September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Debate over raw milk to begin in 2014
The Wisconsin Legislature begins its first floor period of 2014 on Jan. 14 and could begin action on a modified version of Senate Bill 236. That measure would make it legal for farmers to sell raw milk from their farms directly to consumers. Current law allows only incidental sales.
On Nov. 13, the Senate committee on Financial Institutions and Rural Issues voted three to two to let the amended version of the raw milk bill progress. Senator Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) authored the original bill and its amendment. He also authored a bill dealing with raw milk in 2010. That proposal made it all the way to the Governor's desk but was vetoed by then-Governor Jim Doyle.
"The next step," Grothman said, "is to work behind the scenes and make sure we have the votes to pass it (the latest legislation) on the floor."
The current bill would require farms wanting to sell raw milk to do several things. First, they would have to register with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
Second, they would have to put up signs warning customers about the health dangers of drinking unpasteurized milk. Third, they would have to sample their milk supplies, freeze the samples, keep them at least 15 days, and make them available to state agriculture department inspectors, along with other state, federal and local officials. The samples would be tested for the presence of bacteria such as Campylobacter, Salmonella, Listeria and E. coli, along with residues of antibiotics.
Several diseases can be acquired by drinking unpasteurized milk. They include tuberculosis, brucellosis, diphtheria, scarlet fever, and Q-fever, a bacterial disease that can cause a form of pneumonia.
Fourth, farmers would need to keep records of who bought raw milk from them, and when. The information would include names, addresses and telephone numbers. These records would be used to track consumers in case a disease outbreak occurs that is linked to consuming raw milk.
The requirements of the amended SB 236 don't stop there. It would create an entirely new category of milk that includes some of the standards producers of Grade A milk are required to abide by.
This "Grade 1 unpasteurized" milk would carry its own, separate license. Dairy farms selling milk under this license would be inspected at least every two years. That's in contrast to Grade A dairy farms that are inspected every six months.
In addition, Grothman's bill would let farmers legally sell products made from unpasteurized milk. The list includes butter, buttermilk, cheese, ice cream, yogurt, whey, and kefir. As with raw milk itself, these products could only be legally sold on the farms where they were produced.
Grothman said the changes to the bill are probably needed if it is to garner enough votes to pass in the Senate. He also said the changes are not necessarily needed to protect the public.
Those who favor legislation such as Grothman's say it would give people who want the product access to unprocessed milk - milk that they say contains beneficial bacteria and enzymes. On the other hand, opponents of the bill argue that there simply are no health benefits from drinking raw milk or eating products made from it.
Several groups lined up against raw milk legislation in 2010, and they are still aligned against it three years later. Some of those opposing the sale of raw milk are working as part of the Wisconsin Safe Milk Coalition.
The coalition has as members 15 other organizations. They include Associated Milk Producers, Inc. (AMPI), Foremost Farms USA, Land O'Lakes, the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, the Dairy Business Association (DBA), and the Wisconsin Dairy Products Association. Those with less-direct ties to the dairy industry are Cooperative Network, the Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association, the Wisconsin Public Health Association, the Wisconsin Medical Society, the Wisconsin Association of Manufacturers and Commerce, Children's Hospital and Health System of Wisconsin, Marshfield Clinic, the Wisconsin Association of Local Health Departments and Boards, and the Wisconsin Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The coalition claims there is not any published, scientific proof that consuming unpasteurized milk is beneficial. Neither, the group says, is there any evidence that raw milk is more nutritious than pasteurized milk.
In addition the Wisconsin Safe Milk Coalition notes that in 2010, 18 people in Michigan were sickened after they drank raw milk. The year before, the coalition adds, 35 people in Wisconsin became ill from drinking raw milk or eating raw-milk cheese.
Another argument that's sometimes lobbied against raw milk is that the entire dairy industry will be tarnished in the event of a disease outbreak. That is, people will shy away from all milk when only unpasteurized milk was to blame.
Senator Grothman does not buy that argument. He said, "People are not that stupid. People get sick from almost any food. They may get sick from raw beef; they may get sick from raw fish. We don't ban raw fish or raw beef."
How did Grothman become interested in loosening the legal bonds against selling raw milk?
"I knew a family they did crack down on years ago, and that got me involved in it," he said. "And since I've gotten involved in it, I'm amazed at the outpouring of support at the grass-roots. It's really an example where the public is on one side and big business is on the other."
Grothman said there's a long history of people drinking raw milk, and the great majority of them never got sick because of it. The senator counts himself as a proponent of unpasteurized milk.
He said, "Insofar as I drink milk, I drink raw milk."
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker hinted in a recent speech to the Dairy Business Association that he might veto the raw milk bill if it reaches his desk.
"I want to make it clear that I want to protect our status as America's Dairyland," the Governor said. "We should be able to guarantee that kids in this state and in this country will have access to fresh and safe milk and dairy products. I'm not going to do anything that puts at risk any child who consumes products that comes out of the state of Wisconsin."
To that, Senator Grothman, said, "The Governor certainly implied to raw milk supporters when he was running for governor he would sign it (raw milk legislation). I hope he doesn't go back on that commitment."
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