Willis, others oppose raw milk sales restrictions
By RONALD DEROSA
Article from The Register Citizen
TORRINGTON — A local representative has joined a team of legislators that opposes legislation which would ban the sale of raw milk in retail stores throughout the state.
Rep. Roberta Willis, D-64, Rep. Diana Urban, D-43, and Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-18, announced their opposition Monday to legislation sponsored by the state Department of Agriculture that would prohibit raw milk sales in stores and require extensive milk testing at the licensed producers’ expense.
At a press conference held by the legislators at 11 a.m. Willis announced her opposition to the legislation in front of a large turnout of raw milk farmers and consumers. The bill has garnered an overwhelming amount of interest from farmers across the state and in Litchfield County, said Bob Douglas, spokesman for the House Democrats.
Raw milk is milk that is not pasteurized, a process that involves boiling the product to destroy pathogens.
During the conference, Willis contended that such legislation prohibiting the sale of raw milk, and requiring testing, could push such producers out of business. She argued that it “makes no sense” to punish the privately-owned producers who have “never been the cause of any outbreak of illness.”
“This would cripple an important segment of our economy and adversely affect both producers and consumers,” Willis said. “We should be working with these producers to expand this market.”
Throughout the day Thursday, several farmers and consumers of raw milk presented testimony to the House Environment Committee, of which Willis is a member. The measure is scheduled to be voted on by that committee before eventually heading to the House floor for the next vote, Willis said.
“Listening to the chair(men), it sounded like they were looking to discuss a middle ground,” she said.
Chris Hopkins, a raw milk farmer and owner of Stone Wall Dairy Farm in Cornwall, said that, while he did not attend the hearing, he is not in favor of the legislation as it is written. The costs of extra testing would increase the expense to $11,880 a year and the testing is not an accurate test, Hopkins said. Several raw milk farmers, with this pending legislation, are thinking about forming a raw milk association, he said.
“We, as an association, are in favor of safe milk and trying to work towards having the Department of Agriculture feel comfortable with it,” he said.
The Department of Agriculture has long been concerned about the consumption of raw milk and its health implications, said Wayne Kasacek, assistant director of the Bureau of Regulation and Inspection. The food is, in effect, raw, and just as the department does not encourage eating a raw hamburger, they do not encourage drinking raw milk, Kasacek said.
The push for legislation also stemmed from an incident in July 2008, where 14 people became ill from consuming the product from one farm, he said.
“This is a public health issue,” Kasacek said. “And the Department of Agriculture is charged with protecting public health and safety.”
When asked what effect it would have on local farms, Kasacek said retail raw milk is a “fraction” of milk sold in the state. He cited a statistic that, each year, 70 million gallons of pasteurized milk is consumed in the state and 170,000 gallons of unpasteurized raw milk is consumed.
“We are hoping that this legislation will limit sales of raw milk to on-sale farms only and farmers markets,” Kasacek said. “Where these very motivated, highly informed consumers will be able to continue to buy their product directly from the farm.”
The proponents of raw milk, however, want unrestricted sales of their product, he said.
“Raw milk is a dangerous product,” he said. “From our perspective, scientifically you cannot ignore the risks or raw milk.”
The American Medical Association, the American Pediatric Association and the National Association of Public Health Veterinarians all oppose it, he said.
In citing the issue of 14 individuals becoming ill from the raw milk, Willis said the ban of the product was “overkill.”
“There’s all kinds of food issues,” she said. “Look at what’s going on with peanut butter.”
Other past situations have also arose, Willis said, such as with unpasteurized cider and someone becoming sick from it.
Ronald DeRosa can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].