Bill would abolish limits on raw milk
(Barre Times Argus, VT)
By Peter Hirschfeld
this session will consider abolishing a limit on raw milk sales that some
industry experts blame for stifling a niche dairy market.
Administration officials, however, say the public health hazards posed by
unpasteurized milk outweigh whatever financial benefits farmers stand to
A compromise measure last year doubled allowable daily sales of raw milk from
25 quarts to 50 quarts. Amy Shollenberger, head of Rural Vermont, says many
farmers are already bumping against the new ceiling.
"There's a market out there, and this bill gives farmers an opportunity
to develop that market and to make a business plan that's right for their
farm and for their community," Shollenberger says.
The commodity price of milk has plunged in recent months to near $10 per
hundredweight – less than $1 a gallon. As farmers hemorrhage money in the
depressed milk market, Shollenberger says, raw milk sales can provide a
much-needed revenue stream for farms on the brink. Raw milk sells for an
average of between $5 and $7 per gallon in Vermont and is sold in some areas
for as much as $12 per gallon.
"Right now we know of some conventional dairies that are making it
because they're selling raw milk, and really the only cash flow on some farms
right now is from raw milk sales," Shollenberger says.
But David Lane, deputy secretary of the Agency of Agriculture, says
undermining food-safety measures now in place could ultimately harm both
consumers and farmers.
"For pediatricians, health groups, veterinarians, and farmers that
aren't selling raw milk, from their standpoint they would prefer no raw milk
being sold," Lane says. "Fifty quarts is a compromise that, from an
epidemiological standpoint, is a level of acceptable risk."
Lane noted that last summer, a young girl fell ill from eating ice cream made
from raw milk. In cases across the country, epidemiologists have traced outbreaks
of bacterial diseases to consumption of raw milk.
"The dairy industry itself is concerned about the impact of an outbreak,
which could taint all milk in the state," Lane said.
Shollenberger said the bill includes strict testing requirements that would
mitigate any risks. The legislation also requires direct farm-to-customer
sales, which, according to Shollenberger, will ensure that consumers are
knowledgeable about the product they're buying. Besides, she says, the issue
is about consumer choice.
"Regardless of whether there's a true risk or not, people want this
product and right now some people who want it can't get it and some farmers
are prevented from taking advantage of a clear demand for this product,"
Shollenberger says. "… I should be able to decide what food I want to
Lane, though, says heightened concerns over food safety generally make now
the wrong time to consider eliminating the 50-quart limit.
"We're at a time when there seems to be more public concern and outcry
for food safety than ever before," Lane says. "To move in another
direction right now doesn't seem to make sense." 3-20-09