Against a backdrop of increasing food safety regulation for the dairy industry, a handful of dairy producers in Wisconsin, with a following of true believers, have convinced a Wisconsin state senator to draft a bill to completely deregulate the sale of beverage raw milk.
It’s galling that a self-interested group of farmers wish to sell unpasteurized milk in pickle jars to unsuspecting city folk, but worse yet is this bill’s language taking these farms off the grid.
Senate Bill 236, introduced by Senator Glenn Grothman, removes the state dairy producer license from farms that wish to solely market raw milk and milk products to consumers. These farms would not be licensed or inspected by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture.
Senator Grothman introduced a similar bill two years ago – it did not advance – but in 2013 added requirements that the milk from these farms meet Grade A standards for bacteria, somatic cell, temperature and drug residues. The bill does not state how an unlicensed, uninspected farm will prove these quality standards are met, or who will verify the standards or what the penalty will be for non-compliance.
This is an extreme version of a raw milk sales bill, and proponents like to point out that unpasteurized milk can be bottled and sold in other states. Yet these states don’t remove licensing or inspection of dairy farms, and oft-cited California has standards for raw milk far more stringent than this bill feigns to propose.
California allows no more than 15,000 bacteria/ml in their raw milk for bottling while this bill would allow for 100,000 bacteria – six times worse. The Grothman bill has no testing for coliform organisms – an indicator of farm hygiene – while California tests to assure that there are 10 coliforms or less. And while the Grothman bill has exactly one sanitary requirement – a clean jar – California requires that a raw milk bottler meet the full construction and safety and hygiene standards of a licensed milk products processing plant.
Wisconsin Senator Dale Schultz offered two public hearings on the bill in September. The dairy industry, and Wisconsin family physicians and veterinarians and nurses and state public health officials and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and Wisconsin grocers and insurance firms banded together as the Safe Milk Coalition to balance testimony at these hearings.
The Coalition matched, in number of testifiers and in firm conviction, the proponents of the bill. National Milk Producer Federation and International Dairy Foods Association weighed in against the bill, as did the US Food and Drug Administration.
And it’s the rise in FDA regulation and oversight that makes this bill wholly out of step with the times. Not only is dairy facing the towering challenges of the Food Safety Modernization Act, but dairy processors are seeing targeted testing of plant environments for pathogens. FDA has completed two rounds of environmental testing in the cheese industry and a third round is in progress.
Prior to the first public hearing on the Grothman raw milk bill, cheese maker and WCMA president Ron Buholzer told Wisconsin media that his company, Klondike Cheese, spent more than $1 million in the past year on brick and mortar projects, equipment and testing directly related to product safety.
Klondike’s investments included new changing areas for employees and restricted access to sensitive areas in the factory; new construction to segregate storage for chemical cleaning agents and tools; new door-lock systems, surveillance cameras and software to track products through the food chain from farmer to consumer.
Each month, Klondike Cheese spends more than $6,000 on testing product batches for pathogens, Buholzer told the media, and spends more to test equipment surfaces and the plant environment for any minute contamination. “If we discover anything after swabbing our plant surfaces, we immediately clean and sanitize again,” he said.
A life-long cheese maker, Ron Buholzer concluded his remarks by calling the Grothman bill a 100-year step backwards for food safety in America’s Dairyland. “This bill purposely endangers families that will buy raw milk and it definitely endangers a reputation for quality that Wisconsin has earned over many decades,” Buholzer said.
Following his decision to hold public hearings on the bill, Senator Dale Schultz has not made a decision yet to hold a committee vote. For the sake of safe food in Wisconsin, this bill should not advance.. JU
John Umhoefer has served as executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association since 1992. You can phone John at (608) 828-4550; Fax him at (608) 828-4551; or e-mail John Umhoefer at
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