More MN Consumers Threatened by MDA—And A New Kind of Chess Game Takes Shape
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s campaign against consumers is significantly more widespread than I first reported. And it is stirring up a hornet’s nest of outrage, and promises of defiance.
It turns out the MDA actually sent its love letters threatening criminal charges to nine or ten consumers of farmer Michael Hartmann—nine, according to a spokesman from the MDA, and ten according to consumers who have been comparing notes among themselves.
The MDA’s action seems designed to intimidate customers of Hartmann from offering their homes as voluntary drop points for his milk, meat, and other farm products—with the goal to deprive the farmer of distribution assistance from his customers. But the consumers, mostly mothers, have begun organizing themselves under the auspices of the Raw Milk Freedom Riders. The organization issued a press release headlined: “Mothers Threatened with Criminal Charges Openly Defy MDA.”
The release includes this quote from Melinda Olson, one of those who received the warning letter described in my previous post: “The MDA’s harassment against mothers will not work. We plan to ignorethis warning and continue operating as we are. MDA should not waste taxpayer money investigating, prosecuting and jailing peaceful farmers and mothers for helping their communities secure fresh foods. Our time to stand up against this tyranny is now!”
The organization indicated that not only won’t Hartmann lose his consumer supporters, but he will gain more help. “Dozens of individuals who are disgusted with what they regard as MDA’s overly aggressive tactics are expected to join in the same activity as these mothers,” the release states.
The MDA action is a surprising strategic departure from previous enforcement actions by agencies in other parts of the country, which have confined themselves to focusing on generally one to three targeted individuals at a time—usually farmers or food club managers-- in an effort to isolate them, and discourage organized backing. By going after nine or ten individuals—and consumers at that--the MDA is clearly betting that it can handle a more complex enforcement situation. Most fundamentally, it is betting that it can outmaneuver the consumers, or wear them down, in a protracted legal battle.
One MDA approach could be to focus its eventual enforcement action on just one or two of those sent warning letters, by filing criminal or civil charges, betting that the rest will be intimidated from providing support or continuing to resist the warnings. The MDA has all kinds of options at its disposal, what with an array of lawyers and endless funding.
To the extent the current enthusiasm for resistance wanes over the coming months of selective MDA enforcement, it could win its bet and demonstrate to its FDA masters and to other states that the food rights activists are a bunch of patsies.
My advice to the Minnesota food rights activists—those planning to defy warning letters and those planning to similarly defy MDA strictures in sympathy: Plan for MDA retribution. Talk to your neighbors and let them know that MDA investigators may be interviewing them (if they haven’t already done so). Make sure your income taxes are paid. Talk to a lawyer and accountant about easy steps you can take to protect your home and other assets from predator tactics by prosecutors and regulators.
And always remember this: You have an ace in the hole. If you can remain united, support each other in the coming MDA testing, and gather additional community support to expand private distribution of direct-from-the-farm products, there is nothing the MDA can do. In other words, the MDA is powerless in the face of large-scale resistance and civil disobedience. It will have no choice but to allow people to access the foods of their choice.
Michael Schmidt summed up the challenge well in a comment following my previous post: “You need to ask yourself if another tactic is the way to go or if the unafraid friends and shareholders and farmers are willing to go all the way.”
Liz Reitzig, a leader of the Raw Milk Freedom Riders, explains the risk very well: “The implications of what the Minnesota Department of Agriculture is attempting are huge. If they succeed in criminalizing mothers for such normal natural human behavior as helping provide fresh food for their friends and neighbors, the FDA will continue their aggressive rampage across the nation shutting down farmers via the mothers who depend on them to feed their families."