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How to legally and ethically sell animal products?

 
Kaye Harris
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Hello, you beloved permaculture geniuses! 

I have followed Permies for a long time and admired you all from afar, and I can no longer keep to myself.  My spouse and I are finally getting close to beginning our very own set up, so we are crunching numbers and investigating legalities.

How in the world do you all profit from your livestock?  Direct Market?  Auction?  Sale Barn?  How do you deal with Big Brother?  As much as I hate him sticking his nasty fingers into everything, I do want to respect him enough to stay in business in the long haul.

It is seemingly illegal for us to slaughter our own sheep/cattle/poultry and sell to the consumer.  Can't find any mobile slaughter units in the area of our desired property, so the legal alternative for direct market seems to be: transport livestock (stress) to a slaughterhouse (ugh) and pay someone to do it all (ka-ching) and then transport the meat (ka-ching) back to a regulated area, then transport to sale?  That's inefficient and I don't want to put my animals or myself through that.

In a dream world, I would love to be able to provide people with old-style eggs, raw aged cheeses, and meats, without stressful transport, auction pandemonium, feedlot/slaughterhouse concentration camps.  I really want to be able to provide my livestock with a beautiful, peaceful life ended in quick surprise.  After all the effort I've put into raising amazing, grass-fed, all natural, no-ick animals, the last thing I want is to sell it low to someone who will muck it all up.

Can't wait to benefit from your wisdom and creativity!

P.S.
While I've researched the crap out of permaculture for years, I still consider myself an ignorant city fool. 
I am not allergic to extensive explanation about the finer details of agricultural processes.
 
wayne fajkus
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Our livestock is limited to our personal consumption so we haven't had to deal with it.

But...I would sell the animal or sell it and deliver it to a slaughter house. The buyer could pick it up there.

If it's a big animal  (cow), I'd sell halves of the cow.

This is assuming a slaughter house is reasonably local.
 
John Polk
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Welcome to permies, Kaye.

Good questions you raised.

The legalities of selling animal products will vary from state to state.
All states have some laws in place regarding this, but some states are so restrictive that unless you are a commercial packing house (who has contributed to the political parties), they make it almost impossible for a small enterprise to get into this business.

If any of your products cross a state line, then you also fall under federal regulations, which are more restrictive than state regulations.

Perhaps, if you include your location, people from that state who have dealt with this, will be able to get the ball rolling on what you can expect to be the options in this endeavor.

Good luck.

 
Kaye Harris
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John Polk wrote:Welcome to permies, Kaye.

Good questions you raised.

The legalities of selling animal products will vary from state to state.
All states have some laws in place regarding this, but some states are so restrictive that unless you are a commercial packing house (who has contributed to the political parties), they make it almost impossible for a small enterprise to get into this business.

If any of your products cross a state line, then you also fall under federal regulations, which are more restrictive than state regulations.

Perhaps, if you include your location, people from that state who have dealt with this, will be able to get the ball rolling on what you can expect to be the options in this endeavor.

Good luck.



Thank you!  The place we are considering for our operation is right on the southern Missouri border, in a very undeveloped county.  The nearest civilization is, unfortunately, across the state line in Arkansas.  :|
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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As far as I can tell, legal and ethical are not related to each other in any way...

Around here, black-market milk, egg, and meat sales are very much a thriving enterprise. The risk of getting caught is almost non-existent as long as you don't advertise on Facebook, or similar venues. Close as I can tell, the government is flat out broke. I suppose more broke than all other bankruptcies in the history of the world combined. Seems like there are simply not enough dollars to enforce meat prohibition.





 
Kaye Harris
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
As far as I can tell, legal and ethical are not related to each other in any way...

Around here, black-market milk, egg, and meat sales are very much a thriving enterprise. The risk of getting caught is almost non-existent as long as you don't advertise on Facebook, or similar venues. Close as I can tell, the government is flat out broke. I suppose more broke than all other bankruptcies in the history of the world combined. Seems like there are simply not enough dollars to enforce meat prohibition.


Sorry for the delay.  The power grid got knocked out, so I've spent the last two days reading and fanning myself with mike oehler's $50 underground house book, wishing that I actually had an underground house.  Ugh.

