Just two years after former Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle struck down efforts to bring raw milk to one of the nation’s top dairy-producing states, lawmakers are it again. The issue has quickly sparked passionate debate from both sides and divided the dairy state.
According to The La Crosse Tribune, a hearing of the Senate’s Committee on Financial Institutions and Rural Issues drew support – and criticism – as both sides fought to be heard.
Supporters of the bill, including Democratic Rep. Chris Danou, point that the bill offers guidelines to what is already happening.
“What is a reasonable framework for selling something people want to purchase?” he said. “Unregulated black markets aren’t a good idea.”
Others point that eight of the nation’s top 10 dairy states also allow raw milk sales.
Not everyone agrees. Some, like Jim Mlsna, a retired veterinarian and dairy farmer from Hillsboro, Wis., points that even one outbreak could tarnish the industry’s reputation.
“That gallon of raw milk that gets somebody sick is going to look no different than a gallon of milk from my farm,” he said.
Mlsna is backed by dozens of industry groups and health professionals. Both the National Milk Producers Federation and the International Dairy Foods Association have publically opposed legalizing raw milk sales, saying that “consumption of raw milk is a demonstrated public health risk. The link between raw milk and foodborne illness has been well‐documented in the scientific literature, with evidence spanning nearly 100 years.”
"Nearly two‐thirds of all outbreaks associated with raw‐milk or raw‐milk products involve children," a joint letter from the two groups said. "It is the responsibility of Wisconsin’s leaders to make decisions to protect the health of the public, most especially those who are minors and are unable to make fully informed decisions that could have profound consequences for the rest of their lives."
The Milwaukee (Wis.) Journal Sentinel reports that Michael Gutzeit, chief medical officer at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, shares this concern.
"My key message is that this bill unintentionally poses a potential threat to the health of children," Gutzeit said.
Earlier this year, as Nevada mulled a similar bill that would bring raw milk to the state, a former raw milk advocate and mother of a toddler seriously sickened by contaminated raw milk, spoke out against the bill. Nevada’s bill was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Brian Sandoval.
Could current Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker follow Gov. Sandoval’s and former Gov. Doyle’s precedent?
According to WTAQ News, anything could happen. Gov. Walker has said he will listen to the dairy industry and public health professionals, and if consumer safety can be guaranteed, he would approve the measure. Read more.
The last time the state considered legalizing raw milk sales, former Secretary of Agriculture Rod Nilsestuen, appointed a panel of experts to consider whether there are legal, regulatory means that might allow dairy farmers to sell unpasteurized fluid raw milk directly to consumers and, if so, what conditions would be necessary to protect public health.
However, after a year of deliberation, the 22-member panel reported that it could not endorse raw milk sales. The group agreed that if raw milk sales were made legal in Wisconsin, the state would need to impose restrictive requirements that go beyond any now found in America. Click here for more.