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Raw milk dairy farmer in Oregon wins fight against advertising ban

Christine Anderson of Cast Iron Farm in McMinnville can now advertise her milk, with postings on her website and a sign out front under an agreement with the Oregon Department of Agriculture. (Institute for Justice)
Lynne Terry | lterry@oregonian.comBy Lynne Terry | 
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on February 13, 2014 at 4:54 PM, updated February 13, 2014 at 5:46 PM

Raw milk proponents scored a victory in Oregon on Thursday, with the state agreeing not to enforce a ban on advertising the sale of unpasteurized milk.

The agreement is part of a settlement between Oregon Department of Agriculture and Christine Anderson, owner of Cast Iron Farm in McMinnvilleAnderson filed a suit in U.S. District Court in Portland in November, saying the ban infringed on her free speech rights. On-farm sales of raw milk are allowed in Oregon; advertising, including website postings, fliers and emails, is not.

Anderson is dismissing her suit and in return, Katy Coba, director of the Department of Agriculture, will ask the state Legislature to repeal the ban. Coba was named in the complaint as the sole defendant.

Vance Bybee, food safety director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, said the settlement reflects "an effort to be responsive and sensitive to the constitutional issues raised in this issue." The deal will be reviewed by the Oregon Department of Justice.

Anderson said she's thrilled.

"Now I'll be able to put information on my website about our production, with the prices," Anderson said. "And I won't have to spend hours a day responding to people's questions about our milk and how we produce it."

Another bonus: She can erect a sign in front of her 12-acre property, advertising the milk. She doesn't have any plans to do any advertising, however. She said she has enough customers who buy milk from her weekly, at $14 a gallon.

The lawsuit only addressed advertising. It did not attempt to change Oregon's restrictions on raw milk production and sales. Under state law, raw milk can only be sold on the farm. Producers are allowed to have up to three cows, nine sheep and nine goats. Anderson has two Brown Swiss cows.

Anderson said she decided to sue after a state inspector visited her farm in 2012, complaining about a raw milk price list on her website. The inspector told Anderson that constituted advertising.

Anderson took it down but later received a cease-and-desist order from the department, she said, telling her to stop selling raw milk cheese. She doesn't produce cheese.

The case was picked up by the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm headquartered in Virginia. The group has also filed two other lawsuits -- one against Florida's ban on front yard vegetable gardens and another against Minnesota's restrictions on small food producers -- as part of a nationwide "food freedom initiative."

The lead attorney in the case, Michael Bindas, said in a statement, "Christine is part of a nationwide movement of small-scale food producers and consumers who are tired of the government dictating what foods they can grow, sell and eat."

Proponents of raw milk tend to be passionate about the product but health officials widely advise against it because of the risk of contamination.  In April 2012, nearly 20 people were sickened in Oregon by unpasteurized milk produced at Foundation Farm near Wilsonville. Oregon Public Health officials confirmed that the milk was contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, a potentially deadly strain. Four children were hospitalized in the outbreak, including three children who were put on kidney support. One of them had to have a kidney transplant.

That outbreak was the sixth in Oregon traced to raw milk since 1996. No one has died. 

Anderson, who tests her cow's milk monthly for harmful bacteria, acknowledges that raw milk can make people sick.

-- Lynne Terry

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Tags: Oregon, Raw, advertising, against, ban, dairy, farmer, fight, in, milk, More…wins


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