Originally published in The Weekly Packet, June 19, 2014
‘Farmer Brown’ case comes to an end
Supreme Court upholds raw milk ruling
by Anne Berleant
Dan Brown, the Blue Hill farmer who took his fight to sell unlicensed raw milk to the state’s highest court, lost the battle on June 17. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of an April 2013 district court summary judgment, upheld on appeal, ordering Brown to stop selling his milk and milk products. Brown was fined $1,000 in civil penalties.
The Supreme Court ruling is the latest, and final, word in a case that began over three years ago. Since the injunction leveled against Brown, he has declared bankruptcy and turned to lobster fishing for a living. Gravelwood Farm, owned by him and his wife Judy, is no longer a commercial operation.
Maine does allow the sale of raw milk—with a license issued by the State Department of Agriculture. Brown refused to comply, citing the Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance passed by Blue Hill in March 2011, the fact that in 2006 the State Veterinarian, who supervised dairy inspections at that time, told Brown no license was needed if he did not advertise his sales, and undue hardship, in that a license would require improvements to his facility costing $20,000 after he had already spent about the same amount based on information received from the state in 2006.
The Department of Agriculture had transferred authority over milk sales to the Quality Assurance Division in 2009, which, in turn, required farmers be licensed to sell milk. Brown was charged with three counts connected to his sale of raw milk and raw milk products in November 2011.
Both local and national farmers and farm advocates rallied behind “Farmer Brown,” as the legal case against him became a test of the local food ordinance, which has since been adopted by over a dozen towns in Hancock County and Maine.
The Supreme Court decision stated in support of its ruling, “the important State interest in protecting the public health and welfare.” The full decision is available at courts.maine.gov/opinions_orders/supreme/lawcourt/2014/14me79br.pdf.