February 26, 2015

Wisconsin dairy farm’s license suspended over raw milk disease outbreak

Raw milk advocates serve samples during a 2010 state Capitol rally. (File Photo: WRN)

Raw milk advocates serve samples during a 2010 state Capitol rally. (File Photo: WRN)

State officials have suspended the license of a Pepin County dairy farm that supplied the raw milk tied to an outbreak that sickened 32 people last fall. The Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection says Roland and Diana Reed of Arkansaw have agreed to penalties in the case, which includes a 30 day suspension of their farm’s Grade A permit.

In a release, Dr. Steve Ingham, administrator of the Division of Food Safety for DATCP, said “after reviewing the circumstances described in the final DHS epidemiological and laboratory  report, we have determined that the farm violated current statutes and rules by distributing unpasteurized milk in an unauthorized manner, so we are taking appropriate action,.”

DATCP said the farm provided unpasteurized milk to a Durand high school football team dinner last fall, which cause an outbreak of a foodborne illness that sickened 32 students and coaches. Some of the students had to be hospitalized and several were unaware they were drinking raw milk.

The farm can keep selling its milk for cheese and butter production during the suspension, but could face further suspensions or have their license revoked if they violate the terms of the agreement with the state over the next three years.

Dean Foods to shutter Sheboygan dairy plant

deanmilkAfter more than a century in operation, the Dean Foods dairy plant in Sheboygan is closing. Dean Foods has confirmed that the plant will be shuttered “on or before April 30.” The closure will result in the loss of 70 jobs. UW Madison Director of Dairy Policy Analysis Mark Stephenson sees a couple of factors at work here.

“One of them has been a sag in sales for fluid milk,” he said. “It’s been declining really pretty dramatically since about 2010. There’s just a lot more completion for beverage space for consumers.” In addition, Dean has accumulated a lot of plants across the country. “They have consolidated and closed plants in other parts, and I think that this is probably somewhere in that continuum.”

Stephenson expects the closing of the plant to be pretty much of a wash for dairy farmers in the region, although some may have slightly higher costs to transport their milk.

Wisconsin cranberry growers ponder fee increase

Wisconsin cranberry growers may increase fees, in order to allow for more marketing of the state’s official fruit. Lower prices caused by an over supply of cranberries is the backdrop on the effort to put more money into marketing, education and research.

Department of Ag, Trade and Consumer Protection’s Ann Marie Ames says growers are being asked to up the amount of money spent per barrel of fruit. If the cranberry growers approve the measure, the fee per barrel would increase from the current maximum of 20 cents in 2017, to 25 cents per barrel in 2019.

Wisconsin produces the most cranberries in the U.S, some 6 million barrels in 2013. The abundant supply has driven prices down for the last two years.

Wisconsin ag experts to help food producers market locally

(PHOTO: Jackie Johnson, file)

(PHOTO: Jackie Johnson, file)

Wisconsin state ag officials want to help local producers do a better job of marketing their food products to the public. The Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin Local Food Business Seminar Series will continue in the New Year with marketing seminars starting January 5th. DATCP Local foods specialist Kietra Olson says this low-cost seminar gives local producers an opportunity to see exactly how other people succeeded.  “Tera Johnson from the UW Extension Food Finance Institute, who is the founder of Tera’s Whey, and she’s going to be specifically talking about strategic marketing, how to target your consumers. We also have Melissa Pahl, who is the owner of Twenty Marketing, who’s going to be focusing on the social media aspect of your marketing and communications plan.”

Olson says having real-world successes demonstrated in this public format is rare, so growers and producers should take advantage of the chance to learn something new.  “Having these experts share their first-hand knowledge is not normally something that you’d have access to, so although people can do a pretty good job of it on their own, coming to this class will expose them to ideas and channels that they hadn’t thought of previously.” This Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin seminar will be held in Waukesha on January 5th, Stevens Point on January 6th and in Madison on January 8th.  Other seminars are being scheduled through March, and will also be offered in multiple locations.


Wisconsin Supreme Court won’t take up raw milk case

Wisconsin dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger’s 2013 conviction for selling raw milk will be allowed to stand. Without explaining why, the Wisconsin Supreme Court refused to consider whether Hershberger was properly convicted, after he violated an order from state inspectors.

The holding order at the center of Hershberger’s appeal came from state agriculture inspectors in 2010, who raided his Sauk County farm and ordered him to stop selling his product. Prosecutors argued that he continued to violate the order though, which resulted in additional charges. While he was convicted of violating the holding order and fined $1,000, Hershbergrer was found not guilty on charges that he was selling food, producing milk, and operating a dairy plant without the proper state licenses.

Hershberger appealed the conviction, arguing that he was not allowed to present evidence at trial that would have helped his case and that an unedited copy of the holding order was kept out of evidence. The Fourth District Court of Appeals sided with the circuit court’s decision to keep Hershberger from making what amounted to a “collateral attack” on the factual basis for the holding order, keeping his conviction in place.

Hershberger also argued that he was not subject to state rules against selling unpasteurized milk because his hundreds of buyers were in a private club that did not sell the product to the general public. The appeals court rejected that argument.