Vermont Legislature Considers Increasing Sales of Raw Milk
Article from Lancaster Farming
MONTPELIER, Vt. — Farmers have it and consumers want it. Now, Vermont legislators are considering a bill, H.125, that would allow farmers to sell more unpasteurized fluid milk sold to their neighbors and other known customers.
“H.125 offers farmers a way to get a fair price for their products and it allows Vermonters to have a choice about where their food comes from,” says Amy Schollenberger, director of Rural Vermont, a farm advocacy non-profit organization based in Montpelier.
Interest in raw milk comes largely from the localvore sector of the community. And it comes at a critical time in the economic health of dairy farmers.
Raw milk sells for an average of $5 to $7 per gallon in Vermont. In a recent interview, Schollenberger said that some conventional dairy farms are staying afloat based on their raw milk sales. Currently, the commodity price for conventionally produced milk is approximately $18 per hundredweight.
Organic milk brings approximately $26, while direct sales of raw milk to consumers for $5 per gallon amounts to about $58 per hundredweight, according to the Rural Vermont website.
H.125, if approved, would allow small dairy farms to continue selling up to 50 quarts per day without certification. Farms with daily sales of fluid raw milk up to 40 gallons would need to be certified. The bill stipulates the creation of a State Certification Committee and a number of Local Certification Committees made up of producers, consumers, and health care professionals. They would be charged with the task of developing standards, conducting inspections, carrying out enforcement, and providing technical support.
The bill would require a farmer to take samples daily, freeze and retain the samples for two weeks, as well as weekly testing. Raw milk could not be sold from animals receiving antibiotic treatment.
David Lane, deputy secretary of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, expresses concern at the proposed increase of sales. He views 50 quarts per day “a compromise that, from an epidemiological standpoint, is a level of acceptable risk.”
Proponents of the bill, including David Rogers, policy advisor with the Northeast Organic Farmers Association of Vermont, take a different view.
“NOFA supports H. 125 because it would lift the limits on direct sales, boost farmers’ income, and because it provides for the development and enforcement of strong standards-strong than current standards and requirements-that would ensure the continued high quality and safety of unpasteurized milk sold in Vermont,” Rogers said in recent legislative testimony.
“We estimate that approximately 300 Vermont households purchase unpasteurized milk each day and that over the last 20 years, something on the order of 17 million servings of unpasteurized milk have been sold and consumed in Vermont,” Rogers reported. “The result has been a very impressive record of quality and safety.”
Prior to joining NOFA-VT, Rogers worked for 28 years at the University of Vermont as research technologist in the field of veterinary and livestock disease microbiology. He places significant value on the proposed bill’s requirement that sales must be made directly to the consumer by the farmer.
"This is of central importance in that it enables each customer to establish a first-hand relationship with the farm and the farmer, and it fosters customers’ understanding of the proper handling and use of fluid milk to protect its quality,” he said.
Consumer information, choice, and responsibility are integral to the proposed bill. Consumers have the right to tour the farm and to access the results of milk testing. Farmers are required to have a list of all of their raw milk customers, including contact information, in case of need. The date of the milking must be on the raw milk label, as well as the name, address, zip code, and telephone number of the farmer. Health claims about the benefits of unpasteurized milk are prohibited.
Sales of unpasteurized milk in retail settings and restaurants, or in value-added products such as soft cheese and ice cream are not covered by the bill.
“Vermont farmers’ 20 year record of producing and sell high quality unpasteurized milk speaks very loudly for itself,” says Rogers. “We believe that they have earned the opportunity to expand sales of unpasteurized milk in this state and that the standards and requirements proposed in this bill provide a good framework for moving forward.”
The bill has 66 co-sponsors in the House and is expected to win that chamber’s approval with ease. It also has support in the Senate. However, time is a considerable factor in its fate; approximately one week remains in this year’s scheduled legislative session.