February 25, 2014
“Out of state” is often meant as an insult in Oregon, especially when applied to campaign contributions. But good things can come from distant places. The Virginia-based Institute for Justice demonstrated this last year by taking up the cause of Christine Anderson, who is prohibited by state law from advertising that which she may sell legally.
What is the thing upon which Oregon’s famous free-speech protections do not smile? In the Land of the Ubiquitous Strip Club, you may not discuss raw milk, at least in a money-making sense. Though farmers with a small number of animals may sell the stuff, they may not advertise it, even on their websites.
The rationale buried in this legal contradiction is easily understood and even well-intentioned. Lawmakers are reluctant to ban the sale of raw milk, which enjoys a limited but devoted following. Few, however, want consumption to increase, given the potential for serious illness. There’s a reason dairies pasteurize the stuff.
As well-intentioned as policymakers may be, the state has given raw milk producers a raw deal. Advertising for wine and beer is ubiquitous in Oregon and elsewhere despite the well-known effects of excessive alcohol consumption. The state itself enjoys a monopoly on hard liquor sales, and it’s more than happy to promote and cash in on lottery games with which gambling addicts routinely ruin themselves. But when it comes to untreated cow juice, silence is the law.
Treating raw milk advertising in this fashion isn’t merely inconsistent. It also may violate farmers’ free speech rights, as Anderson argued in a lawsuit filed late last year. Anderson, who owns Cast Iron Farm in McMinnville, was featured in a 2012 story in the Yamhill Valley News-Register. A state inspector who read the article had questions about some of the practices it described, Frank Barcellos of the Department of Agriculture’s food safety program told us last year. So the inspector investigated further, discovering in the process that the price of raw milk was posted illegally on the farm’s web site. An inspection report ensued, as did a lawsuit, which Anderson filed with the assistance of the Institute for Justice.
Rather than putting up a fight, the state did the right thing and settled this month, as The Oregonian’s Lynne Terry reported. In return for Anderson’s commitment to drop the suit, Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba instructed her staff not to enforce the ban on raw-milk advertising. The settlement also requires Coba’s department to ask lawmakers in 2015 to strike the ban from the lawbooks. Following through on this commitment should be one of the least controversial things the Legislature does next year.
Michael Bindas, an attorney with the Institute for Justice’s office in Washington state, says Coba’s department “should be applauded” for agreeing not to enforce the advertising ban. He’s right. Also deserving applause, ironically, is the food safety inspector whose zeal brought Christine Anderson to the Institute for Justice’s attention. Thanks to her initiative, the institute’s response and the Department of Agriculture’s capitulation, Cast Iron Farm’s website now advertises, with no risk of penalty, that it’s selling raw milk for $14 per gallon.
— The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.