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Governor Ends State's Case Against Dairy Farmer

Governor Ted Strickland this week ended the most recent battle in what some call the "raw milk wars."

Strickland ordered state agriculture officials to end their efforts to prevent a western Ohio farmer from supplying raw milk to shareholders in her dairy herd.

The "raw milk wars" pit federal and state health officials against consumers who are convinced that raw milk is healthier than pasteurized. The FDA and others say bacteria grow easily in milk, and pasteurization is essential to make it safe for human consumption. Consumers who want raw milk, however, say pasteurizing it removes everything - the bad and the good - including enzymes necessary to digest milk. Carol Schmitmeyer, her husband and five children have been on the front lines of this battle for more than a year

"It's not a war we wanted to happen," Schmitmeyer says. "We just wanted to be able to provide raw milk through herd share, and the Ohio Department of Agriculture didn't like it."

The Schmitmeyers have a 300-acre farm in Darke County. They milk 100 dairy cows and sell about 90% of the milk to an organic cooperative where it is pasteurized before sale to the public. The other 10% goes to herd shareholders.

Their herd sharing arrangement is similar to the few others that exist in Ohio. Schmitmeyer says, a shareholder pays a one-time fee of $50 and about $20 a month in boarding fees. In return, they receive raw milk. Selling shares of a herd and providing shareholders with raw milk are legal in Ohio. Selling raw milk is not.

Early last year, two people became ill with an infection that can be caused by raw milk and several other liquids and foods. Both had consumed raw milk from the Schmitmeyer farm. Although the dairy denied any connection between their milk and the two illnesses, the Ohio Department of Agriculture became involved.

Last fall, state agriculture officials determined that the Schmitmeyers were using the herd share arrangement to get around the law. The department pulled the family's license to produce milk.

In late December, a judge in Greenville overturned the Agriculture Department's revocation of the Schmitmeyer's license, saying the department failed to prove that the family illegally provided raw milk. The department appealed.

In ordering agriculture officials to end their appeal, Governor Strickland determined that the general public was not purchasing raw milk, and involvement in the case was not in the state's interest. The governor's Press Secretary, Keith Dailey, estimates Strickland's office received letters, emails and phone calls from several dozen supporters of herd sharing.

Schmitmeyer says the support they receive is not just from family and friends. It's from people who want access to raw milk.

Schmitmeyer says she feels vindicated by the governor's order, but admits it's been a long and difficult struggle.

"Not many people fight the government and come out ahead," she says, fighting back tears.