Screw-Tightening Time on Michigan Raw Milk Herdshares
In the month-long game between Michigan agriculture regulators and raw milk distributor My Family Co-Op, the regulators today put down the “Gotcha!” card.
If you’ll remember, last month the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development forced My Family Co-Op to dispose of nearly $5,000 worth of raw milk, eggs, cream, and other food after the agency determined the co-op was distributing raw milk products like cream and butter in violation of a policy statement on herd shares issued last year. It also said My Family Co-Op was selling other products like eggs and meat without a retail license.
At first glance, the letterJenny Samuelson. owner of My Family Co-Op, received from the MDARD today seemed to be good news. “Based on the violations observed on July 15, 2014, the MDARD could seek administrative fines, pursue criminal charges, or seek a restraining order against you and My Family Co-Op. However, because you and My Family Co-Op have no record of previous violations of the Michigan Food Law, the MDARD is electing not to pursue these option.” Translation: We are such good guys, we are letting you off the hook this time.
More good news. “My Family Co-Op may resume the delivery of Fresh Umprocessed Whole (FUW) Milk to those individuals who have a valid herd share agreement directly with the farm.”
The letter goes on to suggest that even more favorable news is coming—that a retail food license Samuelson applied for last week is in process.
The letter does remind Samuelson she “may not resume the delivery of (other raw milk) products, which include butter, buttermilk, and cream.”
But the real kicker, the "Gotcha!", comes in the letter’s last paragraph: “All products that are sold or delivered will be required to be labeled, stored, and distributed in a manner that conforms to the requirements of the Michigan Food Law. For example, the distribution of FUW milk, using a licensed food establishment vehicle or the storage of FUW milk at a licensed food establishment, would be a violation of the Michigan Food Law and your license.”
In other words, once Samuelson has her prized retail food license, she will be prohibited from distributing raw milk from the same truck as other foods covered by the license. So theoretically, she’d have to make two trips to deliver food to her members. It wouldn’t be feasible, since she already travels many miles to serve her members.
Like most farmers in Michigan, Samuelson also didn’t examine the fine print in the policy statement that was issued last year. It wasn’t as if it was a subject for negotiation, in any event. But, of course, the regulators trip farmers up for a living, so they knew exactly what they were doing when they wrote the policy statement.
Nor did I fully appreciate the Catch-22 when I wrote in a post that Michigan was different in its application of licensing laws from Wisconsin. It turns out they aren’t that different—Michigan does allow herdshares, where Wisconsin doesn’t. But Michigan requires herdshares to make a choice—they can distribute raw milk or they can distribute other food, but they can’t very easily do both.
What is Samuelson to do in light of the fact that she is being told not to distribute raw milk in the same truck as other foods? I know she would welcome suggestions.
In the meantime, she is suggesting that her members and other supporters call the author of the letter to her, MDARD’s compliance manager, Byron Beerbower, 517-284-5694 (he didn’t include an email.), and voice objections.
I think the game being played by MDARD is called death by a thousand cuts.