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Judge Rules Against Maine Food Sovereignty Ordinance in First Test Case

Dan Brown Blue Hill

[1]

Farmer Dan Brown has two cows. The State of Maine has spent considerable time prosecuting him for over 2 years for selling raw milk without a license, even though nobody ever complained or suffered from his milk. Photo courtesy of the Complete Patient [2].

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Back in the summer of 2011 we covered the story of how local towns in Maine were passing “Food Sovereignty [3]” laws to allow sale of locally produced food without interference of regulators. Read the story here [3]. Nine towns in Maine have since passed similar ordinances.

Then in November of 2011, Dan Brown, a family farmer in Blue Hill, Maine, was served a summons to answer charges being filed against him by the State of Maine and Commissioner Whitcomb in what appeared to be the first test of Maine’s local “Food Sovereignty” laws. The charges all stemmed from his selling food without licenses, in his case raw milk, assorted dairy products like ice cream and cheese, and processed items like pickles and jams. Read the story here [4].

This week a state judge in Maine ruled that farmer Dan Brown must have a license to sell raw milk, despite his town’s ordinance exempting local farmers from state food regulations. David Gumpert of The Complete Patient gives the details below. Since both sides reportedly agreed to a “summary judgment,” it appears that the State finally wore poor Farmer Dan down by this long and drawn out case, as certainly a jury trial among his peers would have stood a much better chance at success one would think, but it also would have been far more costly.

According to Bangor Daily News [5], this ruling will put Farmer Dan out of business:

The injunction orders Brown to stop operating a food establishment without a license. Brown said the decision effectively means his farming operation is being shut down. He can still sell what little produce and eggs he produces — about $100 total revenue a week, he said — but that’s not enough to survive on. “This shuts me down completely,” he said Thursday.

Brown said he’s been frustrated because the only reason he started selling dairy out of the farmstand in the first place is because the Department of Agriculture told him that it was the only place he could sell his product without licensing.

He said when he first started going to farmers markets, the state told him he couldn’t sell there without a license. But a farmstand on his own property would be allowed.

“They said, ‘sell from your farm, and we don’t know you,’” he said. “I spent $20,000 building that building, because they told me I could do it.”

Still, Brown said he will comply with the injunction, even if it means seeking state assistance until he has a new source of income.

“I’ve said before that the ordinance is law until it’s proven not to be, and [Murray] has said it’s not law. I need to be a man and stand by my word.”

In the meantime, Brown said he’s exploring options including selling his cows for beef and applying for jobs as a sternman on a lobster boat.

“I don’t know what I’ll do in the meantime,” he said. “It’s all happening so fast.” Full Story Here [5].

Raw Milk Not Necessarily an Allowed “Local Food,” Says Maine Judge in Ruling Against Food Sovereignty Ordinance

by David Gumpert
The Complete Patient

Maine’s food sovereignty movement took a hit when a state judge ruled earlier this week that farmer Dan Brown must have a license to sell raw milk, despite his town’s ordinance exempting local farmers from state food regulations.

The judge was ruling in response to requests from both the prosecution and the defense last June for summary judgment–a ruling before the case might come to trial, based on acceptance by both sides of the basic facts of the case.

The logic behind the decision of Judge Ann Murray of the Maine Superior Court had supporters of Brown scratching their heads. Murray states in her decision [6] that “the Court does not necessarily agree that the Blue Hill ordinance cited by Brown authorizes him to sell milk without a license by its express terms…Nothing in the Blue Hill ordinance clearly states that the town intended to include milk within the definition of ‘local food,’ and considering the ordinance in the context of Title 22 [state law that exempts farm stands and farmers markets from having to be licensed as food establishments, except for sale of dairy and meat products], one could easily conclude that it was not intended to exempt dairy products from licensure.”

The head scratching has to do with the Blue Hill ordinance [7], which couldn’t be any clearer about its intent: “Producers or processors of local foods in the Town of Blue Hill are exempt from licensure and inspection provided that the transaction is only between the producer or processor and a patron when the food is sold for home consumption. This includes any producer or processor who sells his or her products at farmers’ markets or roadside stands…”

Since Dan Brown’s farm stand selling raw milk is in Blue Hill, he would seem to qualify.

If the town of Blue Hill had had the foresight to anticipate such legalistic wrangling, it’s unlikely the judge would have been persuaded in any event.  She notes that “the [state’s] legislative intent that milk products be subject to stricter regulation than other products…support the State’s contention that Blue Hill may not exempt individuals selling milk from the statutory licensure requirement.”

The judge also declined to bend on Brown’s argument that the Blue Hill ordinance was legal under a liberal home rule provision in Maine law. “In light of the clear language of the statute and the legislative intent manifested through a complete reading of the statutory scheme, the Court declines to permit Brown to take shelter under the Home Rule. It is axiomatic that a municipality may only add to the requirements of the statute, it may not take away from those requirements unless permitted to do so.”

Seems another case of…Heads, I win, tales, you lose.

Brown’s lawyer, Gary Cox of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund [8], said it’s uncertain if the farmer will appeal.

Read the Full Article Here: http://thecompletepatient.com/article/2013/may/2/raw-milk-not-necessarily-allowed-%E2%80%9Clocal-food%E2%80%9D-says-maine-judge-ruling-against [2]

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