|The Bechards & Gary Cox|
Armand and Teddi Bechard were following Missouri’s raw milk laws when undercover agents from the Springfield-Greene County Health Department bought milk from the Bechard’s central delivery location. The agents made undercover purchases twice in 2009 at a health food store parking lot and the Bechards have finally found relief in the battle to continue providing fresh milk to their customers.
During the sting operations, Armand heard from a health department worker:
This is your warning call…my boss doesn’t like raw milk in the city of Springfield. And so if you continue to deliver it, you’re gonna get a summons.
The video below shows the authorities’ dizzying interpretations and stretched definitions of property, sales, and more. The summons attempted a permanent injunction against the Bechards and their posterity. The harassment and amount of action over legal semantics was incredible.
According to Missouri statute, unlicensed farmers can sell and deliver raw dairy, but it was the Missouri State Milk Board that filed a lawsuit to force the Bechards to deliver each sale to the customer’s house and prohibit the central distributing location. [Milk Board Staff directory]
On top of the Milk Board action, Greene County D.A. filed suit against Mr. Bechard, accusing him of selling raw dairy outside of his farmland. An appeal acquitted him of the charge early last year.
Why did the Milk Board raise such a fuss over where the Bechards were legally selling their goods? Did the three-year legal battle amply bring a victory for them and other raw milk advocates?
The Missouri State Milk Board is somewhat of a quality assurance branch of Missouri’s Department of Agriculture, and was created in 1972 to “encourage” sanitary milk production. It appears they disliked the possibility of random customers being able to walk up and buy fresh milk. They were risking their legal action based on an Attorney General Opinion (or interpretation of the law) from 1973. Attorney General Opinions are not the law. They must have sent the health department agents out undercover because they enlist the health department through contract services.
Farm-To-Consumer Legal Defense Fund provided General Counsel Gary Cox to assist in the final settlement. The judge signed a consent judgement where the Bechards cannot sell to “strangers,” like anyone who “walks up” to them in the parking lot without some prior sales arrangement.
But, the settlement guarantees that they can sell to whomever they wish and deliver it anywhere: customer’s home, a central distribution point like a parking lot, and on their farm. By entering into this settlement, the Bechards are not adding legitimacy to the Board’s allegations.
This settlement actually further anchors the Bechards’ right to keep providing dairy to their members. It reiterates their right to keep selling from the central delivery location. Although they cannot sell to any stranger who walks up to them, they have more incentive now to bring in members, free from harassment.
The Milk Board, which supposedly oversees sanitation and production went through an awful lot of trouble to ensure that the Bechards were following every jot and tittle of Missouri State law. It was a senseless action because it was not motivated by a sense of public safety, but rather an attempt to shut down a very small production and prohibit raw milk freedom.
It was a rough, emotional three years for the Bechards, but with hope this victory will propel them forward and show others that they have the freedom to do the same.
Here is Armand sharing his story, inspiring and with more legal battles, at a May FundRAISER Dinner at a St. Louis Regional Weston A. Price Conference:
The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund defends the rights and broadens the freedoms of family farms and protects consumer access to raw milk and nutrient-dense foods. Those concerned can support the FTCLDF, a U.S. based 501(c)(4) nonprofit, by joining or donating online at http://www.farmtoconsumer.org or by calling 703-208-FARM (3276).
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