America’s Dairyland could dramatically raise the bar on raw milk regulation if its Legislature and governor ever allow it to be sold in Wisconsin.

A year after Wisconsin’s Raw Milk Policy Work Group began deliberating, the panel is close to a report that will not endorse raw milk sales, but will say that if raw milk is made legal in Wisconsin, the state should impose restrictive requirements that go beyond any now found in America.

Former Gov. Jim Doyle’s Secretary of Agriculture, Rod Nilsestuen, appointed the Raw Milk Policy Group, which went to work in March 2010.

The group’s purpose is to consider whether there are legal, regulatory means that might allow dairy farmers to sell unpasteurized fluid raw milk directly to consumers and, if so, what conditions would be necessary to protect public health.

The 22-member group represents a wide array of stakeholders and experts. Wisconsin’s $26.2 billion dairy industry accounts for almost half of the state’s $59.2 million agricultural industry, which provides 420,000 jobs for 12 percent of the state’s workforce.

“Because of the economic contribution of the dairy industry, a very important role for Wisconsin state government is assuring that the milk we drink is safe,” says David Ward, government relations’ director for Minnesota and Wisconsin co-ops.

The Working Group’s report, which has been expected since the end of January, will not call for the legal sale of raw milk in Wisconsin, Food Safety News has learned. Instead it will lay out a long list of requirements that should be imposed if the Legislature ever opts to make raw milk legal.

For example, it would call for animal health testing for tuberculosis, brucellosis, streptococcus agalactia, and leptospirosis, milk testing for standard plate count, somatic cell count, coliform, antibiotic drug residues, and pathogens including Campylobacter jujuni, Listeria monocytogenes, Escherichia-coli O157:H7; and non-O157:H7 Shiga toxin-producing E. coli.

The Working Group will say there should be well-water testing for coliform, and milk temperature requirements for holding and storing unpasteurized milk. It wants specified timeframes for selling and consuming unpasteurized milk and specific containers.

It will call for on-farm standards, licensing, and inspection for selling unpasteurized milk, along with legal parameters, public education, and on-farm response and management.

When released, the working group report is expected to run about 55 pages, with 35 separate parameters that would have to be met before raw milk could be sold to the public. Expected to be among its recommendations:

— Only on-farm sales directly to consumers would be allowed.

— Laws and regulations would cover producers and farms permitted to sell unpasteurized raw milk.

— Regulations would cover how containers are filled and refrigerated; how milk is tested, and for what pathogens; and licensing procedures.

— On-farm sales of raw milk would not include any special exemption from liability for personal injuries to consumers from the product.

— Dairy farms selling raw milk would have to meet all requirements of the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance’s (PMO’s) Grade A requirements, except for the one mandating that they market their milk through a dairy-processing plant.

— Raw milk producers milking by hand or storing milk in cans would not be permitted to sell to the public.

— On-farm sale of raw goat milk and raw sheep milk would be prohibited.

— Advertising would be permitted, but only for on-farm purchase and delivery.

— The state would publish best-management practices for selling unpasteurized milk and a consumer’s guide for sale handling.

— Upon enactment of a raw milk law, the governor should name a seven-member committee to monitor the effectiveness of the law, including food-safety and public health issues related to the sale and consumption of unpasteurized milk. 

— Within four years after any raw milk law takes effect, the committee shall make recommendations to the governor and the DATCP on any needed changes.

Then-Gov. Doyle last year vetoed a law that would have make raw milk sales legal in Wisconsin.  It would have been the 26th state to do so.

Since then, even lawmakers favoring raw milk legalization have been willing to wait on the Working Group’s report.  Wisconsin’s current legislative session, however, continues well into 2010, giving raw milk advocates plenty of time to respond.

Wisconsin’s Legislature and state government in general have been preoccupied during the last few weeks by protests over the dispute between the new Republican Gov. Scott Walker and public employee unions.