As is true with most compromise legislation, last week's final "raw milk" bill didn't please either supporters or opponents.
The bill, a substitute for one that was introduced earlier, was approved in the state Senate's committee on Financial Institutions and Rural Issues Tuesday (Nov. 12) on a 3-2 vote and came out of committee without much fanfare.
One of those disappointed with the committee's passage of the measure was the Dairy Business Association (DBA), a group that is part of the Wisconsin Safe Milk Coalition, which strenuously opposes any legalization of the sale of unpasteurized milk.
"The additional so-called safeguards added to the bill will not protect adults and children from the dangers posed by drinking raw milk," said DBA Executive Director Laurie Fischer.
The bill also does "absolutely nothing to protect the integrity of Wisconsin's dairy industry," she added.
The substitute bill, which came out of committee last week, can't be voted on by the full Senate until after the first of the year, since this fall's floor period is over.
The Senate will hold its first floor period of 2014 from Jan. 14-23 and that would be the first opportunity for this bill to come up for a vote. Gov. Scott Walker has not said what he would do if the bill landed on his desk.
Shawn Pfaff, spokesman for the Wisconsin Safe Milk Coalition, said his members don't feel the bill provides enough protection for consumers. He and others in his coalition testified in September that there could be no compromise on pasteurization — it's the only way they believe milk should be sold.
An earlier raw milk bill got through the full Wisconsin Legislature in 2010 and landed on the desk of then-Gov. Jim Doyle. After public health officials and medical groups, veterinarians, dairy producer and processor groups organized to oppose the measure, Doyle vetoed it.
Those opponents have continued to oppose any similar measure and many members of the group testified at a September hearing on this new bill. That hearing also included supporters of raw milk sales who believe that it should be their choice to consume raw milk if they want to.
Many believe the heat treatment of pasteurization makes milk less healthy. One pediatric specialist testified that consuming raw milk may allow children to ward off allergies and diseases like asthma.
The new bill, Senate Bill 236, was introduced by Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) and he authored the substitute measure to secure some votes among committee members. But there were those on both sides of the issue who were not pleased with the revised measure.
Consumers and members of food freedom groups who testified at the September hearing said they want to be able to buy raw milk from farmers because they think certain health benefits come with it. Some said they just want to be able to support their local farmers. They were disappointed at extra testing required by the re-written measure.
Opponents who say any kind of food-borne outbreak caused by raw milk will hurt the state's important dairy industry said the substitute bill doesn't go far enough in assuring that consumers will be safe.
Grothman's substitute measure would require raw-milk dairies to register with the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and meet certain guidelines. Farms would need to record the names, addresses and phone numbers of each buyer of raw milk and make those records available for inspectors.
These farmers would need to take milk samples each day, freeze them and preserve them for at least 15 days. Milk from cows that have been treated with antibiotics would not be allowed into these raw milk sales under the bill.
The substitute bill would require that raw milk sold to consumers be free of pathogens and farmers would be required to get monthly tests to prove it. The bill sets standards for bacterial counts and somatic cell counts.
In the bill that got the approval of the committee, farmers selling raw milk would need to prove that their cows are free of bovine tuberculosis by getting them tested every year.
Under Grothman's substitute bill farmers who met all the requirements would also be able to sell raw milk products including yogurt, whey, ice cream, butter, cheese, kefir and buttermilk.
Farmers who sell unpasteurized milk directly to consumers would need to put it in clean containers that are properly labeled and farms would have to post signs about the possible dangers of raw milk.
The measure would require farms to meet or exceed Grade A milk standards.
If it passed and became law, the measure would create a new dairy licensing category for raw milk farms, which would be called "Grade 1 unpasteurized."
Farmers would have to prove their milk is free of pathogens including Campylobacter, Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes and E. coli, before they could sell it directly for human consumption.
The bill would require dairy farms to submit their samples to labs that are approved by state regulatory officials or by regulators in another state or by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA.)