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Oregon farmer sues over raw milk advertising ban

An Oregon milk producer filed a lawsuit Tuesday to overturn the state's ban on advertising raw, unpasteurized milk for sale at the farm.
/ Source: The Associated Press

An Oregon milk producer filed a lawsuit Tuesday to overturn the state's ban on advertising raw, unpasteurized milk for sale at the farm.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Portland against the Oregon Department of Agriculture, says the ban violates the free speech rights of Christine Anderson of McMinnville, owner of the Cast Iron Farm.

Federal law prohibits the sale of raw milk from state to state, but allows states to regulate its sale within their borders. About 30 states allow some sort of raw milk sales. Oregon prohibits retail sales of raw cow milk but allows on-farm sales if the farmer has fewer than three cows and only two are lactating.

All Oregon farmers who sell milk on the farm directly to consumers are prohibited from advertising the milk online, in fliers, via email or on signs.

While consumer demand for raw milk has soared in recent years, several states have adopted stricter standards to regulate the milk.

Oregon's rules went into effect in 1999 after the Oregon Legislature passed a bill creating the new law.

Last year, the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association called for tighter restrictions on the sale of unpasteurized milk following an E. coli outbreak that sickened nearly 20 people. Four children were hospitalized with acute kidney failure.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that consuming raw milk can make you sick.

Raw milk enthusiasts say pasteurization — the process of heating milk to kill disease-causing bacteria — kills bacteria beneficial to human health.

The suit, which focuses specifically on the advertising ban for small-scale, on-farm sales, says the inability to talk about the milk makes it difficult for Anderson and other small farmers to sell their products and prevents consumers from getting needed information.

"Running a business without the ability to be able to talk about your business at all is a very difficult thing to do," said Anderson, a seventh generation farmer who grew up on a cattle ranch. She has sold raw milk on the farm since 2008.

Part of the problem, Anderson said, is that the state does not define what advertising is. Last year, the Oregon Department of Agriculture asked Anderson to remove milk prices from her website. She also had to remove information about her milking, bottling, and bacteria testing practices.

Oregon Department of Agriculture spokesman Bruce Pokarney said the department could not comment on the lawsuit because it has not seen it yet.

The suit was filed by the Virginia-based Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm. The firm also filed two other suits, one challenging Minnesota's restrictions for home bakers and another challenging a ban on front-yard vegetable gardens in Miami Shores, Florida.

The suits are part of a wider initiative to challenge laws regulating the food industry that interfere with citizens' rights to produce, sell, buy and eat the food that they choose, said the firm's attorney, Michael Bindas.