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New regs offer raw milk dairy farms path to legalization

July 1 is the start date for new Illinois regulations that allow on-farm sales of raw milk directly to consumers. The change did not require legislative action, but rather was accomplished by a three-year rewrite of rules by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

So far there have only been a handful of applications for the permit required to participate in the new program. There is a separate license for the production and sale of raw milk cheese aged 60 days or more.

cowandmilk_406x250Other than raw milk and raw milk cheese aged 60 days or more, no other dairy products produced without pasteurization can be sold on the farm under the new regulatory scheme.

Obtaining a permit requires more than completing an application form. The applicants must meet standards for sanitizing equipment, construction, storage, the milking environment, practices, labeling and consumer advisories. Further, applicants must be ready to conduct rigorous, on-going tests to maintain milk quality.

The Illinois Farm Bureau estimates the set-up costs to get through the permit process will cost about $5,000 per raw milk dairy. Currently there are about 60 raw milk dairy farms in the Land of Lincoln.

The new raw milk regulations in Illinois were designed to impose standards equivulent to those followed by Grade A standards for dairy farmers whose milk is pasteurized.

A spokesman for the Illinois Farm Bureau, which supports the new regulations, said the change represents a comprise and “not everybody is going to like it.”

The Illinois Legislature was involved in crafting the new regulations through its Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. That legislative panel had to approve the Illinois Department of Public Health’s rule.

State regulators decided to work outside the legislative process to put procedures for permitting and inspecting raw milk dairies into place. The goal was to bring raw milk sales inside state’s regulatory system.

For at least the past 30 years, raw milk producers in Illinois worked outside the law, with on-farm sales and deliveries in Chicago and its suburbs. Raw milk by the gallon fetches as much as $18.

Under the changes, raw milk dairies making sales to the public must warn consumers of the potential danger, similar to the state’s rules for sushi sales.

Illinois health officials said by permitting only on-the-farm sales, it will be fairly easy to trace any outbreaks from the dangerous pathogens that raw milk often carries. Raw milk advocates, however, say there has not been a raw milk related outbreak in Illinois in 30 years. They also predict the deliveries to urban areas will continue under the table.

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