Wisconsin... Raw Milk Issue May Resurface Again in Legislature

Submitted by SadInAmerica on Sat, 01/08/2011 - 1:28pm.

Another attempt to legalize the sale of raw, unpasteurized milk to Wisconsin consumers is coming before the Legislature and a new governor who says he would support it. ~ Rick Barrett

Thursday, several key lawmakers said they favored reviving a raw milk bill that was vetoed in 2010 by former Gov. Jim Doyle.

Advocates say raw milk contains nutrients, enzymes and bacteria that boost the immune system. Opponents say it can carry bacteria that can sicken or kill people.

Consumers should be able to decide for themselves, according to legislators wanting to repeal the current law that - with limited exceptions - bans raw milk sales to the general public.

"I suspect there's a fairly libertarian bent to the new Republican legislators that could work in our favor," said Rep. Chris Danou (D-Trempealeau), sponsor of the raw milk bill in 2010.

"I always intended to bring this back," he said. "I think we have just as many votes for it now as we did last time, perhaps even more."

Twenty-five states allow some form of unpasteurized milk sales. Advocates say the Dairy State's handling of the issue will send an important signal to the rest of the nation.

In his veto, Doyle sided with public health and dairy industry officials who said the raw milk bill raised multiple issues.

Gov. Scott Walker, however, says he would sign legislation that allows the limited sale of raw milk to consumers.

"The bill would need to contain the appropriate safeguards to protect public health and the integrity of our state's signature industry, while giving consumers the opportunity to purchase raw milk directly from farmers," the governor said in a statement.

The previous legislation passed the Senate by a vote of 25-8 and the Assembly by a 60-35 vote.

Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) said he would take a lead role on a raw milk bill this year, adding that it should be a consumer's choice whether to buy the unpasteurized product direct from a farm.

"I think the message in the election was for less government," he said. "There is a very educated, health-conscious part of the population that is very adamant that they have the freedom to drink raw milk."

Currently, the Legislature is focused on jobs and the budget. But a raw milk bill could surface after a state panel that studied the issue for nine months makes recommendations in February. At least some of the recommendations would be included in the bill, according to legislators.

"We just can't overregulate it to the point where it becomes prohibitive for the average farmer," Grothman said.

Among the panel's preliminary recommendations, raw-milk farmers would be required to have their milk tested weekly for coliforms and monthly for dangerous pathogens such as E. coli, listeria and salmonella.

A farm's sales would be halted immediately if its milk tested positive for pathogens and would not be allowed again until the farm gets a clean bill of health. Also, the farm would have to notify its customers of the pathogens that were found, even if the milk had already been consumed.

The panel, which included consumers, farmers and health experts, did not make a recommendation on whether raw milk sales should be allowed. Rather, its guidelines were meant to show how it could be done safely if the Legislature legalizes the sale.

"We fully expect there will be bills introduced on this," said Donna Gilson, spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

State officials have several cases pending against farmers accused of illegal raw milk sales.

"It was where they had other violations as well, such as an on-farm retail store that was not licensed," Gilson said.

Opposition of farm group

Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation opposes raw milk sales, saying the risks outweigh the benefits.

If one person becomes sick from it, the reputation of all milk and dairy products would be tarnished, according to the Farm Bureau.

"Until there is some type of airtight resolution that would protect the dairy industry, our member delegates did not want to see this move forward," said Farm Bureau spokesman Casey Langan.

Wisconsin Farmers Union supports raw milk legislation, President Darin Von Ruden said.

"I find it interesting that anyone can go to many restaurants to find raw meats, fish and other seafood on menus. Our society has chosen to allow people the right to eat sushi, steak tartare or raw clams on the half-shell," he said in 2010 testimony before the Legislature.

A raw milk bill could move quickly, given that much of the groundwork was laid in the previous legislative session and the panel's recommendations will be made in February.

"After that report, we will hit the ground running," Danou said.


Rick Barrett - January 6, 2011 - JSOnline 

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Submitted by SadInAmerica on Sat, 01/08/2011 - 1:28pm.