If raw milk doesn’t again spread some deadly pathogen around the Badger State, Wisconsin could yet clear the way for expanded sales of the unpasteurized product.

That’s because there is a new raw milk bill, Senate Bill 108, before the Wisconsin Assembly, which is one of seven state legislatures that meets year round. Just as the bill was introduced and assigned to committee, Wisconsin experienced a truly embarrassing outbreak  for raw milk advocates.

Sixteen people, adults and students, who attended a June 3 potluck at a Raymond, Wisconsin elementary school were infected with Campylobacter jejuni from a local raw milk dairy. State officials nailed the local dairy as the source of the illnesses, but said because the raw milk was given to a parent for the school event — and not sold — no legal violation had occurred.

Coming so quickly after SB 108 was introduced, the latest raw milk-related outbreak just caused sponsors to lie low for a bit. No public hearing has yet been held on the new bill, which was introduced almost exactly one year after former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed a similar measure.

SB108 was assigned to the Committee on Agriculture, Forestry, and Higher Education upon introduction on May 26. It was the following week that the Raymond school held its event to celebrate Wisconsin food and the contaminated raw milk was served.

State Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, lead sponsor of SB108, has not been sitting idle.   He’s obtained a required fiscal note on the bill to legalize raw milk sales in the Dairy State.

“The bill allows a dairy farmer with a license and grade A permit to register with DATCP for the purpose of selling unpasteurized milk and milk products ( buttermilk, kefir, yogurt, cottage cheese, ice cream, butter and cheese.),” wrote agency and legislative staffers Michelle Wachter and Bill Walker.

“The bill also allows a dairy farmer who does not have a license or grade A permit to register with DATCP for this purpose if the farmer milks fewer than 20 cows,” the fiscal note writers continued.  “A dairy farmer who registers with DATCP may sell unpasteurized milk and milk  products correctly to a consumer on the farm if the dairy farmer or the consumers provides a sanitary container, the container is filled in a sanitary manner, and the diary farmer posts a sign stating: ‘Raw milk products sold here. Raw milk products are not pasteurized.'”

The fiscal note says it is not possible to estimate how many dairy farmers would register. Up to 12,000 is used as a best guess in the fiscal note, which says the state technology and Division of Food Safety would incur costs estimated at $18,820.

On-the-farm incidental sales of raw milk are currently allowed under Wisconsin law.

SB108 makes the commercial sale of raw milk legal in Wisconsin, pretty much following the structure advocated by the Wisconsin Raw Milk Association.

Current law allows anyone in Wisconsin to buy a cow and drink the raw milk it produces, but raw milk advocates often talk about wanting “the right to choose the food we eat.”   In SB108, which Wisconsin food expert Scott Rankin calls “shockingly simple,”  advocates get wide open commercial sales.

Rankin, who chairs the University of Wisconsin’s Department of Food Science, has told local reporters SB108 is not based on science and leaves out most food handling concerns that should apply to any food, “let alone raw milk.”

Rankin served on Wisconsin’s raw milk task force that worked for more than a  year to produce a 261-page report, that actually outlined how commercialization of raw milk sales might be conducted in a a safe, or at least safer, manner. The work of that 22-member group is being ignored by the legislative sponsors, who said they did not read the report.

With Doyle retired, Wisconsin is now governed by the Republican Gov. Scott Walker.   Walker wants more “safety provisions” than are provided in the bill as written, but is inclined to sign the bill. 

Rep. Ron Paul, the Texas Libertarian/Republican presidential candidate, brings up legalization of raw milk sales fairly often. Like sponsors of SB108 in Wisconsin, he claims to drink raw milk on a regular basis.

That leaves timing. A few months without a raw milk-related outbreak would greatly help SB108’s prospects. With the Raymond outbreak added to the list, Wisconsin health officials say seven outbreaks since 1998 can be blamed on consuming raw milk or raw milk products that were contaminated with some pathogen.   

At least 277 Wisconsin residents were infected, and 28 required hospitalization.

No action is scheduled by the committee, but the Wisconsin Assembly does not adjourn until Dec. 31.