Anyway--good point.  I completely agree that legal & ethical are not related.  That is why I am struggling to figure out how to do both simultaneously.  I want to know that "they" would have no legal standing to do anything to me or my patch, so then I could flaunt everything I do all the more, and help make it normal.  If I'm not legal, I have to hide and hope no one finds me or tattles, or suck up to everyone who has "the secret knowledge".  That's a life of dependence on others for my continued freedom, which kind of defeats the purpose for me.  I hope to essentially do the same thing with a few tweaks that make it kosher.

I am hoping there might be someone out there who knows some loopholes?  For example, I have heard that you could technically sell meat that you butchered yourself if you labeled it "not for human consumption" and so on.  Does anyone do this with a shared understanding?  I would have no problem purchasing "raw dog food" for my kitchen, myself.

A good example of the loopholes I'm looking for may be how Paul Wheaton mentioned that sepp holzer does a paid "tour" that is NOT a U-pick.    

 
Wes Hunter
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In Missouri, you have quite a bit of freedom.

Poultry can be processed on-farm, for sale to the end consumer (private customer, restaurant) up to 1,000 birds per year, with no governmental oversight.  Technically the state has the right to inspect, but there are so many of us doing this that there just isn't the manpower, nor are we of great concern to them (at the moment, at least).  Even labeling requirements are very lax.  You can still process on-farm up to 20,000 birds per year, but once you cross the 1,000 bird threshold you do become an inspected farm.

Eggs are a cinch.  A $5.00 license from the state grants you the ability to sell eggs off the farm or through a farmer's market.  Another (different) $5.00 license and you're set up for wholesale.  At a certain point you'd have to comply with certain packaging/labeling requirements, but it doesn't sound like you'll be anywhere near there.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that a "slaughterhouse" is what you read about in The Jungle, or those images on the nightly news.  Missouri is blessed with lots of small-scale processors for 4-legged critters.  Some are great, some are good, some not so much.  Do your research and ask around.  But just because you take them to a processor doesn't mean that it's the big-bad-industrial-slaughterhouse experience.  Call a few up and ask to look around.  See how they do things, what their setup is like, etc.  And no, transporting animals in a trailer to the butcher isn't a walk in the park for them, but if you have good calm stock, and you know how to load and unload them, and you pick a good processor, the bit of stress they're going to endure is far from being unethical.  Heck, they're going to be stressed on the farm, too, with weather changes, predators, waving tree limbs, you name it.  A stressed animal is not an unethically-treated animal.  Constant stress, yes, but intermittent stress, no.

If you want to butcher 4-legged critters on-farm for sale, you could technically sell the animal live, for a set price, and butcher for "free."  Who's to know if you added a phantom fee for the butchering process?  What you can't do, however, at least not legally, is butcher an animal on-farm and sell it piecemeal, by the cut.  It's all or nothing.  Perhaps if you sold it as dog food, but is that really the route you want to take with your farm production?

If you're going to sell across the state line, that's a whole 'nother ball of wax, one I know nothing about.  And for that matter, none of the above constitutes any sort of legal advice.  Just my two cents on what the regulations are like in Missouri.  For what it's worth, you could call up the appropriate state departments, talk to 10 different people, and as like as not get 10 different answers.  So it's not exactly a black-and-white issue.
 
Miranda Converse
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One way to profit from eggs legally is to sell them as 'hatching' eggs. You can actually sell them for a lot more than you could for food (if you have the right breeds), although the market is smaller.  I've seen some hatching eggs sell for $80+/dz for rare breeds.  Just an idea...

One thing to be aware of if you use the 'not for human consumption' loophole, some places have some strict regulations on animal feed as well. A lot of people around here use that but technically they could be fined for not having the proper feed license. That's Florida though, this state has some crazy regulations but I never hear of any enforcement.
 
Kaye Harris
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Wes:
Thank you for that info!  You've helped set my mind at ease.  I didn't know there was a difference between selling the whole animal and selling pieces.  That helps me know where to direct my research into the legal sphere.  It gets a bit discouraging to wade through ag. dept. papers full of, "You can only do what you want if you sing yankee doodle on your head and pay us ten thousand dollars to come watch." 

