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Not Much Raw Milk Regulation Change Expected in 2012

In an election year when only 39 state legislative bodies are meeting in regular sessions, with most of those entering their second halves and no special sessions currently underway, there will likely be few changes involving raw milk regulation.

In New Hampshire today, the “homestead food” bill — which would allow the direct sale of raw milk products without requiring a milk producer-distributor license — is scheduled to get another public hearing.

House Bill (HB) 1402, the “homestead/raw milk bill,” goes before the Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee. It was earlier heard by the Environment and Agriculture Committee, which gave it a 13-0 favorable vote.

HB 1402 is one of about 850 bills the New Hampshire “General Court” is considering between now and its scheduled adjournment on June 7.  Most of the bill is permissive legislation allowing the sale of non-hazardous foods from home kitchens.

But it also amends the NH Milk Sanitation Code, allowing a raw milk producer-distributor with daily production of 20 gallons or less to sell the raw milk or raw milk products directly to consumers on the farm, at a farm stand, or at farmer’s markets within the state.

Raw milk products include cheese aged at least 60 days, yogurt, cream, butter or kefir.

HB 1402 requires raw milk products to be labeled, providing the name, address, and phone number of the producer.

At the point of sale, signs must posted saying: “Products from this farm made from raw milk are exempt from New Hampshire licensing and inspection.”

State actions involving raw milk regulation often look like a giant game of “whack-a-mole.” As one state warms up to the idea of loosening the regulation of raw milk sales, others are tightening up.  Indiana is moving a bill involving its state chemist that includes language requiring raw milk be labeled as “not for human consumption.”   

Indiana HB 1129 sailed through its lower chamber 84-7 and looks to have similar easy going in the state Senate.  Raw milk dairies in Indiana currently get around the ban on commercial sales by using cow- or herd-share schemes in which people buy a share in a cow and then get the milk it produces. Indiana’s regular legislative session is over March 14.

Kentucky, another state with a short legislative session this year, is trying to legitimize herd share agreements by its March 29 adjournment. Its Senate Bill 47, which was adopted by the upper chamber on a 22-15 vote in early February, makes it legal to enter into a shared ownership agreement without any state permit.

Two states where bills to liberalize the commercial sale of raw milk have been hanging fire since 2010 or earlier are Wisconsin and New Jersey.

Neither Wisconsin Senate Bill 108 nor New Jersey Assembly Bill 518 have gone anywhere during the current sessions. Wisconsin lawmakers adjourn May 30, while the year-round New Jersey Assembly does not end its current session until Jan. 8, 2013.

Last year, New Jersey legislators did not give a similar bill allowing commercial sales of raw milk a public hearing until the 2011 session’s final hours, and then took no action.

The Iowa Legislature, which gets out on April 17, still has not moved House Study Bill 585, deregulating the sale of unpasteurized or ungraded milk.   

Finally, the Idaho Legislature rejected a bill that sought to remove the regulatory oversight of raw milk imposed by the 2011 Legislature.

Two outside events may be making harder to generate support for making raw milk sales legal. A large, four-state outbreak of Campylobacter infection, caused by raw milk from a Pennsylvania dairy, has remained in the news for several weeks. 

And in Wisconsin, Sauk County Judge Guy Reynolds Friday entered not guilty pleas for Vernon Hershberger, over several misdemeanors related to operating a dairy selling raw milk without a license.

The judge set tentative trial dates of Sept. 25 to 27, and allowed the defendant to remain free on bail.   

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