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Wisconsin Judge Denies Basic Property Rights and Food Choice

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Robert Karp, Executive Director, Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association

(262) 649-9212 * robert.karp@biodynamics.com * www.biodynamics.com

Wisconsin Judge Denies Basic Property Rights and Food Choice

September 30, 2011,  WI – In a striking setback for property rights and consumer choice, a Wisconsin judge issued an order on September 9 that owners of cows do not have a fundamental right to consume milk from their own cows. The order was issued by Dane County Circuit Court Judge Patrick J. Fielder in response to a motion to clarify an August 12 ruling denying a motion by the Zinniker Family Farm, Nourished by Nature LLC (NbN),  NbN members Robert Karp and Gayle Loiselle, and the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund for a judgment that the boarding agreement was in compliance with Wisconsin law. 

Under the agreement between the Zinnikers and NbN, dairy cows owned by NbN as an LLC were boarded at the Zinniker Farm. The cows were owned by the LLC rather than by the Zinnikers, who simply executed a services contract to board, care for, and milk the cows for their owners.

Clarifying his original ruling that the plaintiffs did not have a fundamental right to possess, use, and enjoy their property, Judge Fielder explained clearly that there are no fundamental rights to own and use a dairy cow or dairy herd, to consume the milk from one's own cows, to board one's cow at a farm, or to consume the food of one's choice. In addition, Judge Fielder stated that the private contract between the Zinnikers and NbN falls within the scope of the State's police power, that the government has the power to regulate the private conduct of growing and consuming food. 

Gayle Loiselle, one of the founders and managers of Nourished by Nature LLC, had this to say about Judge Fiedler's ruling: "As a plaintiff in this case I find it completely ludicrous that Judge Fiedler ruled I have no right to own and drink milk from MY cow, because I may get sick.... Clearly, this issue is not about protecting the health of consumers. It is rather about control of the production, distribution and sale of all milk and milk products."

Nourished by Nature was developed, with help from the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association and with support from a grant by RSF Social Finance, as a new type of consumers' association designed to purchase and hold agricultural assets in order to support family farmers and protect consumer rights. 

The Zinniker Family Farm, the oldest continually operating biodynamic farm in the country, was shut down in the fall of 2009 by the State of Wisconsin for distributing raw milk through a cow-share program that they had run since the mid-1980s. The State's actions have put the Zinnikers under severe financial strain. As farmer Mark Zinniker explains, "We’re still trying to figure out how to try and make a living and stay at the same scale, which is very difficult. The milk really gave us the ability to stay on the smaller side. For a small farm like this to be able to survive, it has to have that community support, people who value that small-scale production and are willing to pay the real cost of that production."

The issues of this case have consequences that reach far beyond the Zinniker farm, however. "It’s very obvious, to us anyway, that this is way beyond raw milk," says Zinniker. "They’re basically ruling on your rights, [or the rights] that you don’t have. And I think that’s very much of a consumer issue."

The plaintiffs in the case filed an appeal of Judge Fielder's decision on September 26. 

About the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association 

The Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association (BDA) is an association of individuals, groups, and organizations in North America who are committed to the transformation of the whole food system, from farm to table, and who draw inspiration from the spiritual-scientific insights of Rudolf Steiner. Biodynamics is a worldwide movement for the renewal of agriculture based on an understanding of the spiritual forces at work in nature and in human social life. From this understanding, a particular form of organic farming has been developed that continues to grow and evolve around the world.