Raw milk regulation in the form of licensing and inspection would have gone away in Maine last year had Gov. Paul LePage not vetoed the legislation because it allowed off-the-farm sales.
Opponents of raw milk licensing and inspection are back this year with a bill that limits unregulated raw milk sales to the farm and prohibits any signage or other advertising. It allows only face-to-face sales. The re-worked bill from last session is slowly making its way through legislative committees, but it’s uncertain whether it will have time enough to get back to LePage’s desk before adjournment in mid-April.
Ronald Dyer, quality assurance and regulations director for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, favors the bill as long as it contains language limiting sales to the farm or a farm stand located on contiguous property, the product is labeled as not pasteurized, and farms post signs stating that the milk is not pasteurized, licensed or inspected by the state.
Dyer says his agency “strongly supports many programs to help farmers in selling raw milk and homemade food products, and we take great pride in the ongoing work to assure we remain as flexible as possible to the needs of small producers.”
He adds that the department “should fully acknowledge and consider the widely known risks of consuming raw milk, and we believe the bill … sets a reasonable balance by ensuring an informed consumer is buying directly on-farm from the farmer.”
Dyer says both the farmer and the consumer “will be fully aware the product is not pasteurized” because of the requirements in the bill.
Unlike many state dairy organizations, the Maine Dairy Industry Association supports the legal status raw milk enjoys in the Pine Tree State. However, MDIA Executive Director Julie-Marie Bickford is on record as “deeply concerned” because this year’s raw milk bill lessens the oversight and education that accompanies licensing and inspection.
“Food safety is one of the most critical issues for anyone producing products for consumption, human or otherwise,” Bickford says. “Traditionally, milk has been one of the most heavily regulated products on the planet for the reason that it requires very precise care and handling in both its production and storage to ensure that it does not become a host for a variety of bacteria (most of which are naturally occurring) that could pose dangers to human health.”
Bickford says the bill would eliminate Maine’s current limited oversight of raw milk and raw milk sales and consequently put the public at risk of an outbreak.
The Maine Dairy Industry Association’s 287-member dairy farms produce about 70 million gallons of fresh, local milk each year for the commercial market. The organization represents the state’s $570-million pasteurized dairy industry with its 4,000 jobs.
The Maine Cheese Guild, representing the state’s 70 artisan cheese processors, opposed last year’s bill because of its allowance of off-farm sales.
The Guild sees this year’s bill as an improvement because it is “simple and straight-forward,” according to Eric Rector, the organization’s president. He did stress, however, that state licensing and inspection have helped the growth of Maine’s cheese-making businesses.
“We would not have the cheese industry we do today without the skills and resources offered by Maine’s dairy inspectors and the Maine milk lab, efforts that are also in the best interest of the dairy consumer,” he says.© Food Safety News