A state Senate committee working session on Thursday should signal whether the Maine Legislature will go along with Republican Gov. Paul R. LePage’s desire to limit raw milk producers who are exempted from state licensing and inspection requirements to “on farm only” sales.
LePage carved out his raw milk stance last session when he vetoed Legislative Document (LD) 1282, which would have exempted from licensing and inspection requirements any producer who sells less than 20 gallons of raw milk per day, whether the product is sold on the farm or at farmers markets. After the veto, LePage suggested the legislature return an “on farm only” version of the bill to his desk next time.
LD 229 is pretty much a repeat of the bill LePage vetoed last session. Any raw milk dairy, which produces less than 20 gallons of raw milk per day, would be exempted from both state licensing and inspection. LD 229 would again permit both “on farm only” and farmer’s market sales.
The second bill, LD 312, would exempt raw milk producers from licensing and inspection only if they are limited to “on farm sales” and agree not to advertise. It also requires raw milk producers participating under the bill’s constraints to take a dairy sanitation course and use labels that clearly state that the milk is not pasteurized.
In his veto message last session, LePage stated, “Such face-to-face on Farm transactions should be promoted. The ‘on Farm only’ approach would reduce risk to overall public health because consumers would know the farmer who produced the milk, see and inspect the farm and hold the producer accountable for foodborne illnesses that are associated with unpasteurized milk.”
LePage administration officials went public in favor of LD 312 last week at a Senate hearing on both bills.
Ronald Dyer, director of quality assurance and regulations at the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said the administration opposes LD 229, the broader bill. He also made it clear that the state would retain the right to investigate any farm involved in an outbreak concerning an “unlicensed dairy product.”
The number of small dairy farms in Maine not selling milk for further processing has grown to 160 today, up from 13 just 20 years ago.
While LePage is clearly offering raw milk advocates a path to easing regulations, not all want to take it.
“There is no need for the superfluous intervention of a dairy inspector to assure that milk is the best and healthiest a farmer can provide,” said Betsy Garrold, who testified before the Senate committee last week on behalf of the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund.
She said her group supports LD 229 and was “neither for or against” LD 312.
Meanwhile, Maine Cheese Guild President Eric Rector testified against LD 229 and said his organization believes in the value of becoming a licensed dairy processor in Maine. He said Maine dairy inspectors “focus on helping farms and businesses who have never been licensed get licensed, stay licensed while producing a safe product.”
He said the resources of the state dairy inspectors and the Maine milk lab have helped build the state’s cheese industry.
The committee took no action after that public hearing to solicit testimony, but they may during the work session on Thursday afternoon.
Maine’s legislative chambers are split, with the Republicans holding the Senate and the Democrats being the majority in the House.© Food Safety News