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Grothman introduces raw milk bill

June 27, 2013 | 0 comments

West Bend Republican Glenn Grothman has been promising this spring that he would introduce a bill legalizing the sale of "raw" or unpasteurized milk in Wisconsin.

Now that Loganville farmer Vernon Hershberger was acquitted by a Sauk County jury on three of four misdemeanor charges related to selling raw milk from his farmstead, State Sen. Grothman has made good on his promise to introduce a measure that would allow dairy farms to sell raw milk.

Under the bill, dairy farmers would need to register with the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and would then be allowed to sell raw milk or other raw dairy products directly from the farm.

The bill does not include provisions for selling raw milk in retail stores.

Farmers would need to meet all Grade A requirements in order to sell raw milk through the state program. Farms could also sell buttermilk, kefir, yogurt, ice cream, butter and cheese made from raw milk.

In line with some of the recommendations made by a raw milk task force that was convened in the state several years ago, producers would need to sell the milk in clean containers, meet certain labeling criteria and follow rules set forward by DATCP.

Current state law allows producers to consume raw milk themselves and with their families, but only "incidental" sales are allowed to someone who is not part of the farm.

Under current law, selling raw milk to customers on the farm can result in a farm losing its dairy producer license.

Raw milk advocates claim that pasteurization kills "good" bacteria and some even claim that consuming unpasteurized milk has cured a number of health complaints in themselves and in their children.

During the recent Hershberger trial in Baraboo, the judge prohibited any testimony related to the health benefits of raw milk or raw dairy products. That trial hinged on a number of licenses that prosecutors claimed Hershberger needed to run his Grazin' Acres LLC cow-share food business.

Grothman said the timing was right for his raw milk bill in light of the Hershberger verdict.

The state witnessed a push to legalize raw milk sales in 2010. During that process 600 or so proponents of "food freedom" and raw milk converged on a legislative hearing in Eau Claire.

Lawmakers passed the raw milk bill that year, but it was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Jim Doyle after the "Safe Milk Coalition" - a group of medical experts, veterinarians, dairy scientists and public health officials urged him to kill the bill.

A raw milk bill was drafted since that time, but was never brought up for a vote in the Legislature.

Gov. Scott Walker has said in previous interviews that he might support a raw milk bill as long as there are assurances it would keep consumers safe.

The Safe Milk Coalition continues to urge lawmakers to vote against any kind of raw milk legislation, noting that pathogens in raw milk can make people sick; outbreaks of illness related to raw milk could taint the state's entire dairy industry they say.

It's expected that Grothman's bill could go to public hearings in the fall.

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