Tuesday, November 24, 2009

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 ...

10 comments:

Break Dancing Worm said...

Bold topic of discussion Jeanne! Well-written article I must say. I just have a few comments that I’d like to interject in the raw milk debate. First, the health safety issue is of little importance to me. For one, I do not know enough about the health ramifications to speak intelligently on the subject. I have read things on the internet from both sides of the debate, but that makes me far from an expert.
Second, I have had raw milk before from farmers I work with, and then there are other farmers you couldn’t pay me enough to drink their milk. I am not sure the consumer knows enough to tell the difference.

Third, the bigger issue and one that most people seem to miss, in my opinion, is that this is not a health safety debate, it is an economic debate. (In general) why do farmers risk the liability and potential consequences and sell raw milk? Why do consumers pay more for raw milk than that sold at the grocery store? Farmers sell it because they receive more net income from the direct market access and consumers have a perceived benefit of the product and are willing to pay for it. As an economist, I personally feel that if there is a demand for a product, someone will as well as should fill that need with supply. Now, if we continue down this path with the assumptions above, we have to ask another question. What would be the benefit of legalizing raw milk? I am not certain the raw milk advocates or anyone has really thought this one through. Say the state legalizes raw milk, it finds a way to regulate it, and all the measures are taken to make it fairly marketed. What do you suppose would happen to the price of raw milk? It would surely go down. The issue right now that makes raw milk a higher priced product is that there is abundant demand, abundant supply, but limited access to supply. It is that limited access to supply that drives prices higher for raw milk. Take away the limited access and now what becomes the incentive to pay $8 a gallon for raw milk, when a neighbor could sell it for $6 or $3 or $2.25 and still make a profit? I am sure some would say it is the relationship that the farmer builds with their customers or that the product is local that helps sell the milk and command a higher price, but if that is the case, the customers are not buying raw milk, they are buying that relationship or the localized benefit. In addition, raw milk advocates assume that there would be no competition from well established firms. If we presume that Deans or other well-established firms would sit on the sidelines, we are sadly mistaken. What would happen to the market if these powerhouse companies entered it? While I do not publicly advocate breaking the law, if a dairy farmer feels they can justify the liability and illegality and sell raw milk and be successful, then that is good for his bottom-line. If we take away those risks and make market entry easier for everyone, the benefit to the producer is put into question. We have effectively made raw milk a commodity and subject to the challenges and volatility of commodities. The best comparison to this issue is the legalizing of marijuana. Do you really think drug cartels would be happy if it were legalized? Think carefully. As a dairy farmer told me once as we sat at his kitchen table drinking milk right from the bulk tank.....beware what you wish for.

Bill Anderson said...

Jeanne-

You may want to delete the above post.

BDW-

There are certainly perils to the raw milk market. You strike an important issue with liability. It seems to be an important issue to neo-liberal/globalization advocates. I can't say I agree with this type of economic theory, but I can run with it.

You see, SAFE raw milk is something which is only feasible on smaller scales. Dean Foods can't be competetive with small farmers in this regards. This is why they don't want raw milk, because they can't compete with it.

Producing safe raw milk for local consumption is relatively cheap, though it certainly is labor intensive for the farmer. Even at low milk prices, natural and organic types of production can be profitable because the inputs are so low. All feed can be harvested on farm. Vet bills are minimal. Manure is easily recycled into the pastures, usually by the cows themselves.

On the other hand, processing huge amounts of safe dairy products for national and international scale distribution is, by design, a very expensive proposition. Paying for the fossil fuels to 1) grow huge amounts of monoculture crops for TMR feeds, and 2) power your pastuerizers, homogenizers, evaporators, cream seperators, etc... not to mention the cost of trucking large volumes of liquid milk (mostly water) over large distances for processing... it ain't cheap.

One can see why Dean Foods isn't interested in a raw milk market. Or our DATCP regulators, and those regulators in the SouthEast, and SouthWest, etc, etc...

It's an economics questions. Raw milk does lend itself to an "economy of scale."

Maybe this explains why you are against it? Or I could be wrong? Care to explain?

Bill Anderson said...

Excuse me:

Raw milk DOES NOT lend itself to an economy of scale.

And I don't think Jeanne is being particularily bold. She is just "going with the flow" in Wisconsin right now (after all, didn't she grow up on a dairy farm, and drink milk as a kid?)

Good thing "the flow" has it right this time! Can't say this is always the case.

Bill Anderson said...

Dear Rep. Pocan,

I met with you about two months ago to discuss what was happening with raw (unpasteurized) milk in Wisconsin.

I want to encourage you to support the proposed legislation which would legalize raw milk in Wisconsin: LRB 3242/3. It would be especially helpful if you could sponsor this bill.

I am looking for one change in this bill, as proposed. The current proposal does not mention fresh or young raw milk cheeses (though it does mention raw butter, cream, and buttermilk). I would like to see it allow for the sale of raw milk cheese aged less than 60 days, under certain conditions.

Current regulations require that raw milk cheese must be aged at least 60 days, but this excludes a whole variety of soft-ripened cheeses from ever being made with raw milk. The most traditional brie and camembert types of cheeses, fresh and soft-ripened goat milk cheeses, as well as washed rind (aka "stinky") cheeses were traditionally made with raw milk by our European ancestors, and are still consumed as raw milk cheeses in European countries to this day without any problems.

