Bucking a 60-35 vote by the Wisconsin state Assembly in favor of raw milk legislation that would allow dairy farmers to sell unpasteurized milk directly to consumers, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle on May 19 vetoed the legislation in its entirety, citing public health concerns as the reason.
“I cannot ignore the potential harmful health effects of consuming unpasteurized milk that have been raised by many groups,” he said in a press release, referring to groups that include the Wisconsin Public Health Association and the Wisconsin Academy of Family Physicians.

raw-milk13-featured.jpgUnder the controversial bill, which attracted the interest of ardent supporters and alarmed opponents alike, farmers who sell unpasteurized milk would be required to test their dairy’s milk monthly, and if pathogens are found, the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection could suspend a farmer’s registration.

But, in his press release, Doyle said that these monthly tests would not go far enough to ensure that all of the farmer’s milk is free from harmful pathogens, which could result in serious illness or even death.

Doyle pointed to other states that allow the sale of raw milk that have had to strengthen standards that are stricter than those in the Wisconsin bill after outbreaks caused by raw milk occurred in those states. 

He also pointed to California’s approach to raw milk, which requires more comprehensive testing than contained in the Wisconsin bill. In addition, said Doyle, California’s testing regimen quantifies coliform bacteria–a broad group of organisms that includes some types of pathogens. It also provides an overall indication of the hygiene level of the milk. 

Bottom line, said Doyle in his press release, the Wisconsin bill doesn’t contain adequate testing requirements to make sure the public is safe when consuming unpasteurized milk. 

California raw milk producer Mark McAfee, co-owner of Organic Pastures Dairy Company near Fresno, Calif., told Food Safety News he wasn’t surprised that the Wisconsin governor had vetoed the bill, given “the loose standards the bill suggested.”
Pointing to the regulatory environment and recent raw milk illnesses in Utah, for example, McAfee said that if Wisconsin ever allows the sale of raw milk, the standards need to be “close to or even better than those of California.” 

“It’s important for the entire raw milk industry that states get this right,” McAfee said. “They need to have good testing and good standards. Each step they (the states) take has to be right.” 

Even so, McAfee doesn’t see the governor’s veto as the end of the line for raw milk in Wisconsin. 

“It could be the beginning,” he said, referring to possible future legislation that replicates or exceeds the requirements of California.
Gov. Doyle has similar thoughts on this issue, pointing to a recently formed Raw Milk Working Group made up of a wide array of interested parties and experts.

The purpose of the group is to consider whether there are legal, regulatory means that might allow dairy farmers in Wisconsin to sell raw milk directly to consumers. And if so, what conditions would be necessary to protect public health.
The group met for the first time on March 15 this year and expects to continue meeting through July. 

In his press release, Doyle said that the Working Group should be allowed to complete its analysis prior to making changes to the legal framework surrounding unpasteurized milk.

Doyle’s veto could be overridden with a vote of two-thirds of both houses of the Legislature. But a veto override has not happened in Wisconsin for more than 20 years.

In vetoing the legislation, Doyle is following in the steps of a previous “revolution” over raw milk in his state.

In 1920, a Milwaukee ordinance requiring that all milk sold in the city be pasteurized got milk dealers so angry that they blasted it as an invalid exercise of police power because it did not promote public health, according to a rundown on the history of pasteurization of milk in the United States provided by food safety attorney Bill Marler.
Despite those claims on the part of the milk dealers, the Wisconsin Supreme Court disagreed, saying that “Public health demands that milk and all milk products should be pure and wholesome.”
For Marler, who has represented children and families all over the country sickened by E. coli and other food contaminants, Doyle did the right thing.
“Because Wisconsin’s well-known as the ‘Dairy State,’ it sends the message that other states need to take a deep breath and understand that raw milk does not come without risks,” Marler said.

Not surprisingly, national dairy organizations are pleased that the governor vetoed the bill, pointing to concerns over the negative effects that outbreaks of illnesses linked to raw milk could have on the milk industry as a whole.
Recognizing the pressure the governor was under, especially given the Wisconsin lawmakers’ strong support of the bill, the National Milk Producers Federation and the International Dairy Foods Association said that his action “demonstrates a commitment to health and safety.”
Before he vetoed the bill, Doyle had been quoted in an AP article saying that people who grew up on farms drinking raw milk seem to be “healthier and stronger for it.” 

