Portland, Ore.—In a significant win for the First Amendment, Governor Kate Brown signed late yesterday a bill that repeals the ban on the advertisement of raw—or unpasteurized—milk. The new law is the result of a federal lawsuit that Christine Anderson, owner of Cast Iron Farm in McMinnville, Ore., filed in November 2013.
“I am so pleased at Oregon’s permanent decision to allow raw dairy producers the opportunity to talk about their product openly and without fear of government reaction,” explained Christine. “This is a food freedom win for producers and consumers in our state. I can’t wait to put up a farm sign with the words ‘raw milk sold here’!”
On March 12, the Oregon House of Representatives passed a bill by a vote of 56 -1 to repeal the advertising ban. On April 30, the Senate unanimously passed the bill and Gov. Brown signed the bill into law yesterday.
Previously, Oregon flatly banned the advertisement of raw milk, a perfectly legal product for farmers like Christine to sell. That means Christine and other farmers were prohibited from posting flyers at local stores, advertising sales online or via email, or even having a roadside sign at the farm saying “WE SELL RAW MILK.” If Christine did advertise that she sells raw milk, she faced a fine of $6,250 and civil penalties as high as $10,000—plus a year in jail.
In November 2013, Christine and the Institute for Justice filed a free-speech lawsuit challenging the advertising ban. Recognizing the constitutional problems with the law, the Oregon Department of Agriculture moved to settle the case in February 2014 by issuing a directive ordering department staff to stop enforcing the advertising ban and asking the state legislature to formally repeal it.
“The Department of Agriculture, the legislature, and Gov. Brown should be applauded for recognizing the advertising ban for what it was: a violation of the free speech rights of Oregon farmers,” said Michael Bindas, a senior attorney with IJ and lead counsel in Christine’s case. “Advertising is essential to the success of small businesses, and the First Amendment protects the right of entrepreneurs, including farmers, to speak about the goods and services they offer.”
IJ’s challenge to the ban on raw milk advertising was part of its National Food Freedom Initiative: an ongoing, nationwide campaign that brings property rights, economic liberty and free speech challenges to laws that interfere with the ability of Americans to produce, market, procure and consume the foods of their choice. Currently, IJ is challenging Minnesota’s severe restrictions on home bakers; Miami Shores, Fla.’s ban on front-yard vegetable gardens; Texas’s law stripping craft breweries of the ability to sell their distribution rights; and Florida’s confusing and misleading labeling requirements for skim milk.
According to Bindas, who heads the initiative, “Christine is part of a nationwide movement of small-scale food producers and consumers who are tired of the government dictating what foods they can grow, sell and eat. Her case and others in IJ’s National Food Freedom Initiative will put an end to government’s meddlesome and unconstitutional interference in our food choices.”