Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture Rod Nilsestuen announced today that he is convening a raw milk working group to consider legal and regulatory perspectives pertaining to the sale of unpasteurized milk directly to consumers, and consider what conditions would be required to protect public health.
"In recent months, raw milk sales have been an increasingly contentious issue in Wisconsin and other states. There is a clear demand among some consumers and a clear desire on the part of some producers to open this market.
But we also have a clear duty in the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to protect public health, and the reputation of our vital dairy industry,” Nilsestuen said. "My goal in appointing this group is to recognize the many and varied interests within the milk production, manufacturing, and distribution system.”
Richard Barrows, a widely respected agricultural economist and retired Associate Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, will chair the group. The committee also includes: large, mid-size and small dairy farmers, both organic and conventional; large and small cheese makers and dairy processors; dairy veterinarians; consumers; and food safety and public health professionals. (See attached list.)
Nilsestuen charged the group with conducting an open-minded review and discussion to decide whether raw milk sales should be allowed in Wisconsin, and if so, under what conditions. The Legislature will be advised of the committee's recommendation. The group is expected to meet for the first time in the second half of February.
The group's assignment will be to:
Review the department's statutory mission
Examine current laws regulating dairy farms, milk and other dairy products, retail food sales, dairy product labeling, and the prohibition on selling raw milk to consumers
Examine the current system of enforcing dairy regulations and consider public health needs
Evaluate other states' raw milk regulations
Analyze ways that Wisconsin might allow sale of raw milk
Recommend policy, program and/or regulatory recommendations related to retail sales of raw milk
"We need farms of all sizes and shapes in Wisconsin. I strongly support opportunities for dairy producers to diversify and increase their income, and I strongly support consumer freedom of choice – but they must be informed consumers, and they must be informed producers,” Nilsestuen said.
Wisconsin law has required since 1957 that milk sold to consumers be pasteurized. Milk must go from farms to licensed dairy plants, and must meet strict quality standards even before pasteurization. Regardless of any action Wisconsin were to take, federal law would prohibit interstate sales of unpasteurized milk.
Pasteurization is a heating process that destroys potentially disease-causing organisms in milk, including E. coli 0157:H7, Campylobacter, Listeria monocytogenes, and Salmonella. Effects from these bacteria range from nausea and diarrhea to kidney failure, miscarriage and other serious health impacts.