Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund
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Defending the rights and broadening the freedoms of family farms and protecting
consumer access to raw milk and nutrient dense foods.
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FTCLDF has been providing legal representation to Meadowsweet Dairy LLC since the fall of 2007. Farmers Stephen and Barbara Smith, member-managers of the LLC, had been distributing raw milk and raw milk products to their LLC members without a permit. The Smiths gave up their permits with the state in March 2007, frustrated by state regulations limiting the sale of raw milk to on-farm and prohibiting the sale of raw dairy products other than cheese aged sixty days. The Smith’s position is that since they are distributing products to members of a private entity and not the general public, they are not under the jurisdiction of the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets (NYSDAM) and do not need a permit. The Smiths had been subjected to harassment by NYSDAM since they gave up their raw milk and milk plant permits. In December 2007 Gary Cox filed a suit on behalf of the Smiths and the other members of the LLC asking the court to permanently enjoin the agency from interfering with the LLC’s operations on the grounds that what they were doing was not regulated by the state.

The case was transferred to the Albany County Supreme Court. On November 18, 2008 Judge John C. Egan Jr. denied the LLC’s request for a permanent injunction holding that Meadowsweet was under the authority of NYSDAM.

The judge’s ruling turned on the definition of “consumer”. Under state law anyone selling, offering for sale or “making available raw milk to consumers” must have a permit. The definition of “consumer” the judge used in his decision was so broad that even someone with only a family cow would be required to get a permit. In addition to holding that the Smiths were required to obtain a raw milk permit, the judge ruled that they were required to have a milk plant permit as well. Under New York law, those holding a dairy plant permit can only sell or otherwise distribute pasteurized milk products.

The Smiths have until December 20 to decide whether to appeal Judge Egan’s ruling. Regardless of whether an appeal is made, the Fund remains committed to establishing the legal right of raw milk producers in the state of New York to enter into private contractual arrangements without government interference in the distribution of raw milk and milk products.