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News for April 19, 2010

Organic beef from a feedlot? USDA considers relaxing rules

So if you buy pricey organic beef, it comes from cattle that spent their lives on pasture, rather than crowding into a feedlot, right? Not necessarily.

Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Organic Program recently laid out strict rules on feed and pasturing time for organic milk cows, officials are currently considering a proposal to allow some feedlot confinement for organic beef cattle. For example, they could be put in a feedlot for the last four months of their lives and fed grain.

Some ranchers acknowledge that grain feed and confinement operations aren't ideal for the animals' health and require more antibiotic use. But they say the methods make the animals gain weight fast and produce the kind of inexpensive and well-marbled meat most American consumers demand. 

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Selling of raw milk one step closer to being legal

The selling of raw milk in Wisconsin is one step closer to being legal. The state Senate approved the measure 25-to-8 yesterday. It now goes to the Assembly, where a vote is expected next week.

Supporters say raw milk offers numerous health benefits, including an improved immune system – and consumers should have the freedom to drink it if they choose.

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Wisconsinites could soon legally drink raw milk

The Wisconsin Senate passed the bill that would allow authorized sales of raw, unpasteurized milk to some consumers Thursday, with a 25-8 vote.

The legislation, Senate Bill 434, would allow licensed producers to sell raw milk through the end of next year if they obtain a license from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, adhere to regular testing, label each bottle as 'unpasteurized,' and include both the producer's name and license number on the label, according to Wisconsin Ag Connection.

Senate Committee on Agriculture and Higher Education removed the clause that would prevent lawsuits against farmers who sold tainted milk when they passed the bill last month.

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Senate moves raw milk legislation along

MADISON - The Wisconsin Senate has approved a measure allowing consumers to temporarily buy unpasteurized milk directly from farmers.

Health concerns prompted a number of amendments designed to increase the safety of what's called raw milk. The bill sponsored by Senator Pat Kreitlow of Chippewa Falls requires monthly testing for dangerous bacteria in milk and allows sales and advertising only at dairy farms that have registered to sell unpasteurized milk.

Kreitlow said the bill is not aimed at the general marketplace. He said if a consumer wants to buy a product directly from the farmer and is fully informed about what he is buying, the farmer can be allowed to sell to that one consumer "without government coming down on him like ton of bricks."

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Food Safety Bill likely to pass soon, with some help for smaller growers

Congress may be gridlocked and mired in partisanship, but not when it comes to food safety. Members of both parties don't want more Americans falling victim to contaminated bagged spinach.

Senator Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who chairs the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee said this week that he expects a vote on S. 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act, to come up soon, probably after a vote on financial regulatory reform.

And, he said, his committee is working to reduce the regulatory burden on small farms that sell directly to consumers, part of the growing local foods movement.

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Food Safety: Back on Senate’s Back Burner

Food-safety legislation is once again off the Senate menu.

After key lawmakers predicted the Food Safety and Modernization Act would reach the Senate floor as soon as next week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office said Friday that action on the bill has been postponed.

The bill, which would step up Food and Drug Administration inspections and give the agency greater authority — and help pay for it with new fees on food producers — will now wait in line as the Senate votes on five nominations and the contentious financial regulatory overhaul bill. “We had to adjust to get to Wall Street reform as quickly as possible,” said Reid spokesman Jim Manley.

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Legislature rushes to finish business before session ends

Madison — Lawmakers are sprinting into a decisive week that will determine whether bills are passed that would curb global warming, allow the sale of raw milk and give the state schools superintendent the power to intervene in troubled schools.

They'll also decide whether to kick a representative out of the Assembly for the first time in nearly a century.

The Legislature's regular session ends Thursday, essentially meaning lawmakers must get any bills they want signed into law to Gov. Jim Doyle's desk by this week.

"It's like a funnel right now. There are so many things to get done but there's only so much time left and we want to make sure we get the Democrats' priorities - foremost job creation - accomplished," said Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison), co-chairman of the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee.

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Touchet dairy feeds cows only grass

TOUCHET -- Jill and Richard Smith's jersey cows plodded from their green pasture into a holding area, calmly awaiting their daily milking at Pure Eire Dairy.

Herdsman and milker Ward Hobbs walked between the 33 cows, which never jerked as he patted some on the backside or stroked the muzzle of another as he made his way to two milking chutes.

A heifer calf briefly followed Hobbs as he stooped to wash the teats of the two cows in the chutes and slid on the tubes of a milking machine. One cow chewed its cud as it surrendered several gallons of rich milk, while the black jersey in the other chute never flinched when Hobbs reached over to scratch its head.

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She'd call herself dirt rich

Denise Ritchie scratches holes into a pile of cow manure to make room for the herbs that will create her unusual brand of fertilizer.

Once dried and infused with chamomile, stinging nettle and yarrow, the mixture will be bagged and sold as Bu's Blend Biodynamic Compost. Each package features an illustration of a Holstein surfing near Malibu Pier. That's Bu, the formerly scrawny dairy cow Ritchie and her husband rescued as she was about to "go to beef."

"You're healing your soil with this stuff," says Sarah Spitz, a KCRW producer and a graduate of the Los Angeles County master gardener program.

It's also healing Ritchie's soul.

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Raw milk supporters stand strong amid tough scrutiny of product

Unpasteurized milk is a curious thing. It costs up to $13 a gallon. It says right on the carton: "Warning: This product ... may contain harmful bacteria."

Yet people are passionate about it. Almost evangelistic. So in early December, when Washington state announced that raw milk from Dungeness Valley Creamery in Sequim was linked with three E. coli cases, the reaction was, well ... emotional.

"Lies," more than one raw-milk drinker posted on the Dungeness dairy's Web site, in response to the state's announcement.

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Straight From the Cow’s Teat

Where to go raw-milk sipping within three hours of the city.

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Some Like It Raw

The first time you see raw milk, you are struck by its creaminess: The milk is so laden with fat that the plastic jug swells. It looks straight out of another century—a fantasy world in which all dairy was unprocessed and nobody worried about E. coli superbugs. Unpasteurized, or raw, milk is a sort of holy grail for ardent locavores and dairy-industry skeptics, who label it “real milk” (implying that the vast majority of milk we drink is, in fact, fake). But it’s also gaining in popularity among those who don’t qualify as “a combination of tea baggers and granolas,” as food-safety lawyer Bill Marler puts it. The ranks of the raw-curious are growing, as are the number of farms with permits to sell it to them: 29 in New York (up from nineteen in 2007), and 100 in Pennsylvania (up from 35 in 2005).

Though there is little scientific evidence that raw milk is more nutritious, proponents credit it with treating a whole range of health problems, from eczema to irritable-bowel syndrome. Their theory is that pasteurization not only destroys dangerous pathogens like E. coli, salmonella, and campylobacter; it also zaps some good things: for instance, the enzyme lactobacillus, which helps with digestion.

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