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ISDA to update raw milk rules

Permitting process for ‘cow-share’ programs to be examined as well

Article from Capital Press

By Carol Ryan Dumas

The Idaho State Department of Agriculture has started the process to update its rules governing the sale of raw milk, setting the first meeting for Aug. 10 in Boise.

The agency proposes to update milk quality and sanitary requirements for raw milk for human consumption and provide clarity to existing rules for raw milk produced under a "cow-share" program.

"Some (people) are concerned some of the milk-quality standards are too lenient," said Marv Patten, ISDA dairy bureau chief.

In the discussion is raising the standard for coliform from 50 milligrams per liter to 10 milligrams per liter.

"That may be a sticking point," Patten said. "Existing facilities would probably like it to stay the same."

Patton said there are only two licensed facilities in the state, one in Emmett and one in Victor, which started only about a month ago.

"Until this year, we haven't had anyone (licensed) in 10 years," he said. But "we can tell there's big demand. We've had lots of calls from active producers looking to start a business."

That's probably due to low milk prices and producers seeking a more profitable market for their milk, he said.

A couple of things usually deter producers - the expense of a grade A facility and legal issues.

"What scares most of them is the liability if someone gets sick," Patten said.

That doesn't mean people aren't drinking raw milk in Idaho. It's being consumed on the farm and through "backyard sales," better known as the "cow-share" program, he said.

To avoid regular testing, a requirement of raw milk being sold, people will pay the farmer a certain amount and claim ownership in the cow. That way the farmer is not selling the milk.

"There's a significant amount (of that) going on," Patten said.

In addition to establishing sanitary and milk quality criteria, the updated rules will address permitting protocols for "cow-share" programs.

Patten said he expects some resistance in the rulemaking process.

"We'll probably hear from health officials that raw milk should be banned," he said.

The Centers for Disease Control warn against consuming raw milk and raw milk products due to possible contamination from campylobacter, salmonella, E. coli and listeria.

But proponents claim raw milk is healthier than pasteurized milk and they say they should have the right to choose.

"It's going to be all over the board," Patten said. "It could be controversial."

The proposed rule also would eliminate about 25 pages of outdated rules last amended in 1994.

Patten said he's looking for rules that are "nice, concise, easy-to-understand, more reasonable and provide clarity so those across-the-fence backyard sales will be more adequately addressed."

The department hopes to have the finished rules published before Nov. 13, in time to be reviewed by the Legislature in 2010.

Staff writer Carol Ryan Dumas is based in Twin Falls. E-mail: [email protected].

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