By Shelby Sebens | Northwest Watchdog
About a year ago, Oregon Department of Agriculture officials came to Christine Anderson’s farm and told her to take down illegal information on her website.
What was that illegal information? Anderson had listed prices of raw milk on the website for Cast Iron Farm. The milk is sold legally on her farm about an hour outside of Portland in McMinnville, but Oregon has a decades-old law that bans the advertising of raw milk.
So she can sell it, but she can’t talk about it or inform customers or potential customers.
“It shouldn’t be a crime to talk about something that’s legal,” Michael Bindas, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, a civil liberties law firm, told Northwest Watchdog. “You can’t run a successful business if you can’t talk about it.”
Anderson can’t put up flyers or even a roadside sign at the farm saying, “We’ve got raw milk.”
The Institute for Justice plans to file a lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of Anderson in federal court challenging the advertising ban on free speech grounds.
“Surely a ban about something as wholesome as milk is unconstitutional,” he said, arguing the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down similar bans on legal products such as alcohol, stating it would violate the First Amendment. ”The First Amendment protects not only political and artistic speech, but commercial speech, as well, and government therefore cannot prohibit entrepreneurs like Christine from advertising a perfectly legal product,” he said.
Raw milk comes directly from the cow, goat or other mammal and hasn’t been pasteurized, a form of removing harmful bacteria from the milk. Such milk that is consumed by humans is regulated by state laws that ensure it’s safe to consume, according to the Raw Milk Institute, a national organization that provides training and promotes common standards for the raw milk market.
Advocates say the milk tastes better and has added health benefits when consumed in its raw form.
Bruce Pokarney, director of communications for the Department of Agriculture, said in an email to Northwest Watchdog that the department has been directed not to comment by the Oregon Department of Justice because it is a legal matter.
The lawsuit is part of the National Food Freedom Initiative, a movement of the Institute for Justice as well as food producers and consumers who are “tired of the government making their food choices for them,” according to IJ.
Though federal law prohibits the interstate sale of raw milk, more than half the states — including Oregon — allow it. But advertising raw milk in Oregon carries a fine of between $6,250 and $10,000.
Anderson takes pride in her milk and the testing and meticulous process she goes through to ensure the quality. Cast Iron Farms is one of only four dairies listed with the Raw Milk Institute.
She wants to be able to tell her customers what is done to ensure the milk is safe and clean, but for now she can’t because of Oregon law.
“It’s valuable information for them to have,” Bindas said.
Contact Shelby Sebens at Shelby@NorthwestWatchdog.org
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