Raw Milk Provider Found Guilty on Five Charges

Minnesota farmer Alvin Schlangen’s trial wrapped up yesterday, after a six-person jury delivered guilty verdicts on five charges. He faced a potential of 15 months in jail and $5000 in fines, but the prosecution went light — $300 in fines and a 90-day stayed jail term, only to be served if he’s caught in another illegal act.

It was a qualified loss, or a measured victory, depending on your perspective. “Did we win? Is it a loss? I don’t know, you tell me,” says Nathan Hansen, Schlangen’s attorney.

This was Schlangen’s second jury trial stemming from a raw milk investigation dating back to 2010. Last September’s trial ended in a clear victory, with the jury clearing him on all counts. The charges were a little different this time around, though.

Schlangen was convicted yesterday of not possessing a license to sell food, failure to properly refrigerate eggs, holding unbranded or misbranded food for sale, removal of embargoed food products and possessing custom-processed meat for sale. The prosecution only chose to sentence him for the first charge, though.

That happens to be the charge Hansen had the biggest issue with. “They completely failed to provide any evidence on that count,” he says. Hansen admits that Schlangen does not have a license to sell food, but says “the state never proved that in court.” He is currently mulling over an appeal.

This trial didn’t have as many protestors as last year’s, possibly because of a last-minute decision from the prosecution — an explicit charge of peddling raw milk was removed from the criminal complaint. After the trial, prosecutor William McPhail went outside and spoke casually with protestors; tensions were low.

Still, some raw milk advocates are unhappy with yesterday’s outcome. Pete Kennedy, head of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (the group that hired Schlangen’s attorney), said he was “very disappointed.”

“It is notable that he was only sentenced for one of five counts,” says Kennedy. “That action shows the whole case was about control. The state doesn’t like food being provided in a private contractual agreement.”

Schlangen provides food for a loose group called the Freedom Farm Co-Op. The co-op has about 210 members, who pay a modest $25 annual buy-in. Schlangen doesn’t own cows — he’s an organic egg farmer himself — but he provides members with raw milk products from a nearby Amish farm.

Now that Schlangen’s trial is done (as is the similar trial of Wisconsin farmer Vernon Hershberger), raw milk advocates will be watching the case of dairy farmer Mike Hartmann. Hartmann is accused of selling raw milk that led to a 2010 outbreak of E. coli in Minnesota. His trial date isn’t set, but is planned for some time this year.

Photo: Reuters, from a 2011 raw milk protest in Chicago

Raw Milk Provider Found Guilty on Five Charges