Legalizing Raw Milk Takes Center Stage at Wisconsin’s Capital

September 12th, 2013
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Mark Kastel

[Listen to Cornucopia’s Mark Kastel go toe-to-toe debating industry lobbyist Shawn Pfaff on WI public radio.]

Wisconsin is currently considering Senate Bill 236 and Assembly Bill 287, bills that would permit the sale of raw milk directly from Wisconsin farmers to consumers.  Raw milk has been a staple of Wisconsin and American diets for many generations and it has been consumed for many years without negative health effects.

The bill is sponsored by Senators Grothman, Schultz, Leibham, Vukmir and Tiffany; and cosponsored by Representatives Murphy, Danou, Clark, Doyle, Knodl, Craig, Pridemore, Pope and Berceau.

Mark Kastel, The Cornucopia Institute’s Codirector and Senior Farm Policy Analyst, offered the following points in invited testimony:

    1. The Cornucopia Institute is “neutral” on the health attributes of consuming raw milk and dairy products.  We represent dairy producers whose milk is ultimately pasteurized (HTST or UHT) and we have a number of members, nationwide, who market raw milk (raw milk is available to consumers, at retail or directly from farmers, in about 30 states).
    2. Prohibition didn’t work.  Just like in the 1920s, we are wasting a tremendous amount of tax dollars in the dragnet attempting to ensnare family-scale farmers, who are acting as astute entrepreneurs, in creating a product to meet consumer demand .  How many tens of thousands of dollars do you think the DATCP spent on the investigation and failed prosecution of just one farmer, Vernon Hershberger in Baraboo?
    3. Although I won’t speak to the relative safety of raw milk, I will say that a quickly emerging body of scientific literature points to the exquisite interrelationship of how microbes in our body contribute to our overall health and well-being.  Whether we are talking about high temperature pasteurization, irradiation or broad-spectrum antibiotics, the “sterilization” of our gut flora, we are now learning, has led to a host of health problems including rampant asthma, allergies and autoimmune problems in our young and old alike.
    4. Over the recent decades, consumption of fluid milk in this country has dropped precipitously.  Medical experts have suggested people consume skim milk.  Compared to whole milk, skim is hardly a treat.  And whole raw milk has a level of flavor and sweetness unparalleled.  I can understand why so many folks have become addicted.
    5. This is a crass example of raw corporate lobby power versus individual rights.  The dairy industry versus family farmers.  While the answer to economic development in Wisconsin, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, has been to pump more money into the development of dairyCAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations or “factory farms”) with deleterious impacts to the environment, quality of life for rural residents and ultimately economic viability for family-scale farmers, it is now fighting one of the brightest opportunities for dairy producers who want to operate on a family scale.  This is wrong.
    6. And I would especially expect that the appeal of raw milk advocates would resonate with Republican members of this legislature who have always advocated for both personal freedom of choice and preventing economic innovation from stifling overregulation.  Raw milk should be clearly labeled and consumers should have the right to make informed decisions.  If industry interests think their milk is safer, they should have the right to articulate their viewpoint in the marketplace.
    7. This is selective enforcement.  There are all kinds of foods and consumer items that are knowingly dangerous yet continued to be marketed in Wisconsin and the US.  Let’s just take one product category, diet sodas, which have always presented competition to Wisconsin dairy industry.  According to research presented by the American Stroke Association, people who consume one or more diet sodas per day have a 61% increase in “vascular events” and strokes.  Likewise, peer-reviewed research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a 38% increase in premature birth by mothers consuming diet sodas.  But, due to raw political power by corporate agribusiness, some of these neurotoxic “non-caloric sweeteners” remain on the market in Wisconsin.  So let’s go after raw milk instead!
    8. And finally, I would like to speak to the specious arguments presented by the dairy lobby that somehow, if anyone gets sick after consuming raw milk, it will destroy Wisconsin’s dairy industry.  Consumers aren’t that stupid.  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 in the grocery store and milk purchased directly from a farmer.  That would be a key part of any story.  There is only an upside for Wisconsin dairy farmers in allowing the sale of raw milk.  The full-court press by the dairy lobby is a protectionist attempt to circumvent competition that they cannot control.
    9. According to a Center for Disease Control (CDC) report from 2011, there are about 48 million people affected by foodborne illnesses each year.  Estimates are that .2 percent – or about 50 of these 48 million – may having been caused by raw milk consumption.
    10. Thirty states currently allow for the sale of raw milk, including our neighbors in Minnesota and Illinois.  Wisconsin currently has no exceptions for the sale of raw milk directly from farms to consumers. California, the nation’s leading dairy producer, allows for the sale of raw milk and raw cheese and has experienced no adverse effects to their dairy industry as a whole and in fact has expanded their industry to a new clientele.
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