Of course, the milk source for any such cheese should be from a state-certified raw milk farm, and the cheese should be made in a licensed dairy plant. Many consumers would gladly pay extra money for such raw milk cheeses if they were available. It would be a huge boon to small-scale family farmers, and to our specialty and artisan rural economy in Wisconsin.

If fluid raw milk is to be legalized, it only makes sense to include fresh raw milk cheeses, since cheese is inherently less prone to food-borne illness, because of the process of curdling, culturing, acidification, and removal of moisture (whey) from the curd, and salting of the cheese, all of which create hostile conditions to food-borne pathogens.

While I believe that properly produced raw milk is a relatively low-risk food (though there is certainly some risk, as with anything) -- cheese is even less risky than milk.

However, regardless of the bill's final form, I would encourage you to vote in favor of it. Please let me know how you stand on this bill, and if you have any questions about it.

Thank you,

Bill Anderson

Bill Anderson said...

Hey, don't want to be too down on Jeanne here. Bravo for having the guts to talk about raw milk.

Don't count on Steve Ingham to say anything about it publicly anytime soon. I'm sure he's not to happy about the situation. Not like I am either...

Bill Anderson said...

Also, BDW, to answer one of your questions here. You say: "Why do consumers pay more for raw milk than that sold at the grocery store?"

There are a variety of reasons for different people, but I can tell you some of them.

Some people find that raw milk is a health giving food. It builds immunity, cures or reduces their asthma and allergies (there are studies from Europe which verify that consumption of raw milk helps with allergies and asthma). Mothers who can't nurse have successfuly used raw sheep and goat milk on infants who couldn't eat other foods and would die otherwise.

Some people grew up on dairy farms or just like the taste better.

The raw milk that I consume is 100% grass fed. Even during the winter, the cows are eating very high-quality hay harvested on farm. The amount of carotenes in this winter milk is suprisingly high. Cheese made from January milk at the begining of this year had a suprisingly yellow color, and the May cheese is brilliant gold. Butterfat runs about 4.5%, Protein about 3.5%.

Whatever your reasons, I don't think price is the concern, though some raw milk advocates rightly point out that raw milk should be cheaper because (as I pointed out earlier) it is cheeper to produce, there are no middle-men, and you don't need to buy and maintain expensive milk processing equipment.

Unfortunately, the political pressures and issues surrounding raw milk inevitably drive the price up. I am OK with that personally, and have been vocal in the raw milk community about the need to using science and production standards to establish the safety of raw milk. (Though as a society we ought to think about the social implications of making nutrient-dense foods unavailable and unaffordable to those without a lot of disposable income.)

You are right about this: It is an economics question. Who is going to fund the science and the research to establish the standards? Dairy farmers have been paying into milk checkoffs for long enough while the benefits of this money mostly goes to large corporations. Is it too much to ask that the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board take some initiative and commission positive and constructive studies on raw milk? The pay-off won't be immediate, but the long-term results will be positive for Wisconsin dairy farmers. What if Wisconsin become the first U.S. state to safely produce a soft/fresh raw milk cheese? Vermont is moving in that direction. Why aren't we?

Bill Anderson said...

Jeanne and others interested-

The Wisconsin Independent Consumers and Farmers Association (WICFA) has come out against the current draft of the raw milk bill.

The reason? Because it requires a Grade A dairy license, which means that farmers will still be at the mercy of the large dairy processing monopolies, since you can't get a Grade A license without also being picked up by a milk truck route.

On another note, here is a rousing piece from Joel Salatin --

http://www.familyfarmdefenders.org/pmwiki.php/Main/IDrinkRawMilk

btw... we ought to start also building more public awareness of the National Animal Identification System -- another attempt by the corporate industrial food system to crush the burgeoning "buy local" and back-to-the land movement. Wisconsin's DATCP has been particularily aggressive in forcing farmers into "premise registration", even though it is currently voluntary at the Federal level. NAIS has an even more sinister agenda than the current war against raw milk.

Bill Anderson said...

Here they are in link format:

I drink raw milk (sold illegally on the underground market), By Joel Salatin


NAIS information

Curt said...

Thank you for the discussion. I'm calling my representives asking them to support LRB3242-3.

Bill Anderson said...

FYI-

Here is the statement from WICFA. I don't necessarily agree with the conclusion, but I think it makes a valid point.


WICFA: Statement of opposition to LRB3242/3
November 24, 2009 by Paul Griepentrog

The proposed draft is inadequate in addressing the concerns of fresh milk producers throughout the state, and does not fall within the mission statement of this organization.

The proposed draft states no author, and is applicable to Grade A dairies only, a license that requires a contract with a milk processor as a predetermining factor, this forced contract is a violation of Federal Uniform Commercial Code as it manifests as coercion.

Furthermore some milk processing companies require exclusive contracts from their producers in direct violation of the Sherman Anti Trust Act.

The hundreds of small herd owners concerns are not addressed in any fashion in this proposal.

[Some silly and unnecessary political hand-wringing which is best left out... -Bill]

Therefore the Wisconsin Independent Consumers and Farmers Assn. in an effort to hold to a higher standard will be opposing the raw milk proposed draft in its present form.