[Note: Alvin Schlangen is an organic egg farmer who provides raw milk delivery for Freedom Farm Co-Op with 210 members who pay a mere $25 annually.]
In an odd turn of events, raw milk and pastured-egg farmer Alvin Schlangen, who received a court victory last September, was brought up on the same charges again and found guilty. Jury nullification, which is frequently upheld in Minnesota, was the saving grace last time - strangely, not so in this case.
Initially he was facing six charges in Stearns county - his home county - three of which are identical to the ones he was acquitted of in September in Hennepin county. Those included selling raw milk, operating without a food license, and handling adulterated food. Schlangen facilitated a private food club and even did free deliveries.
The trial lasted three days and ended with sentencing on Thursday.
The counts: 1. Operating without a food handler's license; 2. Storing eggs at temperatures above the mandated 45 degrees (Schlangen kept them at 50 for his food club members); 3. Distributing adulterated or misbranded food; 4. Violating a food embargo; 5. Selling custom processed meat.
One raw milk charge had been dropped before the trial...but, played a big focus in the trial and punishment.
The September acquittal was heralded on Facebook even months later. But many didn't realize he was quietly being slammed again in a different county on the same charges with more added in the mix. Furthermore, the case and pending court date were dragged out, perhaps in an attempt to make the support for him wane.
A six-person jury found him guilty on all five counts. Original punishment carried "a maximum fine of $5,000 plus up to 15-months jail time; but the judge gave him one year on probation; and if he violates the terms, Alvin will have to serve the 90 days in jail that was suspended and pay the $700 balance of the fine [the judge actually fined Alvin $1,000 but suspended $700 of it." (Source)
David Gumpert's update:
Schlangen was immediately fined $300 and sentenced to 90 days of jail, with the jail sentence stayed.
Most problematic may turn out to be the one year of probation, during which time Schlangen is expected "to comply with all Minnesota food laws, including raw milk laws," according to his lawyer, Nathan Hansen. "It was interesting that raw milk wasn't mentioned in any of the charges, and at the end of the day, it was about raw milk."Hansen, also a member of the private buying club, says the members' raw milk supply is in jeopardy - the judge strangely included this in the probation even though that charge was dropped from the trial. He notes that prosecution worked really hard to get a conviction. A sleight-of-hand, they brought in a bunch of food producer managers and owners as witnesses to give the appearance that Schlangen himself was operating a retail food establishment or food company.
Private food buying clubs, of course, couldn't be further away from grocers, restaurants, industrial farms, and big food companies. Not open to the public, the contractual members often oversee and participate in the production of the foods THEY WANT, NEED, and OWN. There are myriad health issues that require these types of farm quality and organic foods that are not available in the markets (and even if there weren't, who cares if people want to support local?). Even well-known big organic food producers are not always as they appear because they can fall back on slack and confusing FDA and USDA regulation, quality management, and labeling.
Will they use their new-found lessons of how to persuade a jury to go after additional farmers in other states? Or, to put it another way, now that they at long last tasted blood provided by a jury of a farmer's peers, will they want more?Jury nullification has spread far and wide in Minnesota and helped Alvin with his win the first time around - but in the next town over the whole panel found him guilty on all five charges?
This is clearly a case of control, shamelessly arguing the licensing issue and how the MDA came back to slam Alvin with the same charges he already was acquitted of by a jury. They don't want to cause an uproar by jailing a peaceful farmer - they just want to make sure he can't function and the food goes to waste. The State will stop at nothing!
Please consider donating to Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund on behalf of Alvin for him and his family during this legal battle. And please support your local farmer!
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