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Farmer Challenges Ad Ban on Raw Milk

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) - Oregon dairy farmers can sell raw, unpasteurized milk but cannot advertise it - unless a small farmer wins her constitutional complaint against the state's Department of Agriculture.

Christine Anderson and Cast Iron Farm sued Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba, in Federal Court.

Anderson, a seventh-generation farmer, runs her small, Cast Iron Farm, in McMinville, southwest of Portland. She owns "not more than three dairy cows that have calved at least once," which, under Oregon law, allows her to conduct what the state calls "small-scale, on-farm sales."

But though it's "perfectly legal" for her to sell it, she's not allowed to advertise it by posting flyers, signs, or even prices on her farm's website.

"This ban on truthful commercial speech harms not only Christine and the farm, but also consumers, who are denied access to truthful information about products in the marketplace," the complaint states. "The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not tolerate government bans on truthful speech concerning lawful products."

Should she violate the unconstitutional bar on advertising, she could be punished with up to a year in jail and fines, Anderson says.

Anderson says she has meticulous procedures for milking her cows, and follows careful testing and bottling methods to make sure the product is safe.

But in August 2012, an inspector showed up at the farm unannounced to investigate her advertising of the milk on the farm's website. The website included price information and promotional information about how Anderson raises and treats her animals. After the inspection, Anderson removed the information from the website.

"The Oregon Department of Agriculture has used Oregon's ban on raw milk advertising to silence Christine's speech," the complaint states. "The Department's inspector ordered Christine to remove truthful information - the price of Cast Iron Farm's milk - from the farm's website, which Christine did. "

During months when many of her customers are on vacation, Anderson says, she's had to dump surplus milk or feed it to her pigs because she can't advertise discounts, which has caused the farm to lose "substantial income."

Anderson wants the advertising ban declared unconstitutional, claiming that if it's allowed to stand, she and her farm "will continue to suffer great and irreparable harm."

She is represented by Melinda J. Davison with Davison Van Cleve in Portland.

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