APPLETON - A south central Wisconsin farmer heads to trial next week.
Vernon Hershberger is accused of operating a dairy farm without a license. But Hershberger says he's being targeted for selling raw milk.
Hershberger runs a farm in Loganville, which is near Baraboo. He says he sells raw milk to members of a local food club, which violates state law.
Prosecutors say the case is about Hershberger's lack of a license, and not the milk sales.
If convicted, Hershberger could face thousands of dollars in fines and up to a year in jail.
Local raw milk advocates say they feel the sale of raw milk should be legal.
Farmers we talked to acknowledge the health benefits of raw milk vs. pasteurized milk. But they also worry how bad publicity could hurt the dairy industry.
Maggie Payne of Appleton says she is a nearly life-long raw milk drinker.
"It's important for me to have the best food products possible for my family and raw milk is one of those pieces."
She says farmers should be allowed to sell it without penalty.
"I find it to be ridiculous to be totally honest with you. The fact that someone can go to the drive-through at McDonald's three times and feed that to their kids and it's not a problem, but me giving raw milk to my kids is a problem is amusing."
Appleton farmer Mark Petersen compares raw milk to cigarettes. Petersen says cigarette sales are legal but not necessarily healthy for people. He says raw milk has more health benefits than pasteurized milk, but also more health risks. Petersen says people who are educated about the risks should be able to make their own choices, but he says he's also concerned about negative publicity.
"I worry about the damage to the industry, because every time there is a negative story on a health problem with milk it hurts everybody. I know the dairy industry as a whole is saying lets not sell raw milk and I think it makes a lot of sense."
UW-Extension Dairy Agent Zen Miller says the U.S. has some of the strictest standards for food safety for a reason.
"If I have the personal freedom to sell raw milk and I do that and you get sick with something like campylobacter and get sick and you're in the hospital who is liable for that? And then you have a news story on it and people say well I don't think I'll drink any milk, then that hurts all the farmers."
But that's a choice Payne says people should be allowed to make for themselves.
"I think I shouldn't have to worry about sneaking around, I shouldn't have to worry about protecting my farmer, I should be able to sing their praises."
State Senator Glen Grothman also has a bill to legalize the sale of raw milk in the works.
The West Bend Republican introduced a similar measure in the Legislature in 2011 that failed.
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