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New law permits farmers to sell more raw milk

By Lisa Rathke, Associated Press Writer  |  June 29, 2008

Article from The Boston Globe

HYDE PARK, Vt. --For years, people have stopped by Applecheek Farm to buy milk -- straight from the cow.

They consider it more nutritious than pasteurized milk. Now, a new law allows farmer John Clark to sell even more -- up to 50 quarts a day -- and to advertise it, but he hopes one day it will be more.

"Hopefully, it can expand so consumers can have a choice and farmers can have a choice," said Clark. "Farmers can have the choice to sell it and consumers can have the choice to buy it without limitations, and let it be a consumer and farmer relationship choice and not a bureaucratic choice."

Demand for unpasteurized milk has grown in recent years as consumers -- worried about chemicals and hormones used in traditional dairy farming -- seek alternatives. Raw milk advocates say it's more nutritious, easier to digest than pasteurized milk, builds immunity and protects children from asthma.

But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sees it more as a poison.

"Raw milk is inherently dangerous and it should not be consumed by anyone at any time for any purpose," said FDA spokesman Michael Herndon.

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture says the 50-quart limit -- up from 25 -- reduces the risk of food-borne illness from unpasteurized milk that can contain harmful bacteria.

"It's not a product that we promote, but it is legal to sell in Vermont, and for some farmers they find it as an economic opportunity," said Deputy Agriculture Secretary David Lane.

Raw milk fans are willing to pay as much as $10 a gallon -- Clark gets $6 -- compared to the roughly $2.25 a gallon he's paid for his organic milk that later is pasteurized.

And Clark's customers don't mind driving to the farm in northern Vermont, drawing the milk themselves from a cooling tank and leaving their payment in a tin can.

About 12 years ago, a neighbor asked to buy raw milk and then word spread. Now, Clark estimates he has between 50 and 60 customers.

He'd like one day to deliver the milk to consumers along with the chicken, turkey, beef and eggs he raises.

For now, he gives samples away at farmers' markets. State law bans him from selling it anywhere else besides his farm.

Maine is one of eight states that allow the sale of raw milk at retail stores, said Sally Fallon, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates the consumption of raw milk.

In New Hampshire, farmers can sell directly to consumers, but are limited to five gallons a day unless they get licenses. Seven farms are able to sell to grocery stores because they are licensed and routinely inspected, said Leah Keller, supervisor of the state's dairy sanitation program.

But 22 states ban the sale of raw milk for human consumption, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration prohibits cross-border sales.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, raw milk is a source of infections from salmonella, E. coli and other bacteria. Between 1998 and 2005, 1,000 people were sickened and two died from raw milk, the CDC said.

That's why Vermont is taking a cautious approach, Lane said.

"Our main position is really an informed consumer," he said.

The agency has agreed to work with the Health Department, consumers, and farmers from both sides of the issue to determine if any additional policy changes are needed. The group expects to meet in August or early fall.

Some raw milk producers were disappointed with the compromise law. But others are happy that the Legislature is listening.

"We were pleased with it as a good first step," said Amy Shollenberger of the farm advocacy group Rural Vermont.