On the other side of the fence, raw milk advocates in favor of the Wisconsin legislation saw it as an important step toward giving politicians in other states the courage to withstand pressures against legalizing sales of raw milk. This, in turn, they said, would provide an important toehold in efforts to give people across the nation the right to buy and drink raw milk.
The contentious issue has become entangled with consumers’ right-to-choose and the Constitutional rights of consumers, with many raw milk advocates lauding the health benefits of raw milk.
The Weston A. Price Foundation, based in Reston, Virginia, says raw milk boosts the immune system. It also points to all sorts of ailments it has purportedly cured–asthma, kidney disease, diabetes, heart failure, high blood pressure, and prostate disease, among others.
But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that the risks of illness, and even death, that can result from consuming raw milk far outweigh any of the purported benefits promoted by raw milk advocates.

While raw milk represents less than 1 percent of fluid milk consumption, it causes more than 70 percent of the foodborne illness outbreaks associated with dairy, according to the International Dairy Foods Association.

In the same vein, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that before pasteurization was widely instituted in the 1920s, disease outbreaks from raw milk were the No. 1 food safety concern in the country.

Although 28 states allow the sale of raw milk, provided that the producers meet certain standards, federal law forbids the sale of raw milk across state lines.

  • Paul Nunes

    Kudos to Gov Doyle, a profile of courage.

  • raw milk consumer

    It is too bad Doyle vetoed the bill. It is not going to stop consumers from obtaining raw milk, or farmers from fulfilling what is clearly a product in high demand. Doyle’s decision simply means that WI has decided it doesn’t want to regulate the raw milk market as a legal, inspected product.
    The raw milk market will continue growing and flourishing, only now without inspection and regulation. The big dairy processors do not want raw milk to be safe. They want it to be dirty and dangerous. Let’s hope that the farmers who are selling raw milk in WI will take the steps neccessary (on their own accord) to buck the will of the dairy processors and keep the raw milk they are selling clean and safe.
    It is too bad that Bill Marler decided to take the side of the dairy processors, and keeping raw milk on the black market where it is more likely to make someone sick. It seems Marler is more interested in sensationalized fear-mongering about raw milk than he is about food safety.

  • Ron Wilson

    I wonder if the following quote is biased…;-)
    “While raw milk represents less than 1 percent of fluid milk consumption, it causes more than 70 percent of the foodborne illness outbreaks associated with dairy, according to the International Dairy Foods Association.”

  • Jim

    a profile in courage? a profile in pointless. It’s amazing how easily people believe in things in they have no clue about.
    More people have been sickened and killed by spinach, tomatoes, and lettuce than raw milk has in this century.
    But lets keep everyone convinced that milk from factory farmed cows that stand in feces, live in diesese ridden pens, and are pumped full of drugs is the right way.

  • Tom

    The notion that Doyle’s veto was courageous is laughable. He bowed to industry pressure and hid behind the guise of public safety. It was the path of least resistance, and it ensured he would continue to get payouts from his big-money constituents.
    The argument that an outbreak of illness attributed to legal raw milk would be harmful to the dairy industry as a whole is absurd. When Toyota recalled its cars for accelerator problems, Ford and Honda didn’t wring their hands and complain that it would hurt their sales. As BP pollutes the oceans with massive amounts of crude, Exxon-Mobil and Shell are not worried about losing business. The only people drinking raw milk are those who have weighed the potential risks of raw milk against the many problems of pasteurized milk and have made a conscious, proactive choice. The average consumer can continue to buy pasteurized milk anywhere; they are really two separate products, as different as E. coli burgers from Jack-in-the-Box are from grass-fed filet mignon at a five-star restaurant.
    I suspect the dairy industry is actually afraid of the informed consumer–the type of person very interested in their food and their health, and willing to seek out small dairy farmers who produce raw milk with excellent sanitary practices. Raw milk can’t be produced safely on the large, filthy dairy CAFOs that dominate the country. Look anywhere and you’ll see cows in close quarters standing in a cesspool of feces, rather than out on pasture where they belong. The more people who obtain raw milk from small farms, the more people are aware of the horrors of agriculture in America today. Big Dairy doesn’t want that.

