Full list: Agriculture in the News

VPR: Bill to Expand Raw Milk Sales Faces Opposition in Montpelier

Mar 19, 2015
Full Article & Audio

Lawmakers are considering a bill designed to expand the raw milk market in Vermont. But health experts and dairy industry stalwarts say the proposal could inflict serious damage on the state’s agriculture sector.

Among those voicing concerns is Mateo Kehler. And Kehler knows his audience.

Kehler, co-owner of Jasper Hill Farm, was about to testify before the House Committee on Agriculture Thursday morning. But first, he presented legislators a wood board loaded with thick wedges of artisanal cheese from his renowned cellars in Greensboro.

“Madame chair and honorable members of the committee, I really appreciate the opportunity to come share,” Kehler said as the legislators tucked in to the spread.

Kehler was in the Statehouse to testify in opposition to a bill that aims to expand the raw milk market, and also allow small raw milk farmers to sell cheeses and other value-added items made from their product.

It’s the latter provision that has Kehler and other artisan cheese makers concerned.

“And I just have to ask, given the scale and the scope and the trajectory of the Vermont cheese industry, whether it makes sense to undermine that for the sake of seven or eight tier two producers. From my perspective, it doesn’t make sense,” Kehler said.

Kehler is less concerned about the parts of the bill that would producers to sell raw milk at farmers markets and retail stores – places they’re prohibited from selling now. But that provision faces stiff opposition from other constituencies, including public health experts who view the consumption of unpasteurized milk as a disaster waiting to happen.

“Allowing the sale of raw milk to consumers really means allowing these consumers to bypass one of the most effective health measures ever implemented. In fact it’s often called one of the triumphs of the 20th century,” said Erica Berl public health epidemiologist at the Vermont Department of Health.

Raw milk producers however say the financial viability of their raw milk operations hinges on access to the kinds of high-traffic markets available at farmers markets and retail outlets.

They say the state has yet to see a confirmed raw-milk outbreak from a licensed producer since selling raw milk became legal five years ago. Goat farmer Frank Huard told lawmakers that stringent testing requirements imposed by the state mean it’ll stay that way.

Huard, who milks 10 goats on his family farm in Craftsbury, says testing costs money.

“And I can’t incur that cost of doing business if I can’t sell product,” Huard said.

The bill also would allow very small raw milk operations to sell raw milk to sell to their neighbors without any testing requirements at all.

Stephanie Eiring, owner of Sunrise Farm in Enosburg Falls, says it’s the kind of provision that could help her raise the revenue needed to grow into the farm of her dreams.

“How am I going to get there? How am I going to pay for these cows, the semen, the shavings, the hay?”  Eiring said. “You guys could make it easier for us. You definitely could provide this economic opportunity.”

The legislation would also allow raw milk producers to sell in community supported agriculture operations.

Food Safety News: Maine Legislature May Go Along With Governor on Raw Milk

A state Senate committee working session on Thursday should signal whether the Maine Legislature will go along with Republican Gov. Paul R. LePage’s desire to limit raw milk producers who are exempted from state licensing and inspection requirements to “on farm only” sales.

LePage carved out his raw milk stance last session when he vetoed Legislative Document (LD) 1282, which would have exempted from licensing and inspection requirements any producer who sells less than 20 gallons of raw milk per day, whether the product is sold on the farm or at farmers markets. After the veto, LePage suggested the legislature return an “on farm only” version of the bill to his desk next time.

The next time is here for the Maine Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, which has two new raw milk bills up for consideration.

LD 229 is pretty much a repeat of the bill LePage vetoed last session. Any raw milk dairy, which produces less than 20 gallons of raw milk per day, would be exempted from both state licensing and inspection. LD 229 would again permit both “on farm only” and farmer’s market sales.

The second bill, LD 312, would exempt raw milk producers from licensing and inspection only if they are limited to “on farm sales” and agree not to advertise. It also requires raw milk producers participating under the bill’s constraints to take a dairy sanitation course and use labels that clearly state that the milk is not pasteurized.

In his veto message last session, LePage stated, “Such face-to-face on Farm transactions should be promoted. The ‘on Farm only’ approach would reduce risk to overall public health because consumers would know the farmer who produced the milk, see and inspect the farm and hold the producer accountable for foodborne illnesses that are associated with unpasteurized milk.”

LePage administration officials went public in favor of LD 312 last week at a Senate hearing on both bills.

Ronald Dyer, director of quality assurance and regulations at the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said the administration opposes LD 229, the broader bill. He also made it clear that the state would retain the right to investigate any farm involved in an outbreak concerning an “unlicensed dairy product.”

The number of small dairy farms in Maine not selling milk for further processing has grown to 160 today, up from 13 just 20 years ago.

While LePage is clearly offering raw milk advocates a path to easing regulations, not all want to take it.

“There is no need for the superfluous intervention of a dairy inspector to assure that milk is the best and healthiest a farmer can provide,” said Betsy Garrold, who testified before the Senate committee last week on behalf of the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund.

She said her group supports LD 229 and was “neither for or against” LD 312.

