Opponents and proponents of raw milk testified at the Capitol on Wednesday. Senator Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) called the hearing on legislation (SB 236/AB 287) from state Senator Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) and Representative Chris Danou (D-Trempeleau). The measure would allow on-farm sales of unpasteurized milk, direct to consumers.
“The farmers themselves drink raw milk, they give it to their employees and to people who visit the farm,” said Grothman. “Despite the fact that millions of people drink raw milk, Wisconsin’s dairy industry continues to thrive.”
Farmer Vince Hundt said allowing sales of unpasteurized milk would being Wisconsin in line with at least 30 other states and much of the rest of the world. “We are free to buy gin, cigarettes and shotguns, but not unprocessed milk,” he said.
Opponents claim raw milk presents a health hazard, especially to children, and that the state’s dairy industry could be damaged if there’s an outbreak of illness.
Shawn Pfaff is a lobbyist for the Dairy Business Association. “There’s just as much emotion and passion and scientific fact on the side to oppose this legislation,” Pfaff said. “It’s nothing personal against Senator Grothman and Representative Danou and their bill.”
A farmer who was acquitted of selling raw milk without a license said he is “mostly opposed” to the bill.
Vernon Hershberger said the proposal wouldn’t treat all farmers equally. “According to what the jury said in Baraboo, I’m allowed to do what I’m doing without license, the other farmers who have a Grade A dairy license it appears would get into trouble if they tried to sell raw milk on the side directly from farm to consumer.”
The dairy industry and numerous groups representing health care professionals oppose the bill because raw milk represents too big a risk, according to Pfaff. “Whether it be the cheesemakers, whether it be the Medical Society or others, we do not see room to compromise, because the product is unsafe,” he said.
But consumers are smart enough to know the difference between potential illness caused by raw milk and regular dairy products, said Mark Kastel with the Cornucopia Institute.
“Can you imagine any media outlet being irresponsible enough to have the headline ‘milk makes people sick’? That would never happen. Reporters and editors would differentiate between the milk that’s commonly available from the grocery store, and milk that’s available directly from the farmer,” said Kastel.
The legislation from Grothman and Chris is not the first effort of it’s kind in Wisconsin. A raw milk bill passed the legislature in 2010, only to be vetoed by Governor Jim Doyle.