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WI Legislature Considers Easing Raw Milk Regs

Unlike most states considering changes to their laws governing raw milk, Wisconsin’s $26 billion dairy industry has some real “skin in the game.”

A Wisconsin Senate committee has advanced a bill that would for the first time since 1955 allow direct sales of raw milk to consumers, but only by sellers with permits that conduct testing and provide warning labels on the product.

raw-milk7-featured.jpgBut it is far from a done deal.  It is a deal that has the more populist Wisconsin Farmers Union pitted against the larger Wisconsin Farm Bureau.  The deal may fall under the weight of the state’s pasteurized dairy industry.

“People continue to get sick and continue to die. When one of these issues happens, a negative light shines on the entire industry,” the Wisconsin Dairy Business Association’s Tim Griswold says.

Raw milk advocates in Wisconsin wanted to not only make it legal for dairy farms to sell unpasteurized milk to the public, but also to release farmers from liability if their raw product makes people sick.

Wisconsin lawmakers appear to have backed off the pass on liability, but the direct sale to consumers bill remains very much alive.

“There’s an inherent issue of personal rights in this matter,” says Wisconsin Farmers Union President Darin Von Ruden.  “If someone wants to consume raw milk, that person should be allowed to do so at their own risk–or, if you listen to another side of research, to their own benefit.”

Von Ruden compares unpasteurized milk to sushi, steak tartar, and raw clams on the half shell–all products that may be served raw.  Von Ruden is an organic dairy farmer from Westby who says Wisconsin should not allow “fear of the processing industry” to stand in the way.

Melvin Pittman, who chairs the dairy committee for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau, advised lawmakers to move carefully with concern “for our $26 billion dairy industry.”

Wisconsin’s entire image for safe dairy products could be damaged by raw milk contamination making people sick, Pittman says.  A dairy farmer himself at Plum City, Pittman says Wisconsin farmers have invested millions in the industry and that should not be put at risk by incidents of raw milk illnesses.

Before the raw milk bills began flying in the Wisconsin Legislature, the state had named a “working group” to study the raw milk issue.   “Cow share” and “farm share” practices that some raw milk dairies use have come under scrutiny by local prosecutors.

But for now, all focus is on what Wisconsin’s lawmakers do.

The powerful Cooperative Network, which represents 600 member-cooperatives in both Wisconsin and Minnesota, has also weighed in against making raw milk sales legal.

“We don’t want to see that industry suffer in the event of an illness outbreak caused by raw milk,” said David Ward, dairy director for the Cooperative Network.

The Wisconsin Division of Public Health reports its has investigated four outbreaks linked to raw milk or raw milk products in the last decade.  At least 131 people were sickened.

© Food Safety News
  • First of all, I agree one hundred percent that raw milk sales should be legalized in the state of Wisconsin; however, we at WICFA do not believe that the current “Raw Milk Bill” is what consumers and raw milk producers in the State of Wisconsin need. Do you realize that the current version of this bill does not allow farmers to advertise that they have raw milk for sale?
    This would be a big hinderance for those that are trying to start a raw milk dairy from scratch. It would be great for current producers that already have an established clientel and allow them to protect their market share of raw milk sales because the state is promoting regulations that stiffle competition. Raw milk producers should be allowed to advertise their product to the general public.
    Secondarily, it was unreasonable to expect that raw milk producers could be exempted from liability. Every individual in our state can buy liability insurance at reasonable rates if they seek financial protection from lawsuits over alleged harm caused by something they produced and sold to a consumer. As a producer you have a responsibity to produce safe goods to sale, if you are not willing to go to great lengths to ensure that your raw milk is safe for others to drink then you should find a new way to make your living. We should never make special exemptions for one group or another from liability. Afterall, we are all created equal aren’t we?
    Last but not least, everyone hears about how conventional dairy farmers are suffering like never before. Our farmers are receiving low prices for their products and have no say in what they are paid because of the government subsidized food system they have participated in for decades. Our government wants to keep food prices low and does so by artifically holding food prices low, thus causing the farmer to need subsidies from that very same government to keep their businesses afloat. It is time for a major change in the way our farmers market their goods, unregulated direct farmer-to-consumer sales of products they create and market is the real answer. It would allow for more diversity of production on individual farms, creating a business that does not have all of its eggs in one basket. This diversification would give us protection from a sudden drop in demand or increase in production cost of one particular good. Our current farming paradigm encourages vast monocultures and that is not the best business plan one can have.
    Please consider telling your congressman or woman no to the current “Raw Milk Legislation” and yes to unregulated raw milk sales. Wisconsin should be a leader in real freedom of choice, both for consumers and farmers.

  • First of all, I agree one hundred percent that raw milk sales should be legalized in the state of Wisconsin; however, we at WICFA do not believe that the current “Raw Milk Bill” is what consumers and raw milk producers in the State of Wisconsin need. Do you realize that the current version of this bill does not allow farmers to advertise that they have raw milk for sale?
    This would be a big hinderance for those that are trying to start a raw milk dairy from scratch. It would be great for current producers that already have an established clientel and allow them to protect their market share of raw milk sales because the state is promoting regulations that stiffle competition. Raw milk producers should be allowed to advertise their product to the general public.
    Secondarily, it was unreasonable to expect that raw milk producers could be exempted from liability. Every individual in our state can buy liability insurance at reasonable rates if they seek financial protection from lawsuits over alleged harm caused by something they produced and sold to a consumer. As a producer you have a responsibity to produce safe goods to sale, if you are not willing to go to great lengths to ensure that your raw milk is safe for others to drink then you should find a new way to make your living. We should never make special exemptions for one group or another from liability. Afterall, we are all created equal aren’t we?
    Last but not least, everyone hears about how conventional dairy farmers are suffering like never before. Our farmers are receiving low prices for their products and have no say in what they are paid because of the government subsidized food system they have participated in for decades. Our government wants to keep food prices low and does so by artifically holding food prices low, thus causing the farmer to need subsidies from that very same government to keep their businesses afloat. It is time for a major change in the way our farmers market their goods, unregulated direct farmer-to-consumer sales of products they create and market is the real answer. It would allow for more diversity of production on individual farms, creating a business that does not have all of its eggs in one basket. This diversification would give us protection from a sudden drop in demand or increase in production cost of one particular good. Our current farming paradigm encourages vast monocultures and that is not the best business plan one can have.
    Please consider telling your congressman or woman no to the current “Raw Milk Legislation” and yes to unregulated raw milk sales. Wisconsin should be a leader in real freedom of choice, both for consumers and farmers.