Versailles is allowed to continue operating as a Grade A dairy producer, despite having its license revoked by the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA).
According to a news release from ODA, the court has temporarily permitted Carol Schmitmeyer to continue operating on the condition that she does not distribute any raw milk to her herd share customers.
The court-ordered stay will remain in place until an appeal by Carol and Paul Schmitmeyer over the license revocation is resolved, Carol Schmitmeyer said this morning.
ODA last month revoked the Schmitmeyer's Grade A milk producer license for violating Ohio's dairy laws by processing milk without a processor's license, selling raw milk and selling milk that was not properly labeled, requirements that apply to all of Ohio's more than 3,500 dairy farmers. The decision was based on recommendations from an independent hearing officer.
Carol Schmitmeyer said the farm did not have to cease operation after its Grade A dairy producer license was revoked, because she still could sell its milk to cheese makers under a Grade B dairy producer license. The raw, herd-share milk represented only a small portion of the business, Carol Schmitmeyer said. Ohio's dairy laws allow farmers to sell milk directly to consumers, provided they become a licensed and inspected milk processor and meet labeling, pasteurization and other requirements. The sale of raw milk directly to consumers is illegal in Ohio and 24 other states.
Only people who own their own cows can drink raw milk legally. The Schmitmeyers operated a herd-share program that allowed people to pay $50 for a share in a cow, plus $6 a gallon for the raw (unpasteurized) milk. They argued this was not illegal because those who got the raw milk owned part of the cows.
Twenty-eight states currently allow the legal purchase of unpasteurized milk in some manner, whether from direct farm to consumer sales, retail sales or through herd-share agreements, a news release from the Ohio Farmers Union, which supports legitimizing the sale of raw milk and recently introduced legislation that could legalize selling raw milk.
The Ohio Farmers Union in a recent news release said they felt the ODA's decision to revoke the Schmitmeyer's Grade A license seemed heavy-handed, noting that 87 percent of the family's gross income is from sales of Grade A milk to processors and not through herd-share agreements.
State Rep. Arlene Setzer, R-Vandalia, has introduced House Bill 534, which would create a raw milk retailer license. Debate continues on the bill.
Raw milk drinkers passionately swear by its health benefits, saying it contains vitamins and nutrients that are reduced when the milk is pasteurized.
Agriculture officials began investigating the Schmitmeyer farm after a 63-year-old man and a 4-year-old boy who drank raw milk from the farm became ill with campylobacter infections in January. The milk from the dairy tested negative for the bacteria, which can cause diarrhea, cramping and abdominal pain.
Consumption of raw milk products is discouraged by the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Medical Association. Raw milk can harbor dangerous pathogenic organisms that can cause diseases such as brucellosis, campylobacterosis, salmonellosis and tuberculosis, ODA says.