  • Doc Mudd

    Governor Doyle demonstrates the importance of veto power; the possibility of stopping a foolhardy idea before the train is run off the rails.
    Gov. Doyle recognized that the bill, as it was written, was insufficient to protect both his constituents and his state’s dairy economy. Fortunately he had the common sense and rare political courage to do the intelligent thing in the midst of an excited clown circus. If he is a party pooper, then good for him. Seems some folks will always require some adult supervision from grown-ups like Gov. Doyle. Again, good for him.

  • jeff

    Why were the proposed testing standards so lax??
    there’s some organic raw milk producer here in Calif. that posts the daily test numbers on his website…why couldn’t all the other raw milk producers do the same – it couldn’t be that expensive these days…
    also, there may have been a good reason to start pasteurization at that time, early in the last century, but i think we have the technology to make raw milk safe these days…i grew up on a dairy and drank raw milk for 20 years with no ill effects ever…
    what i think is going here is you have these producers that have thousands and tens of thousands of cow dairies and they have made huge investments in their setup to feed railcars full of commodities, grain etc and they don’t want this other type of dairyman to get a foothold – the one that pastures his cows, has smaller herds, and might be organic – because organic and raw would attract the same customer(and maybe NEW customers too)…last i checked raw milk cost on the order of $10/gallon at my local co-op so i wont buy it but if it was in the $5-$6 range i would seriously think about it because i hear that homogenization of the fat particles could also be a problem in the regular milk..

  • How is a train run of the rails when alta dena dairy in california has been making raw milk over 40 years without a problem.are you referring to milk farmers that dont know how to make clean milk? let me see.. oh . that would be more than 90% of milk headed to be pasterizd.know as confinement farms.who owns these uh the goverment. well then.they are unable to produce raw milk because of their poor standards.this would be the problem.a foolheartadly problem.because only a fool would drink this kind of pasterized milk.this milk is scientifically known to cause health problems.And whats so grown up about not thinking for yourself and always being told what to do like you cant buy raw milk. well why i say. well they say “because it would hurt our sales and we cant produce safe milk without boiling out all the disease and pus and blood from our confinement farms.”we want slop careless inhumane slop farming and thats the way your gonna get it at a fair price it may be potentially bad for you but you deal with that when you reach prostate cancer age”now go do as i say drink your pasterized milk.im making you.it will make you a grown up and not a circus clown just drinking his silly raw milk.because our constitutional writers were also not grow up because they were drinking raw milk and it made them silly and write down silly amenendments to the constitution”(joke). Ones the gov. cant follow in court like iowa court saying we have no fundamental right to the foods we eat.

  • Doc Mudd

    “Slop farming” fell out of fashion some 80 years ago when prohibition shut down all the breweries and distilleries…slop thinking, apparently, is still immensely popular.
    My understanding of American History is that “our constitutional writers” were much more fond of rum than milk. Still, somehow, they managed to make sense most of the time. No slop thinking there, thank goodness.

  • milk wise

    I challenge anyone who says Raw Milk is the evil here to read the UNTOLD STORY OF MILK by Ron Schmidt (Last name might be spelled wrong..don’t have it in front of me) The facts are infuriating, eye opening and as they say
    first a truth is ridiculed, then accepted grudgingly, then it is found to be self evident. There were admitted lies and propaganda to push pasturization in order to increase bottom line due to longer shelf life(which does not mean healthy!!!)

  • Steve Dogan

    The main anti-raw milk people? …City kids I’m guessing. Are they worried that their pasturized milk is going to disappear from store shelves with a passage of a Bill like this? If people want it, let them have it.
    I’m through voting for our State Representative. The guy is a farm kid, but still votes against this. No, this isn’t the only issue that’s turned me off about him. But he ain’t gettin’ MY vote next time!!!