I guess the downsides of slaughtering at a processor come down to dollars and lack of blood/innards for the circle of life.  I've seen some processors that will give you some select innards and the hide back for an extra fee. 

Considering your experienced knowledge on the stress levels of transport, what is your opinion of livestock auctions and sale barns?  I went to a livestock auction for cattle a few years ago, and it sounded awful and didn't look too good from my inexperienced perspective.  Maybe I'm just naïve?

Miranda:
That's a good idea, albeit hard to picture me in that business.  If in regards to labeling, it would make sense in the regard of refrigeration as washing and cooling would be a no-no.  (I personally prefer the old-fashioned way: washing lukewarm, farm-fresh eggs just before use.)

After skimming through the MO regulations, "dog food" doesn't seem undoable once you make up the labels.  If someone actually does get it just for Fido, that will be one healthy, spoiled dog!
 
Wes Hunter
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Sale barns are terrible.  Goodness, they're stressful enough for me, and I'm not being driven through the ring.  Plus, when you buy from a sale barn you're often buying someone else's junk.  The exceptions are calves (or other young animals), since many farmers market all of their calves that way and not just their problem animals.  Of course, younger animals are more likely to be negatively affected by the stress.

Breed-specific sales are presumably different, though I've never been to one.  Folks there are still somewhat likely to be selling off what they don't want, but there's a greater chance they were starting off with better animals, and depending on who is controlling the auction I'd expect better treatment since those folks are more likely to actually like their animals.

As for the costs of paying for processing, it can really be quite economical, and won't necessarily add a great deal to your cost of production.  And it'll make your life a lot easier on the selling side, unless you want to explain to each potential customer, "Now, this is dog food, see, and not for human consumption, but we eat it, and it's just fine, but technically it isn't for human consumption wink wink."  I get where you're coming from, and I sympathize, but some battles aren't worth fighting.
 
Peter Ellis
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My wife and I are about to enter into this very arena in Michigan.  I think that the ethical aspect of food production and sale applies to the sale as well as the production and that makes me very reluctant to consider offering "dog food" as  work around for selling our farm raised meat products to people for their consumption.  From my perspective, my ethics are brought into doubt by my use of subterfuge.

I would much prefer to have all of my activities be entirely legal - or, at the least, not clearly illegal - and ethical.  Navigating the legal maze is daunting and, frankly, not for amateurs. Even within the regulatory agencies, where you are dealing not only with professionals, but professionals responsible for enforcing regulations, you can run afoul of contradictions among agencies with overlapping areas of jurisdiction (which is just insane).  As a note, I'm a trained paralegal with 28 years experience in varied civil litigation and I'm daunted trying to work my way through the interlocking web of state and federal regulation just focusing on my one target state of Michigan.

There are lots of moving parts in this puzzle, including us as the farmers. Someone else mentioned on farm slaughter of poultry.  Some number of states (I don't have specifics) allow varying numbers and have tiers of slaughter facilities and regulations about sale of the product from that point. Looking at the idea of processing 1,000 met chickens on the farm, how do we do it? Part of the point in this is keeping costs down to keep profits to the farmer up.  That suggests doing our own processing - but - stress for the farmer is an element in the equation along with stress for the animals.  This gets to be an intensely personal kind of calculus.

Mark Shepard has some comments/information that informs the discussion too. He raises pigs, and sends them by tractor trailer to the processor.  Toward the end of the grow out, he puts a trailer in their paddocks and puts food in the trailer.  He trains his pigs to load onto the trailer without any stress. Sounds like something we could all take a cue from.

This is also part of building a relationship with customers and telling our story, making the personal connections and building the integrity food system Joel Salatin describes.

Shifting over to livestock auctions - Is this where we want to buy, or sell, our animals? You don't go to an auction to buy at the highest price, you don't get the highest price selling at the auction either (most of of the time).  They're also primarily concerned with moving volume and making money.  I'm not inclined to either buy or sell through these avenues, my sense is that they're not beneficial to my goals on any level.

Rather, if I am going to sell livestock, I would prefer to do it directly.  In the same line, I would prefer to buy directly from a breeder than through a middleman like the auction house.  I never expect to be raising so many animals that I would need a distribution network for the live animals.
 
