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SD Raw Milk Dairies Press For Change After State Lab Makes Big Mistake

A laboratory mistake made less than one month after new raw milk rules went into effect in South Dakota has opened a legislative window for eliminating some of the state’s new food safety measures on unpasteurized dairy products.

“The state did not follow the rules, but basically shut me down for having a beneficial bacteria,” Trever Gilkerson of Jerseydale Farms in Brookings, SD, told a state Senate committee hearing on Friday.

Gilkerson, testifying in favor of Senate Bill 126 to ease up on those regulations, said his raw milk dairy was shut down from Jan. 21-27, 2014, because the South Dakota Department of Agriculture did not know the difference between strains of good and bad Listeria.

A public health warning was issued by the SD Department of Agriculture on Jan. 21 because new mandatory testing had found Listeria contamination of Gilkerson’s raw milk.

The contamination, however, was for the possibly beneficial Listeria innocua, a strain the Centers for Diseases Control says is not on their radar for public health, and not the potentially deadly strain known as Listeria monocytogenes.

Taxpayers foot the bill for routine raw milk testing, but dairies must pay for additional testing like that required to get Jerseydale Farms back in business. The dairy sells about 10 percent of its raw milk directly to the public, with the rest going to Land O’Lakes for pasteurization.

The state Department of Agriculture mistake cost the dairy a week of sales and the loss of some raw milk customers. But the timing could not have been better for raw milk advocates getting a new bill ready for the current session of the South Dakota Legislature.

The bill they’ve come up with, SB 126, keeps raw milk sales on the farm, but eases up on the regulations. For two-and-one-half hours on Friday, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee heard public testimony on the bill.

But, when it ended, the committee voted 5-2 to delay SB 126 until at least Feb. 19 to give all those involved time to work on compromises on their own. State Sen. Jean Hunhoff, who chairs the committee, said she doubted much compromise would be accomplished by the delay. She noted that the sides had all last summer to work things out.

As drafted, the bill would require fewer tests and permit the sale of cream made from raw milk. Current law involving raw milk was adopted by the South Dakota Legislature in 2010, but new rules from the state agriculture department went into effect last Dec. 11 after three public hearings and approval from the legislature’s Rules Committee.

State Sen. Phil Jensen (R-Rapid City) said the new rules were “rammed down the throats of South Dakotans” and that’s why he sponsored SB 126. His wife, Janet Jensen, testified in favor of the bill because she says raw milk contains helpful nutrients for cancer survivors.

Speaking to the capital media on Friday, Gov. Dennis Daugaard said the state’s current raw milk law and rules are required for “cleanliness and safety” and that they are not “overly burdensome.”

South Dakota Agriculture Secretary Lucas Lentsch said the standards are necessary for “purity and wholesomeness” and the debate is not about restrictions on food choice.

Dairies involved with the state’s pasteurized industry and health and medical organizations oppose SB 126.

© Food Safety News
  • mark

    Dan,
    Do you have any evidence that Listeria innocua is “possibly beneficial”? I can’t find any.

  • Emily73

    I hardly think this can be classified as a “huge mistake”. Better to be safe than sorry, since raw milk is inherently dangerous.