June 28, 2006
MOUNT HOPE, Ohio — Arlie Stutzman was busted in a rare sting when an undercover agent bought raw milk from the Amish dairy farmer in an unlabeled container.
Now, Stutsman is fighting the law that forbids the sale of raw milk, saying he believes it violates his religious beliefs because it prohibits him from sharing the milk he produces with others.
“While I can and I have food, I’ll share it,” said Stutzman, who is due in Holmes County Common Pleas Court on Friday to tell a judge his views. “Do unto others what you would have others do unto you.”
Last September, a man came to Stutzman’s weathered, two-story farmhouse, located in a pastoral region in northeast Ohio that has the world’s largest Amish settlement. The man asked for milk.
Stutzman was leery, but agreed to fill up the man’s plastic container from a 250-gallon stainless steel tank in the milkhouse.
After the creamy white, unpasteurized milk flowed into the container, the man, an undercover agent from the Ohio Department of Agriculture, gave Stutzman two dollars and left.
The department revoked Stutzman’s license in February. In April, he got back his license, which allows him to sell to cheese houses and dairies, but received a warning not to sell raw milk to consumers again.
“You can’t just give milk away to someone other then yourself. It’s a violation of the law,” said LeeAnne Mizer, spokeswoman for the department.
Organizations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to the American Dairy Association have said that raw milk contains health risks because it has not been heated to kill bacteria, such as E. coli.
Regulators want Judge Thomas D. White to formally order Stutzman to comply with dairy laws. Stutzman said he is fighting the request on principle, saying he should be able to share his milk.
Stutzman’s Amish faith places an emphasis on the community. To preserve their lifestyle, the Amish avoid the use of electricity and automobile ownership, which would allow the outside world to enter unabated into their culture.
The Amish typically do not get involved in politics, unless laws impede their ability to make a living or follow their religious beliefs. Stutzman said he is getting some community support.
“It shows he’s not going to be intimidated and he’s going to do what he thinks is the right thing,” said his attorney, Gary Cox.
State officials said they sent the agent to his farm because they received a tip from an anonymous neighbor about raw milk sales.
Stutzman, however, said he believes he was targeted because his cows are partly owned by a group of 150 families in what is known as a herd share agreement.
Members pay him a fee for the cows and are entitled to a portion of the milk.
Sales of raw milk are illegal in Ohio and 24 other states. But herd share agreements take advantage of a loophole because the group is buying the cows, not the milk.
Groups such as the Weston A. Price Foundation, which is dedicated to restoring nutrient-dense foods to people’s diets, advocate the consumption of raw milk, saying pasteurization diminishes vitamin content and kills beneficial bacteria.
For Stutzman, the herd share agreement gives him an outlet for his extra milk.
He also enjoys sharing his product with others who would otherwise not have access to it.
“We know people are deprived of this real food,” he said.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration: http://www.fda.gov/ Weston A. Price Foundation: http://www.realmilk.com/