Raw milk bill moves to Senate
(Bennington Banner, VT)
By KEITH WHITCOMB JR.
A bill that would change regulations on the sale of farm-fresh, or "raw" milk, passed in the Vermont House of Representatives last week on a vote of 96-40 and is awaiting action by the Senate.
Raw milk has not been pasteurized, or undergone a process that heats milk then cools it rapidly to kill harmful bacteria prior to human consumption.
Rep. Bill Botzow, D-Pownal/Woodford, said that, currently, dairy farmers can sell up to 12 gallons of unpasteurized milk per day with no special regulations. The Farm-Fresh Milk Restoration Act regulates sales of under 12 gallons, and has added rules for sales of up to 40 gallons.
Botzow said he did not support the bill when it was first introduced because it placed no rules on the sale of raw milk. After much debate, provisions were added that made him and others support it. The bill applies as well to milk from goats.
Few farmers in Bennington County sell much raw milk, but being able to sell more is a plus, said Jennifer Lawrence, who co-owns Polymeadows Farm in Shaftsbury, where she and her husband, Melvin, milk goats. She said her own farm sells about two gallons of raw milk a week at $7 per gallon. When people come by, they bring their own containers and have them filled out of the main milk tank.
Lawrence said that if Polymeadows had regular raw milk customers, she might keep a refrigerator stocked, but otherwise she has no plans to expand raw milk sales.
Botzow said farms selling raw milk would have to register with the Vermont Department of Agriculture, Food and Markets. Sellers would have to keep records of raw milk sales, as well as label products made using it. Sellers are also required to have sanitary standards, report the amount they sell, and give tours of their farms to anyone who wishes to purchase raw milk from them.
"We are more than happy to have people walk around," Lawrence said.
Botzow said the bill has a second tier for sales between 12 and 40 gallons. A farm selling more than 12 gallons of raw milk per day would not be able to ship the milk. It would have to be sold on the farm. He said some delivery arrangements are possible, but the purchase itself has to occur at the farm. Farmers would also be subject to regular inspections, report test results and keep the results on file. Botzow said raw milk would be subject to lower somatic cell count limits. High somatic cell counts are an indicator of illness in the animal.
"I think the sale of raw milk is much safer with the passage of this bill," he said.
He said safety has been the main concern with the sale of raw milk. "We don't want an incident here that will impact Vermont's reputation," he said.
"Raw milk has been an issue for many years," Botzow said. "Bills like this have long discussions because people understand them."
Lawrence said the controversy over raw milk is widespread. She said it has a number of both detractors and supports, and their opinions can be found easily online.
"I don't think there's a middle ground, really," she said, adding that disease is the concern for most people. She said tuberculosis and diphtheria are the diseases most feared, but concern over them in raw milk is a moot point. "If tuberculosis was on my farm, I'd be shut down," she said. "All our milk is tested anyway."
Botzow said there were a number of amendments to the bill that he opposed and were voted down. One, he said, would have loosened requirements on laboratories to report directly to the department of agriculture, which he did not support. Another would have prevented raw milk from receiving the Vermont Seal of Quality. Botzow said the seal is given by the department and the Legislature should not be controlling it.
He said he does not know if the bill will be taken up by the Senate, as it passed late in the House's session. 5-07-09
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