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Prosecution: Trial is not about raw milk

Defendant Vernon Hershberger's attorney, Glen Reynolds, argues a point before opening statements at the Sauk County Courthouse in Baraboo on Monday for his criminal trial. Hershberger is charged with misdemeanor offenses related to the sale of raw unpasteurized milk. (AP Photo/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Gary Porter)

BARABOO, Wis. (AP) — The licensing trial of a Wisconsin dairy farmer who supporters say is being targeted for selling raw milk opened Monday with prosecutors maintaining that raw milk is not at issue.

Loganville farmer Vernon Hershberger is charged with distributing milk from his Grazin’ Acres dairy farm without a milk producer’s license, operating a retail food establishment and dairy plant without licenses, and violating a hold order placed on his dairy products after a raid on his farm.

In opening statements, state attorneys sought to show the case revolves solely around the specific charges against Hershberger, the Baraboo News Republic reported.

Hershberger didn’t have licenses to sell food, produce milk, or operate a dairy plant, and then violated an order placed on his food, said Phillip Ferris, assistant attorney general with the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

But defense attorney Glenn Reynolds tried to describe Hershberger’s farm as a collective community, rather than a store that merely sold products to customers, and said state regulators did not understand how the business functioned.

“They still don’t know the facts, ladies and gentlemen,” Reynolds said.

Ferris repeatedly objected during Reynolds’ opening statement, seeking to prevent him from addressing the jury about the nature of the relationship between Hershberger and members of his farm.

Following the first day of testimony, after the 12-member jury had been excused for the day, Hershberger’s legal team contested a document state attorneys submitted into evidence that showed a fee schedule for obtaining a retail food sales license.

Defense attorneys accused the prosecution of using the document to imply that all Hershberger had to do was pay a minimal fee and he could have avoided charges all together.

“I think the evidence is clear that he could have got a license,” Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Eric DeFort responded. “But clearly, he would have had to stop selling some product, which is the raw milk.”

That comment brought forth laughter from the courtroom audience, many of whom were Hershberger’s supporters. They were hushed by the judge.

Reynolds asked for the right to cross-examine a Sauk County health officer with a line of questioning that would have brought Hershberger’s raw milk sales into the forefront. There’s no denying, he said, the case is about raw milk.

“I’m getting tired of the state sanitizing their case and saying ‘Well, we’re going to talk about this part, but block out this part,'” Reynolds said.

Sauk County Circuit Court Judge Guy Reynolds said he would hear more arguments on the matter Tuesday. But the judge did not want the line of questioning to open the door for the defense to turn the trial into a debate about the alleged healthfulness of raw milk.

Advocates believe their freedom to choose to drink raw milk is on trial. But state officials say the only issue is licensing.

The judge hopes the trial will be completed by Friday, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

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