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SD Raw Milk May Soon Get New Testing and Warning Labels

The direct farm-to-consumer sale of raw milk in South Dakota is about to come with a short, blunt warning. Containers will soon carry labels stating: “Warning: Raw milk. This product has not been pasteurized and may contain harmful bacteria.”

At the same time, South Dakota will increase the maximum allowed bacteria count per milliliter to 30,000, up from 20,000. The change treats raw milk the same as South Dakota’s maximums for both Grade A and Grade B pasteurized dairies.

South Dakota, which does not allow retail sale of raw milk, has been working on rule changes since last spring for raw milk purchased on the farm or delivered to the consumer directly from the farm.

SD Secretary of Agriculture Lucas Lentsch signed off on the two rule changes on Oct. 21 after three public hearings held across the state. The South Dakota Legislature’s Interim Rules Committee will consider the changes on Nov. 12, and the new rules can take effect 30 days after that body’s approval.

South Dakota is one of 25 states banning retail sales of raw milk but allowing the direct farm-to-consumer transactions.

The SD Department of Agriculture began working on the rule changes after a campylobacter outbreak last year forced suspension of sales by Black Hills Milk, which sells at the Farmer’s Market in Rapid City.

Raw milk advocates did not like the rule changes. As a result of testimony at the public hearings, the original 36 words on the warning label were cut to just 14.

SD Gov. Dennis Daugaard has looked to expanding the pasteurized dairy industry in his state. South Dakota’s dairy herd of about 90,000 cows is mostly concentrated in several counties on its border with Minnesota.

Raw milk on the farm is available throughout the state. One family producing raw milk is making hundreds of deliveries weekly to both the Sioux Falls and Yankton areas, getting $7 per gallon.

SD Secretary of Health Doneen Hollingsworth says that raw milk presents a significant risk of foodborne illnesses.

“The risk is well-established in peer-reviewed scientific literature,” she says. “Disease outbreaks linked to raw milk are commonly reported in the U.S. When people say it is not connected to diseases, that’s absolutely not true.”

However, the dairy involved in last year’s outbreak, Black Hills Dairy in Belle Fourche, may react to the new rules by switching over to so-called “cow share” agreements in order to escape state regulation.

Other raw milk producers in South Dakota say they can handle the new regulations, including a “zero” tolerance for pathogens.

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