Plaintiffs in a fight over selling unpasteurized milk have petitioned the Wisconsin Supreme Court to decide whether a person has a constitutional right to purchase and consume raw milk.
State law generally prohibits the sale of unpasteurized milk to the public because it may carry bacteria that can cause food-borne illnesses. Advocates say the fresh, unprocessed milk contains beneficial bacteria.
The 4th District Court of Appeals ruled against the two farms in August in a consolidated case involving Walworth County dairy farmers Mark and Petra Zinniker and Grassway Organics Farm Store in Calumet County, but sidestepped the issue of whether a person has a right to purchase and consume unpasteurized milk.
A petition was filed Monday with the high court naming the Zinnikers and the store. A third petition was filed this summer in a case involving dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger of Loganville.
The plaintiffs "believe they have a fundamental constitutional right to choose what they eat and to choose where that food comes from," food rights activist Gayle Loiselle told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "We have constitutional rights to conduct business directly between farmers and citizens without government interference and without middlemen like food processors or distributors,"
The Zinnikers lost their dairy license in 2009 after 35 people got sick after allegedly drinking raw milk from the farm. Shortly after, raw milk supporters formed a limited liability coalition and entered into a contract with the Zinniker farm to purchase a herd of dairy cows, agreeing to pay a fee so members could collect raw milk for consumption.
The Zinnikers' attorney asked the state whether that arrangement was legal, and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection responded with a letter saying it was a "sham arrangement" that could result in civil and criminal penalties.
The Zinnikers then filed a lawsuit, in which the appeals court ruled the Zinnikers were breaking the law because they were distributing milk produced on their farm without a milk producer's license. Because of that conclusion, it wasn't necessary to determine whether a person has a right to consume raw milk, the court said.