  • Melissa

    Seriously people, do you not get it! You know the risks of raw milk, you’ve seen repeated outbreaks…yet you still want it to be legal? Let’s also make it legal to sell ground beef that knowingly has ecoli O157:H7 present!

  • dangermaus

    I give the “raw milk is magic” argument about as much credence as the claim that buying Cheerios prevents heart attacks – so I don’t buy it (raw milk OR the argument). Your comparison to selling it to knowingly distributing contaminated beef is invalid, though, because raw milk is almost never contaminated in a way that makes people sick (if that weren’t true, there’d be a whole lot more sick hippies and foodies out there).
    That said, what you choose to eat is an extremely personal decision, and is clearly in the realm of “Pursuit of Happiness”/”Right to Self-Determination”, and should definitely be protected. Of course there’s the argument that someone might give it to someone not aware of the risk, but there are a whole lot of ways that people harm each other, and you couldn’t ban them all without turning the country into North Korea.
    Most of these sites’ readers hate hearing people say this, but there should be certified, and un-certified food. Federal, state and local governments would have no authority to regulate the un-certified food on the grounds of food safety. People that don’t have the time or inclination to take the safety of their food into their own hands would stick to the certified stuff.

  • Doc Mudd

    “…there should be certified, and un-certified food. Federal, state and local governments would have no authority to regulate the un-certified food on the grounds of food safety.”
    Yeah, we’ve pretty much accomplished this yuppie brainfart wishlist item with the Tester amendment to FSMA.
    We now have the vast majority of food producers (albeit hideously inefficient producers of a miniscule fraction of our basic food supply) exempt from any bothersome food safety oversight or any annoying common sense suggestion.
    These loopy headstrong ‘small’ food purveyors “don’t have the time or inclination to take the safety of their food into their own hands”, so they operate with no real traceability, no accountability – laissez le bon temps rouler!!
    Laissez faire, carpe diem and caveat emptor, baby, caveat emptor!!

  • bachcole

    Melissa, You wrote: “Let’s also make it legal to sell ground beef that knowingly has ecoli O157:H7 present!” That really is profoundly stupid. The parallel would be “Let’s also make it legal to sell ground beef that has been tested and tested and tested.” You need to see the evidence that Weston Smith presented. Yes, there is an extremely small chance of problems with raw milk, but there is a 100% chance of problems with over-processed foods, including cooked and homogenized milk.

  • It should be the people who are allowed to chose the type of milk they want to drink. If raw milk is really so dangerous then the people would stop drinking it. Should we allow freedom of choice in the country, yes we should. The people who are against raw milk are the people who have not tried it yet. Remember the human race has 8000 yrs of raw milk history and only ( 1940) and 70 years of the pasteurized stuff.

  • James

    The problem isn’t whether raw is better or cooked is better. Problem #1 is the opportunity for contamination at any of the transfer points: cow to milking machine, milking machine to farmer’s collector, farmer’s collector to milk truck, milk truck to processing center, processing center to bottle. Problem #2 is that many of the potential contaminants are not detectable by our ordinary human equipment (eyes, noses and tongues) but can be deadly! Cholera and typhoid outbreaks have been caused by contaminated raw milk, folks, and the consumers who bought these products had no idea until they got terribly sick. At what point do we say a product is simply too risky to be permitted on a commercial scale? Maybe on a small scale we say “ok” but only under these limited circumstances with warning labels, etc. From what I’ve read, this proposed Wisconsin law doesn’t contain nearly enough safeguards to prevent some random consumer from drinking possibly contaminated product without knowing (much less accepting) the risks.

  • Shawn Snarski

    This seriously needs to be legalized and REGULATED as soon as possible to prevent the unregulated sale and transfer of raw milk.
    Raw milk will be sold, bartered exchanged, and given away. Without proper regulation by the state, it will be consumed without proper safety mechanisms in place.
    For now, Raw milk can be obtained from Michigan, Minnesota, and Illinois. They can’t sell it here, but nobody is stopping me from supporting the sensible policies and farmers of our neighboring states.
    If Wisconsin wants to remain the Dairy State, we need our politicians to remove their heads from their nether-regions and to remove the money given by producers of dead, white liquids masquerading as milk.