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Farmer won't be punished for selling raw milk while on probation after plea deal

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A Minnesota farmer, on probation for pleading guilty to illegally selling raw milk two years ago, will not be punished after he was found transporting unpasteurized milk – a violation of his probation, KEYC reports.

At a hearing in Sibley County District Court, the judge opted not to punish Michael Hartmann for those violations, KEYC says, saying he made a "good faith effort," and more action against him was unnecessary.

According to MPR, a county assistant attorney disagreed with the decision, saying letting Hartmann off the hook "takes away all meaning" from the original plea agreement.

Minnesota statutes say unpasteurized milk can only be sold for human consumption from the farm where it was produced.

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History of Raw Milk Challenges

Hartmann has butted heads with the state for years over raw milk.

Way back in 2010, a judge ruled that his unpasteurized milk led to an E. coli outbreak, MPR reported. Eight people became ill after consuming his products, and the state argued the conditions at his farm were unsanitary – meaning they had the right to ban him from selling the products, the station said.

The judge, MPR noted, ruled all of the product at Hartmann's farm to be destroyed.

Then in October of 2012, he pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts related to selling food without a license, and selling raw milk, the New Ulm Journal reported at the time. The plea netted Hartmann a $585 fine and six months of unseupervised probation, including getting his Sibley County farm in compliance with Minnesota food laws, the Journal reported.

Just two months later, Hartmann had his vehicle searched by a Minnesota state trooper, who discovered improperly labeled cheese and raw milk, for which Hartmann as charged with misdemeanors, the New Ulm Journal reported. The paper said a search of his farm the following month turned up more violations.

In August, Hartmann was stopped by a state trooper in Anoka County, and was again found to have raw milk, MPR reported.

Two months later he agreed to the plea deal.

Beneficial, or Dangerous?

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture says unpasteurized milk doesn't provide any "significant" health advantages compared to pasteurized milk – but does offer more health risks, because it's more likely to contain harmful bacteria and pathogens. The department says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, American Academy of Pediatrics and more health institutions have warned consumers of the health risks.

Proponents of raw milk – such as the Real Milk campaign – argue the product is perfectly safe if produced under clean, sanitary conditions, and asay raw milk contains "built-in protective systems" that destroy bad bacteria.

Farm-to-Consumer says the sale of raw milk is banned in 17 states, and restricted in some sort in 22 other states.

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