Travis Johnson
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Same farm, two different approaches.

My Grandfather ran this farm, and quite successfully I might add, but his take on it was to stay under the radar, only report to the IRS what he had to, and to skirt many laws. He spent his life unable to do this or that because the government would ultimately see he did this or that. And ultimately what happened was, by his own deception he kept his farm from flourishing as it could have.

When I took over the farm in 2008, I decided I was going to do things differently, and no matter how silly the rules was going to play by them legally. Over the years it really has worked well for me. People are often surprised when they mention monies and I shrug my shoulders because it matters little to me, I am a legal entity, report my earnings and losses honestly and can do what I want on this farm because I am not hiding anything.

Ultimately you must decide how you are going to run your farm: in hiding, or right out in the open?

Myself, I would not do anything differently. There is so much leeway in the last, so much play that people in agriculture have, that when they see you are trying to operate by the rules, they go out of their way to help you out, oh but try and sneak something by them and they will go after you hard. I saw it this week. I bought a few sheep a few months ago from the cattle dealer, two of the breeding stock lambs died and as required for Scrapie I called the State Vet for Scrapie Surveillance. By rights they should be able to trace it back to the birth flock, but since the cattle dealer did not tag them, the only tags they had were mine. I am pretty sure the cattle dealer is in trouble for breaking the law, but I am not. Furthermore while the State Vet was here he did an autopsy on the sheep to see what her issue was. That is a $250 cost I did not have to pay and I instantly got the results. That is GOOD information right there.

I had the same intention as you when I started, and I have sold sheep every conceivable way; Direct Sale, 4H (my favorite), Easter Lambs, Market Lambs, to Cattle Auctions, etc. They all have their good and bad points. The key to remember is, that while it is true getting rid of the middle man is a great way to get the money he would have and put it in your own, you HAVE TO do his work. There is no free ride. In that way Direct Sales and 4H lambs are a pain, but nice in other ways. It is very satisfying to put Champion Rams into a ring that I have breed, and it is nice to hear of family's having nice Easter Dinners, but it is nice to call up a cattle dealer and an hour latter having a check in your hand too.

As for slaughtering off farm, I think it is way over-rated. I have them done at a slaughter-house and have slaughtered my own for my own consumption. I think the stress is actually the same. Animals are creatures of habit. PERIOD. When you change what is occurring around them, they stress out. It does not matter if you are putting a sheep into a squeeze and slit its throat on your own farm, or load them on a trailer. The flight response is the same. Even putting a trailer in a pasture is stressful. Yes the animals get used to it, but it only makes loading easier on the farmer; the second the door closes the animals begin to stress. It is a change in what typically happens.

Auctions...STAY AWAY! I move a lot of sheep in and off my farm, and as loose as I am with biosecurity, even I am not silly enough to buy sheep there. It is bad enough buying from cattle dealers, but at least they are coming off another farm and not going through a disease pit in the middle!
 
Wes Hunter
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Peter: Interesting that you mention keeping costs down as a potential reason for on-farm processing of poultry.  We process on farm for two reasons: one, I would rather get paid to do a job that I am capable of doing than pay someone else to do it, and two, I want to have total control of the process to provide the best product possible.  It amazes me how many farmers send their birds off to be processed and pay for the privilege.  Wage laborers at a processing plant have no stake in the quality of our poultry, whereas we do.

As for auctions as an avenue for buying and/or selling, they are not all created equal.  A breed association holding a consignment auction is a far cry from see-what-the-dog-drug-in sale barns.

Travis: I would dispute your slaughter and stress comments in that a trailer ride is going to cause a longer period of stress than on-farm processing.  Once I've got the animals in the corral, I can shoot one and its stress is over.  If I load it into a trailer, it's got a bit of a ride before the bullet.  I agree that it's not a matter of good (on-farm) or bad (off-farm), but probably more a matter of good or better.
 
Travis Johnson
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I think we are on the same page here that it is splitting hairs. Stress is stress and it is going to manifest itself in the meat because adrenaline is adrenaline at the time of kill. Its mere presence is what alters the taste of meat.

