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Maine’s Legal Raw Milk Business May Evade Licensing and Inspections

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
  • tallen2007

    I totally agree with Ms Bickford. Let’s see if this makes it easy to understand.

    We require restaurants to be licensed and they aren’t preparing food product to be served raw with a live, manure contaminated animal standing over the pot!

    Milk does not come from a sterile machine. The udder of an animal is in the bedding and manure when lying down. At milking time “just” the teats are wiped off and dipped in disinfectant. It’s not: wet, soap, lather, scrub and rinse and dry like you do with your dirty hands. It’s use 1 disposable wet wipe (on 4 teats) and a second dry wipe (maybe). Next time your hands are dirty try that at home, on just your fingers, and see if you’d want to eat with that hand. Oh yes, then dip them in a mild bleach or other disinfectant. Feel better? Now stir your cup of milk with a finger and drink.

    It is impossible and impractical to try and make an animals udder clean enough to drink from without risk because there is also a tail, belly, inside hind legs, stamping feet, etc involved also. AND, we aren’t even considering the blood, pus and bacteria inside the udder of a normal healthy animal. That is why we pasteurize the milk!! Heat kills the bugs and we can safely drink it.

    I drink milk, have raised milk animals, but would NEVER drink raw milk. The risks are too high!

  • Jackie Schmidts

    Maine is crazy to allow this bill to pass, it will erode all the good work to date the health department and agriculture departments have done to make our food more safe and better quality. Additionally it will knowingly allow a business to sell a product they are not overseeing as much which could make people very ill and sick. Why do it, what is the point, how many farms are behind this? If someone gets sick, the reputation of the rest of the dairy industry that adheres to pasteurization will be severely harmed by the negative PR. I just don’t get it.

  • T. Smith

    As a dairy farmer who sells raw milk and is licensed and inspected by the state to do so, i understand the challenges inherent in producing raw milk that is safe to drink. It is getting old constantly defending Maine’s raw milk rule against a small minority of farmers totally against food safety regulation. The facility requirements in the rule have been established to ensure dairy production facilities are capable of producing safe raw milk, the rest is up to the farmer and that is why the state collects monthly samples from producers selling raw milk, thus ensuring the ongoing absence of coli-form bacteria. Should this rule go through it would put the reputation of raw milk in the state of Maine and beyond in the hands of unlicensed, and uninspected farms many of which are still learning how to produce safe raw milk, and some of which whom should not be selling raw milk at all let alone operating a dairy.