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Raw Milk Proposed Legislation

Raw milk advocates are organizing in an effort to make the purchase of unpasteurized milk legal in the state of Wisconsin.

Current law states selling unpasteurized milk is illegal in Wisconsin. But for about a decade, with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture’s blessing, some dairy farmers sold their raw milk directly to people who bought a share in a cow, technically becoming part-owners. In the past year, however, farmers selling raw milk directly to consumers have received letters and visits from Dept of Ag representatives, informing farmers they can no longer sell their milk using this method, and have effectively shut down at least two dairy farms engaging in the sale of fluid raw milk for consumption.

Yesterday, two state legislators from northwest Wisconsin introduced a bill for co-sponsorship regarding the sale of raw milk, according to Midwest AgNet. LRB 3242/3 by Sen. Pat Kreitlow (D-Chippewa Falls) and Rep. Chris Danou (D-Trempealeau) would permit the sale of raw milk directly from Wisconsin farms in certain controlled conditions.

Under this proposed bill, in order to sell raw milk, farmers would need to obtain a grade A dairy farm permit from the Department of Agriculture, make certain that the container for the raw milk was prepared and filled in a sanitary manner, and display a sign explaining to consumer buyers that the milk is not pasteurized, alerting them to possible health concerns.

The lawmakers have given their colleagues until Dec. 4 to have their names added to the bill as co-sponsors. The Department of Agriculture has not released any formal statement either in favor or opposition to the bill.

In related news, Wisconsin Ag Connection reported last week that a newly formed farm organization in Wisconsin is holding a networking meeting next month to promote and preserve unregulated direct farmer-to-consumer trade, which they say fosters the availability of locally grown and home-produced food products. The Wisconsin Independent Consumers and Farmers Association is scheduling the forum for December 12 at 10 a.m. at the Town of Dalton Hall in Green Lake County.

Clifford Cordell of New Auburn told Wisconsin Ag Connection that the purpose of the meeting is to discuss ways Wisconsin groups and organizations can better communicate and share ideas to enhance their overall strength to pass favorable legislation to protect their choices.

“We are inviting all groups concerned about the freedom to grow and purchase locally grown foods,” Cordell told Wisconsin Ag Connection. “In particular, we want to motivate people to go to trials of small farmers around the state who are being persecuted for trying to provide very healthy alternatives to the traditional menu that we are accustomed to. Raw milk dairy farmers are coming under attack more and more since the Department of Agriculture has decided to change its interpretation of its own regulations.” (For more information about the Wisconsin Independent Consumers and Farmers Association, or to get details about the meeting, call 715-418-0424.)

Earlier this month, 20 people spent nearly two hours during the Department of Agriculture’s monthly “public comment” section of its board meeting commenting on selling raw milk to the public. Many stated that state law, which prohibits such sales, was unfair and should be changed.

While I didn’t attend the meeting, I did read about it in all three ag papers last week. Reporters from The Country Today, Agri-View and the Wisconsin State Farmer did a good job of reporting the situation, including the impassioned pleas from dairy farmers who argue that in times of low commodity milk prices, selling raw milk off the farm is the only thing keeping them alive.

Wisconsin Agriculture Secretary Rod Nilsestuen has promised to re-visit the issue and will report on the agency’s stance at the next board meeting. Should be interesting to see what path this issue takes …
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