State Rep. Elijah Behnke R-89th District, last month pre-filed Senate Bill (SB) 781 to reform the regulation of raw milk in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Legislature has assigned SB 781 to the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Tourism. The Senate sponsor is Duey Stroebel, R-20th District

With the Legislature underway in Madison, Rep. Behnke has taken to local media to pitch his bill. “In Wisconsin, you can regularly buy and consume raw ground hamburger from Brazil, raw oysters from Washington, raw tuna from Japan, and raw romaine lettuce from California,” he says.

“Current Wisconsin law regarding unprocessed dairy, however, sends the message that we do not trust our dairy farmers to produce a sanitary, unprocessed product and that we can’t trust consumers to make an informed health decision about the dairy products they buy,” adds Behnke.

“Wisconsin dairy farmers have access to better safety testing technology than ever before, including rapid on-farm testing. Our farmers are acutely aware that producing a safe, healthy product is vital to the success of their farms. Many consumers prefer raw dairy for various reasons, including taste, nutrition, and health benefits.

“This bill allows farmers to sell unpasteurized dairy products through additional channels, accompanied by more robust guidelines and testing requirements compared to any previous proposal authorizing the sale of unpasteurized dairy products in Wisconsin. It is long past time we trust our farmers and consumers with the sale of unprocessed dairy in America’s Dairyland.”

According to legislative staff, current law generally prohibits the sale of unpasteurized (commonly called raw) milk and other raw milk products. It prohibits the sale to consumers of milk or fluid milk products that are not grade A milk or fluid milk products. Current law requires a dairy farmer to have a milk producer license from the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) and a grade A permit from DATCP to sell grade A milk and requires a butter maker or cheesemaker to have a butter maker or cheesemaker license from DATCP to engage as a butter maker or cheesemaker. Also, under current law, DATCP promulgates rules governing the operation of dairy farms and the testing and quality of milk.

“This bill, the staff report says, “allows a milk producer to receive a license from DATCP to sell unpasteurized dairy products processed on farm premises to consumers through delivery, at retail stores, or directly from a dairy farm. Under the bill, a milk producer who has a license to sell unpasteurized dairy products is not required to obtain a milk producer license, a grade A permit, or a butter maker or cheesemaker license if the milk producer does not send any milk to a dairy plant and sells no milk or milk products other than unpasteurized dairy products processed on farm premises.”

“To receive a license to sell unpasteurized dairy products, a milk producer must submit a series of samples for testing for several bacteria and coliform and standard plate counts, provide results from tests performed by a licensed veterinarian that show that the cows used to produce the unpasteurized dairy products do not have tuberculosis or brucellosis and show proof of training in raw milk safety. Additionally, DATCP must conduct an on-site inspection of the milk producer’s processing plant.”

The staff adds that ‘a milk producer licensed to sell unpasteurized dairy products must submit regular test results for coliforms and standard plate counts that show coliform levels below ten and a standard plate count below 10,000. A milk producer who only produces unpasteurized dairy products must also submit testing for other solids, somatic cell count, milk urea nitrogen, and plate loop count.

“Every three months, a milk producer must submit test results for various bacteria,” the staff continues. “Additionally, DATCP may, after giving 24 hours notice, take a sample of unpasteurized milk from the processing plant of a milk producer licensed to sell unpasteurized dairy products and test for the bacteria. If there is a positive test result, the milk producer must initiate a recall and stop all production and sale of unpasteurized dairy products until the milk tests negative.”

“All cows used to produce unpasteurized dairy products must be tested yearly for tuberculosis and brucellosis,” the staff reports. “A licensed veterinarian must administer the tests. Under the bill, unpasteurized dairy products, processing plants that produce unpasteurized dairy products, and milk producers that produce unpasteurized dairy products must meet certain standards regarding cleanliness, temperature, labeling, record keeping, and food safety planning.”

Fiscal estimates for the bill will be added to the staff report.

As “America’s Dairyland” with billions at stake, Wisconsin has long maintained one of the most robust raw milk regulations in the U.S.  The only serious attempt to up-end it came in 2010 when then-Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed a bill to weaken the state law. Attempts since then to open the raw milk spigot have not succeeded in America’s dairy state.

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