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Raw milk case moving to Dane County

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Pedro Oliveira Jr.
June 11, 2010
— It will be up to a Dane County judge to decide what to do with an East Troy farm whose owners are part of a lawsuit against a state agency over raw milk sales.

Mark and Petra Zinniker, N7399 Bowers Road, had their farm shut down last September after state agriculture officials said more than 30 people from Walworth, Waukesha and Racine counties were diagnosed with a bacterial infection from consuming raw milk traced to the farm.


Now, the Zinnikers are suing the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection over the right to sell raw milk under a cow-share program, which the farmers were doing at the time the farm was shut down.


Under a cow-share program, one or more individuals owns the animals but have no ownership of the farm. Some supporters of raw milk consumption say the arrangement should make it legal for them to have raw milk because Wisconsin statutes allow farmers and their families to consume their own raw milk—they just can't sell it.


On Thursday, Walworth County Judge John Race ruled the case would be moved to Dane County, which already has a pending case with similar circumstances.


The Dane County case also deals with sales of raw milk, was filed against DATCP and has similar plaintiffs.


Assistant Attorney General Robert Hunter asked the judge to move legal proceedings to Dane County because “it would promote judicial efficiency for these issues to be considered and decided by a single court.”


Also listed in the Zinniker lawsuit are Gayle Loiselle and Robert Karp of Dousman. They purchased a cow from the Zinnikers under the cow-share program, according to court documents. Attorneys for the farmers say the plaintiffs should be able to own cows, contract with the Zinnikers to board the cows and consume raw milk from the cows.


“I am a cow owner with a right to an interest in obtaining products from my property,” Loiselle wrote in an affidavit. “I am not a consumer or member of the public.”


But officials on the other side of the argument say selling raw milk is illegal in Wisconsin, even under a cow-share program.


Wisconsin statutes require individuals to be bona fide owners with a "real financial stake" to get raw milk from a farm, said Donna Gilson, a DATCP spokeswoman.


Gov. Jim Doyle recently vetoed a bill that would have allowed limited sales of raw milk. At the time, the governor cited concerns over health issues and the possibility that an outbreak of disease from drinking unpasteurized milk could affect the state's dairy industry.


This is the second time Race ruled on the Zinniker case.


Last December, the judge approved a plea agreement after the Walworth County District Attorney’s office filed 24 citations, carrying a total maximum penalty of $24,000 against Zinniker Farm.


As part of the agreement, the Zinnikers admitted the violations but the case was held open and they were not be fined. If Mark and Petra Zinniker are again caught selling raw milk, they could be fined the maximum—$24,000—and would lose their license to sell milk, according to the agreement.


The case against the Zinnikers was filed after agriculture officials found that 35 people from Walworth, Waukesha and Racine counties were diagnosed with a bacterial infection that causes diarrhea, cramping and vomiting.


All said they had consumed raw milk, and 30 said they got it from Zinniker Farm. Twenty-one victims were under the age of 18, and one was hospitalized. Twenty-seven of the victims were in Walworth and Waukesha counties.


Tests by state officials showed the bacteria from 25 of the patients had a DNA fingerprint matched to bacteria found in feces from cows at the Zinniker farm.



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