I agree with your assessment of chicken slaughter though. Here they charge $3 a bird and that is outrageous compared to the time it takes to actually have a bird in the freezer. On larger livestock, your own slaughter gives you a little more meat. I would say about 15-20% more because you can get the parts that is really uneconomical for the slaughterhouse to get like the cheeks, jowls, brains and tongue of lambs. It all adds up. That is the good part, but those are also the parts that are not huge sellers too, so it kind of is a moot point.

I like the fact that I can process my own sheep in case I should ever need too, but honestly I cannot justify it. It is a HUGE time-suck and rather expensive. It takes several hours to kill, gut, break down the carcass, cut up and then wrap the meat for the freezer. Even not calculating a value for my time, the retail cost of food saver bags is rather high. And there is the fatigue factor; on those days I am completely exhausted!

For a $75 dollars flat fee I can take a sheep to the slaughterhouse and get it back ready for the freezer. That is a pretty sweet deal, and over the years I have a friendship with my slaughterhouse and so I get decent cuts. Its still over-priced I know, but in the amount of time I can haul ten sheep to the slaughterhouse and return, I could do one of my own. AND...an this is a huge and...I can sell the meat because it was slaughtered at a licensed and inspected slaughterhouse. Customers like that.

 
Travis Johnson
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I have been farming for a long time and observed a lot of stuff, and some of this stuff is things people do not want to talk about. I understand that, and while I am really trying lately to be positive, that always means being honest because integrity means more to me than flattery.

I live in Maine and we have some of the most liberal livestock marketing laws there is, and yet trouble has started because of it. A farm a mile up the road from me went out of business when they sold unpasteurized milk from there cows. Now in Maine, this is completely LEGAL, one of 8 states that allow it. But the consumer admitted he put the milk on the sideboard for one day and one night unrefrigerated, still drank it, and got violently ill. He sued the farmer and won! Because it was not against the law he did not lose his farm, but because he had a loan on his farm and had to have insurance, he had to sell his cows because they would not allow him to sell milk anymore.

In another instance a homesteader had goats and some friends came to play with the kids, and the parents allowed their 9 year old daughter to drink unpasturized goats milk. The 9 year old girl got some bacteria that swelled her face up and nearly killed her, so the parents sued the homesteaders and won for hospitalization bills.

In some ways I am trying to scare people because this stuff can and does happen. I have milked thousands of cows for many years and yet bacteria is unnoticeable and even being careful is not enough. A dropped milker, a spilled pail, a little crusty off the udder falling into the milk...it happens and goes unnoticed. That is why farming is the most regulated industry in America. I hate it as much as the next guy, but I owe it to my customers, that if I am going to be a farmer, I have to try my best and provide quality. I agree that some regulations are down right silly, but I am always professional. Thumbing my nose at those in authority because a few rules are silly says more about my moral character then if they are stressed or not on their ride to the slaughterhouse.

I took over this farm in 1992 and actively farmed it since 2008 and I can assure you some great things are happening. Laws are changing for the better, and authorities that use to come to the farm and scream, yell and threaten you with fines are a thing of the past. Now if you have a problem they want to work with you to address the problem, not fine you for it. It is a great time to be a farmer and only getting better as far as I can see.
 
Peter Ellis
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Travis, I guess I don't know why you brought up law suits? A farmer could just as easily be sued over someone slipping and falling when they stepped on a cow patty as over illness contracted from raw milk - more easily, in fact, because it's a cause of action familiar to the courts and with well known standards of proof.  Our litigious society is one of the biggest risks for any small business in the USA, nothing special about farming at all in that regard.  And as you noted, the farmer didn't do anything illegal or unethical, yet they were put out of business by a civil suit.  This can happen to just about any business, even when they are meticulous about following the law and operating legally.
 
Travis Johnson
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I am sorry Peter, you are absolutely correct in that I did not explain the correlation between farming and lawsuits. You are also correct in that it happens across all aspects of having a business.

The problem is farming is the most heavily regulated industry in the United States. Unlike in your example of a person slipping and falling; lets say on ice in front of a hair salon; that is going to be left up between the lawyers of the victim and the insurance carrier of the proprietor. However, if in my example of where a person got sick on tainted unpasteurized milk, the USDA APHIS inspector will show up, along with the Maine Dept of Agriculture Milk Facility Inspector, and most likely the Federal and State Vet as well. That tainted milk has given them reason to inspect your farm, where as the hair salon...maybe the code enforcement officer will show up to see if salt is being tossed onto the sidewalk, but in all probability...it is not likely.

