Author Topic: Judge dismisses charges against farmer in raw milk case  (Read 1461 times)

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Judge dismisses charges against farmer in raw milk case
« Reply #1 on: January 07, 2011, 02:43:11 AM »

Judge dismisses charges against Laclede County (Missouri) farmer in raw milk case

A Greene County judge has dismissed charges against a Laclede County farmer charged with operating a food establishment without a permit by selling raw milk in the Springfield city limits.

Armand Bechard told the News-Leader he originally lost the case in municipal court over the summer when he was represented by a public defender.
He appealed, represented himself and won Monday in Circuit Judge Daniel Imhoff's courtroom.

He said Thursday he would be celebrating by having a special date with his wife.

"They took me to court and tied up my life for over a year and a half," said Bechard.

Trouble for Bechard began in April 2009 when Bechard's daughters set up an area on a Springfield parking lot where customers who had pre-ordered milk could come pick it up. Undercover inspectors from the Springfield-Greene County Health Department asked the then 17- and 21-year-old daughters if they had any extra milk for sale, and were able to buy some, Bechard acknowledged in previous News-Leader stories.

City Attorney Dan Wichmer told the News-Leader that the judge ruled that Armand Bechard was not the right person for the city to charge.

"The sale was with the (Bechard's) daughters, and the charges should have been filed on them," Wichmer said.

Wichmer said he will not file charges against Bechard's daughters because the statute of limitations has expired.

The Bechard case received publicity because it involved the controversy over whether raw milk is safe and better than pasteurized milk. Wichmer said the city of Springfield is not against the sale of raw milk. The issue, to him, is that Bechard needed a permit.

"I (couldn't) care less what he sells, but if he sells it in the city, he has to be inspected."

If he had been found guilty, Wichmer said Bechard could have faced a fine of up to $1,000.

Bechard estimated that having to fight the municipal charge cost him "thousands" in lost revenue, and in lost farm productivity during the month that he was studying laws preparing to represent himself in court.

Bechard still faces a suit filed by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster involving the same incident.

In Missouri, it is legal to sell raw milk from the farms or deliver it directly to the customer. But it's illegal for a farmer to distribute unprocessed milk or offer it for sale at a market or in a parking lot, according to Koster.

In the case against the state, Bechard will be represented by a lawyer from the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, he said.

The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund launched in 2007, and helps small farmers around the country who are trying to market their products. Farmers who sell raw milk are a significant portion of those they defend, said attorney David Cox.

No trial date has been set for the state's suit against Bechard, said Cox.