Free Speech Victory: Oregon Farmer Serves State a Nice, Cold Glass of Free Speech

March 24, 2014

Just three months after IJ challenged Oregon’s ban on the advertising of raw—or unpasteurized—milk, our National Food Freedom Initiative got its first taste of victory. On February 13, the Oregon Department of Agriculture agreed to stop enforcing the state’s ban on the advertisement of raw milk and to ask the state legislature to formally repeal it. IJ had challenged the ban on behalf of Christine Anderson, owner of Cast Iron Farm in McMinnville, Ore., as part of our initial wave of food freedom cases. The victory was the first of what will be many in an ongoing campaign to protect the right of all Americans to produce, procure and consume the foods of their choice.

In Oregon, it is perfectly legal for farmers like Christine to sell raw milk on the farm. But until our victory, they were flatly prohibited from advertising it. That meant no roadside signs in front of the farm and no flyers at the local farmers’ market or food co-op. In fact, the state even ordered Christine to take down prices she had posted for milk on the Cast Iron Farm website.

Part of a seven-generation farm family, Christine knows a thing or two about farming—and about the U.S. Constitution. She knows that you can’t run a successful farm—or any small business—if you can’t talk about it, and she knows that the First Amendment protects the right of farmers and other entrepreneurs to talk about the products and services they offer. So, with IJ’s help, she decided to fight back.

On November 19, 2013, we inaugurated our National Food Freedom Initiative with Christine’s case, along with two others: a challenge to a ban on front-yard vegetable gardens in Miami Shores, Fla., and a challenge to severe restrictions on “cottage food” producers in Minnesota. But while officials in Miami Shores and Minnesota dug in their heels, determined to defend the indefensible and unconstitutional, the Oregon Department of Agriculture quickly recognized the raw milk advertising ban for what it was and backed down. On February 13, it entered into a settlement with Christine that resulted in a directive from the head of the Department ordering staff not to enforce the ban and a request that the legislature formally repeal it.

Because of Christine, Oregon’s farmers are now free to talk about their products. Although it is unfortunate that it took a lawsuit for that to happen, Oregon officials should be applauded for recognizing and respecting the rights of the hardworking women and men who feed the people of the state.

Free speech, like property rights and economic liberty, is essential to food freedom. If all of these rights are not protected, then government can control what we put on our plates, in our glasses, and, ultimately, in our bodies. Thankfully there are small-scale food entrepreneurs like Christine who know this and are courageous enough to fight back. We look forward to many more victories on their behalf.

Michael Bindas is an IJ senior attorney.

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