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.