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Producers welcome changes to raw milk regulations

By Steve Zind

Article from VPR News

VPR Photo/Steve Zind

(Host) Farmers who sell raw milk in Vermont say new regulations that went into effect this month will force them to make some changes and may add to the cost of their product. 

But overall, they welcome the new law, which will allow them to market and sell more milk.

VPR's Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) Raw milk makes up just a tiny part of the sales of Vermont dairy products.  But advocates say with the growth of small scale agriculture it's important to make it easier for farmers to market and sell products like raw milk directly to consumers.

(Osha) "So this is our milk room, or milk house, whatever you want to call it."

(Zind) Stewart Osha and his wife Margaret are a case in point.  They milk three cows on their Turkey Hill Farm in Randolph Center where they also produce everything from maple syrup to meat.  

The Oshas milking parlor looks pristine.  Nearby there's a tidy little shop with a few gallons of raw milk in the refrigerator. 

(Osha) "Wow!  Somebody's been here today! This was full this morning."

(Zind) The new law establishes two tiers of raw milk producers.  There are standards for farms selling less than 50 quarts a day and additional regulations for large producers selling up to a maximum of 40 gallons a day.  

The regulations are designed to assure the safety of the product because of concerns over bacteria that could pose a health risk in unpasteurized milk

The Oshas are a small producer. Still, they'll have to make some changes.  In the past they've sold their milk in unlabeled bottles.  Now they'll have to use labels with the date the milk was produced, and a health warning.   

They'll also have to change the way they cool their milk.  That could mean buying a $3,500 refrigeration unit.  The requirements will drive the price of their milk from $5 to $6 a gallon. 

(Osha) "What I don't like about it is it's going to make it more expensive to get it to the point where you can sell it.  But I think the real positive thing is its protecting the consumer. What we don't want is raw milk to get a bad name because of someone who doesn't do a good job in producing it."

(Zind) No one knows how many farms are selling raw milk.  Until last year, it wasn't legal for farms to advertise it. 

Shelby Girard is with the advocacy group Rural Vermont, which spearheaded the push for the new law.  She says the regulations and last year's removal of a ban on advertising helps legitimize raw milk sales and reassure consumers. 

Girard also says it's also is an important step toward recognizing that small producers can't afford to meet regulations designed for large scale production.

(Girard) "I think that the new raw milk law does lay the groundwork for a tiered system of food regulation that recognizes that different rules should apply to different levels of production."    

(Zind)  Advocates say now that the raw milk rules are on the books they'll work for passage of new regulations to create more opportunities for small meat producers to slaughter their animals on the farm for sale to consumers.

For VPR News, I'm Steve Zind.  

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