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Wisconsin Senate Committee OKs Substitute Raw-Milk Bill

A substitute raw-milk bill that still allows substandard testing was allowed out of the Wisconsin Senate Financial Institutions and Rural Issues Committee on Tuesday in Madison on a 3-2 vote.

It means that, at some point, probably after Jan. 1, the Wisconsin Senate will be voting on whether to allow sales of unpasteurized milk in America’s Dairy State. When a similar bill last passed the full Wisconsin Legislature in 2010, then-Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed it.

A spokesman for the powerful Wisconsin Safe Milk Coalition, which unites the state’s public health and pasteurized dairy products communities, says the bill that passed out of committee sets substandard testing for raw milk.

And one of the two committee votes against the bill says raw milk causes enough foodborne illness outbreaks that the on-farm sales could harm Wisconsin’s $30-billion pasteurized dairy industry.

Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, says consumers have a long memory.

“I still won’t buy cantaloupe or spinach because of outbreaks a couple years ago,” she said.

Prior to the committee vote, a substitute to Senate Bill 236 was made to get the votes to send it to the floor. As amended, raw-milk dairies will be required to: register with the state, post warning signs about the health dangers related to raw milk, take and keep samples for 15 days and make them available to inspectors, and keep customer sales records for use in the event of an outbreak.

Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, who was the original sponsor of SB 236, introduced the substitute. The substitute bill allows on-farm sale of raw milk and raw-milk products, including buttermilk, kefir, yogurt, whey, ice cream, butter and cheese.

Raw-milk dairies would register with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Raw milk sold directly to consumers would have to be in clean and properly labeled containers. The dairy would have to comply with at least some Grade A milk standards.

The new license category for raw milk would be referred to as “Grade 1 unpasteurized.” Only raw milk free of pathogens including Campylobacter, Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes and E. coli, could be sold for human consumption.

Shawn Pfaff, lobbyist and spokesman for the Wisconsin Safe Milk Coalition, says the state inspects Grade A dairies every six months, but, under the bill, Grade 1 raw milk dairies would be inspected only once every two years. He says raw-milk producers are “looking for a separate set of standards.”

It would require the dairies to submit samples for testing to labs approved by the State of Wisconsin or another state, or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The Wisconsin Legislature is currently in the last “floor period” of 2013, which ends tomorrow, but the committee-adopted raw-milk bill will be eligible for floor action early next year with the first floor period of 2014 scheduled for Jan. 14-23. The current 2013-14 Wisconsin Legislature is not scheduled to adjourn until next June.

Gov. Scott Walker has told the pasteurized dairy industry that he is reluctant to sign a raw-milk bill that harms the mainstream producers. However, he has left the door open.

© Food Safety News
  • Denise Matovich

    Why has milk pasteurization been required for so long? Because it destroys pathogens and prevents death. There is something wrong in the head with these raw milk drinkers.