A story is unfolding in Springfield, MO, that any reader of this blog ought to be following. From the Springfield News Leader:
Two undercover investigators with the Springfield-Greene County Health Department allegedly caught (Bechard family farm) on two occasions selling a gallon of milk each from a Springfield parking lot. Charges followed in municipal court. Piling on, the state Attorney General’s Office used the health department’s information to file a lawsuit seeking an injunction against Armand and Teddi Bechard of Conway.
Now, Missouri law is fairly clear on this (MRS 196.935):
an individual may purchase and have delivered to him for his own use raw milk or cream from a farm.
My initial reaction to this was a combination of annoyance at the government for having nothing better to do, and annoyance at the farmers for violating a clear law against selling milk outright vs. arranging prior deliveries. I feel very strongly that regardless of a law’s stupidity, we are a country of laws and we are best off obeying them until we can change them. I felt that situations like this, where I thought someone was ignoring the law, made things worse for those of us trying to change it by giving ammunition to over-zealous regulators. There’s a reason we refuse to sell our cheese, despite a standing list of people who would buy it from us, no question asked.
However, in a very well-written editorial, the News Leader goes on to elaborate that:
Armand told us the sales of the two gallons were an anomaly, caused by entrapment. He also says his family now delivers only milk that has been paid for in advance, which no one disagrees he has the right to do. The Bechards contend that the daughters, age 17 and 21, sold the two gallons only because a buyer failed to show for the pre-ordered milk in the parking lot where the Bechards meet customers to deliver various kinds of home-grown or homemade products from their family farm. Officials, though, contend that the selling constituted violations of both city and state law.
Obviously, we’re not supporting willful violation of the law. But with state statutes allowing consumers to order raw milk and buy it from a family farm, the Bechards‘ minor screwup seems better handled through a conversation than a courtroom.
This seems absolutely right to me. I’ve written plenty on raw milk, such as here and here, and noted our own local Health Department’s recent foray into banning otherwise legal raw milk here. It is simply absurd and offensive to me that consenting adult consumers, in a proudly free-market country like America, are banned from entering a private business relationship with farmers providing a product they want. Think of all the crazy things Americans are allowed to buy, and eat, and use…yet health departments and government spend their time on something this basic.
Think of all the family farms and entrepreneurs out there, or potentially out there, who aren’t getting started or expanding because they’re forbidden from meeting consumer demand for small farm products like milk, cheese, and meat; or because the regulations and requirements and costs for doing it the “legal” way are too difficult to meet. It’s truly sad that the biggest growth sector of American agriculture (small, direct-market farms) is also the sector most targeted by government harassment and regulations, and least supported by subsidies or other beneficial actions.
Missouri, supposedly a farm state, should be ashamed of itself.