Is it truly fair?

Not really, but when you are talking food safety, the general public gets quite concerned. Look at some of the food recall notices; they hit national news. For that reason regulations are in place, and many of them extend to homesteaders and individual homeowners with livestock, no commercial farm required! The last national news event I saw regarding a slip and fall was when an aunt sued her nephew when he ran up to hug her at a birthday party. Even then it was not the slip and fall that made news, but that a woman would sue her own young nephew.

But the reverse of that is true as well. Here in Maine anyway, where we have the most start up farms in the nation; they had to hire a person at the Maine Dept of Ag to investigate farm/neighbor disputes. I don't have this issue because I live in a very rural area with many family farms around, but in places where people from away are moving in to new houses, they don't find the smell of farms quite so fragrant for instance. So just having a neighbor complain because your goats stink, could bring a Maine Dept Representative on your farm to investigate how you handle you animal manure and if it is according to Maine laws. But because I have a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan; I fall under Maine's Right to Farm Act. That is one powerful piece of legislation too!!

So it is a huge difference being a farm. A lot of responsibilities, a few rights, but as I said earlier it is getting better. Laws are changing, the general public appreciates farmers more then they did 20 years ago, and authorities are realizing it is much better to fix an issue with education and hands on help then trying to fine us into compliance.

I hope this makes sense, if not I will try and make the connection between lawsuits and farming better.
 
Travis Johnson
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I have said that laws are changing in Maine twice now, and not really given an example. This one is great because it really applies to Permiculture and Homesteaders and that is shelter for livestock.

When I added sheep to this farm in 2008, by law all animals had to have a 3 sided shelter with a roof in which was situated out of the prevailing wind.

Now on the surface this sounds great, who wants to subject an animal to unfit conditions? The problem was in practicality. The truth is, giving all livestock access to a 3 sided shelter with a roof is a challenging and expensive task when you rotationally graze. It also is not needed. I have sheep, they don't go into a 3 sided shelter with a roof on their own, they hang out outside even if it is raining, and if it really gets wet they head under some trees for cover even though they could easily go into the barn. And what about that Livestock Guard Dog, it too needed shelter 365 too, even though they are bred to endure life outside? So even if you use silvilpasture methods, or did some form of agriforestry...you had to by law provide shelter for all your animals.

It was stupid...but the law.

So it was changed and now in the summer months...that regulation is dropped. This is Maine, so it makes sense there is some shelter needs for winter because a leafless tree is not going to be appropriate, but it is a great example of people using non-traditional farming methods like rotational grazing, silvilpasture and argriforestry to promote agriculture law changes for the better.
 
Wes Hunter
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Peter Ellis wrote:Travis, I guess I don't know why you brought up law suits? A farmer could just as easily be sued over someone slipping and falling when they stepped on a cow patty as over illness contracted from raw milk - more easily, in fact, because it's a cause of action familiar to the courts and with well known standards of proof.  Our litigious society is one of the biggest risks for any small business in the USA, nothing special about farming at all in that regard.  And as you noted, the farmer didn't do anything illegal or unethical, yet they were put out of business by a civil suit.  This can happen to just about any business, even when they are meticulous about following the law and operating legally.


This probably differs locale to locale, but in many areas farmers selling raw milk have a bullseye painted on their backs from the start.  A person certainly can sue if he or she slips on a cow pat, but a person could just as easily sue for merely thinking they got sick from drinking raw milk.  Often enough if someone gets ill and it is revealed that he or she recently consumed raw milk, the milk is declared the culprit with no testing, no investigation, nothing.  The milk caused the illness because we know raw milk causes illness.

What's more--and this is probably quite tangential to the thread as a whole--it is not unheard of for officials to try to get sellers of raw milk to actually break the law.  There was a relatively high-profile (in some circles) case locally a few years ago.  There is an active opposition to raw milk that isn't applied to cow patties in pastures.
 
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