Portland, Ore.—It is a good day for free speech and Oregon farmers, as the Oregon Department of Agriculture today agreed to stop enforcing that state’s ban on the advertisement of raw—or unpasteurized—milk. This comes in response to a Nov. 2013 federal lawsuit filed by Christine Anderson, owner of Cast Iron Farms in McMinnville, Ore., represented by the Institute for Justice and local counsel Melinda Davison of Portland law firm Davison Van Cleve. The department’s director, Katy Coba, has also agreed to ask the state legislature to repeal the law. In exchange, Christine has agreed to dismiss her lawsuit.
Until today, it was illegal for farmers like Christine to advertise that they sell raw milk, a perfectly legal product. This meant that Christine was banned from posting flyers at local stores, advertising sales online or via email, or displaying a roadside sign at the farm saying “WE SELL RAW MILK.” Christine was even ordered in 2012 to take down prices for her milk from the Cast Iron Farm website. If she did advertise her raw milk, she faced $6,250 in fines and civil penalties as high as $10,000—plus a year in jail.
“I am so excited that the State of Oregon has agreed that farmers like me should be able to advertise their legal products,” Christine said upon learning of the settlement. “It will be such a relief to be able to carry on my business without feeling like I have to be looking over my shoulder for telling people about our farm and what I do.”
Oregon’s advertising ban meant less revenue for Christine and oftentimes more wasted product, as she couldn’t promote discounts on excess milk. That was milk that consumers would have been happy to purchase—if only they knew about it. The ban also prevented consumer access to information about how milk is produced, which made it impossible to differentiate between milk from Christine’s farm and milk from other sources.
“Director Coba and the Department of Agriculture should be applauded for agreeing to stop enforcing this senseless and unconstitutional ban on speech,” said Michael Bindas, an IJ senior attorney and lead counsel on the case. “Advertising is essential to the success of small businesses and Oregon’s ban on the advertisement of raw milk made it difficult, if not impossible, for farmers like Christine to run a successful business. Thankfully, Oregon’s farmers are now free to speak about this lawful product.”
IJ’s challenge to Oregon’s ban on raw milk advertising is part of its National Food Freedom Initiative: a 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. IJ launched the initiative with Christine’s case, along with two others: a challenge to Minnesota’s location restriction and sales cap for home bakers and a challenge to Miami Shores, Fla.’s ban on front-yard vegetable gardens.
According to Bindas, who also 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.”