Star Tribune: Cook County officials back embattled dairy farmer blocking inspectors

Maya Rao
March 18, 2015
Full Article

Cook County commissioners sided with the embattled Lake View Natural Dairy on Tuesday, approving a letter of support for the Grand Marais farmer who is refusing to allow state agricultural inspectors on the property.

The commissioners backed the Berglund family’s right to sell products from the farm, citing lines from the Minnesota constitution that protect the farm “from governmental intrusions, when [it] is privately associating with private men and women to sell and peddle the products of their farm at their farm location.”

The move comes a week after Judge Michael Cuzzo denied a motion from the Department of Agriculture to hold David Berglund in contempt for not allowing inspectors on his farm. The state initially sought to have him fined $500 a day. Cuzzo stayed the department’s order for inspection until he could address the constitutional issues in the case, a ruling that will come in the next 90 days.

Lake View sells milk from its cows without processing it in sanitized containers, according to court records. Some of the milk is turned into cream and butter for customers. The Agriculture Department initially tried to visit the farm two years ago to discuss how Lake View could voluntarily comply with rules governing the manufacturing and sale of unpasteurized dairy products.

Regulators disagreed with Berglund’s assertion that he was constitutionally exempt — by the “No license required to peddle” clause — from a requirement that he have a license to sell goods from the farm. They argued that the farm was still subject to inspections and food-safety requirements and that it needed a dairy-producer permit.

“He’s a local farmer, the family’s been here for generations, and so we support economic development and people that are trying to make a living here,” said Heidi Doo-Kirk, who chairs the Cook County Board of Commissioners.

Like many others in town, Doo-Kirk and her family have gone to the farm to buy milk. Lake View even has an honor system, she said: customers can grab milk from a cooler, write their purchase on a sign-in sheet and leave money in a box.

EcoWatch: $620 Million Reasons to Legalize Hemp

Lorraine Chow
March 13, 2015 9:53 am
Full Article

Hemp truly is a cash crop. The total retail value of hemp products sold in the U.S. last year has been tallied, and the multipurpose plant brought in a stunning $620 million, according to estimates from the Hemp Industries Association (HIA), a non-profit trade association representing hemp companies, researchers and supporters.

The figure is based on sales of clothing, auto parts, building materials and various other products. Total retail sales of hemp foods and body care alone totaled approximately $200 million, according to the HIA.

Mary Jane’s non-intoxicating cousin had been stymied by a federal drug policy until last February when President Obama signed the Farm Bill which contained an amendment to legalize hemp production for research purposes. The bill also allowed states that already legalized the crop to cultivate hemp within the parameters of state agriculture departments and research institutions.

Currently, 21 states may grow hemp thanks to the Farm Bill, including California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia. More states are moving to legalize industrial hemp farming as well.

“Eleven new states have passed legislation and new businesses are rapidly entering the market now that American farmers in a handful of states are finally beginning to grow the crop legally,” said Eric Steenstra, executive director of the HIA. “Challenges remain in the market and there is a need for Congress to pass legislation to allow farmers to grow hemp commercially in order for the market to continue its rapid growth.”

There’s also been increasing grassroots pressure on the Feds to allow hemp to be grown domestically on a commercial scale. The Industrial Hemp Farming Act was introduced in both the House and Senate earlier this year. If passed, it would remove all federal restrictions on the cultivation of industrial hemp, and remove its classification as a Schedule 1 controlled substance.

The bill was introduced by Oregon Democrats Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Kentucky Republicans Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul. Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner decided last week to co-sponsor the bill, and said in a media release: “Industrial hemp is a safe substance with many practical commercial applications. Removing it from the Controlled Substances Act is a common sense move which would create jobs and get the government out of the way of farmers and our agricultural industry.”

The $620 million figure from was gleaned from natural and conventional retailers, excluding Whole Foods Market, Costco and certain other key establishments, who do not provide sales data, which means the true sales figure could be much higher by at least two and a half, the HIA said.

Hemp retail sales in the U.S. just keep growing. According to data collected by market research firm SPINS, combined U.S. hemp food and body care sales grew in the sampled stores by 21.2 percent or $14,020,239, over the previous year to a total of just more than $80,042,540. Sales in conventional retailers grew by 26.8 percent in 2014, while sales in natural retailers grew by 16.3 percent.

Tenth Amendment Center: Unanimous Vote Moves Industrial Hemp Bill Forward in New Hampshire

By  Shane Trejo
March 9, 2015
Full Article

CONCORD, N.H. (Mar. 11, 2015) The New Hampshire state House approved a bill today that would remove the ban on industrial hemp in the state, effectively nullifying the federal prohibition on the same. 

Introduced by Elizabeth Edwards (D-Hillsborough), Laura Jones (R-Strafford), Robert Cushing (D-Rockingham), and Michael Sylvia (R-Belknap) on Jan. 8, House Bill 494 (HB494) opens the door for a full-scale commercial hemp market in the state by treating it as any other crop for farming. The bill reads, in part, that “industrial hemp shall not be designated as a controlled substance.”

After passing out of committee unanimously last week, the House approved it today by a voice vote.

In short, industrial hemp would essentially be treated similar to tomatoes by government officials in New Hampshire. By removing the state prohibition on the plant, residents of New Hampshire would have an open door to start industrial farming should they be willing to risk violating the ongoing federal prohibition. This is exactly what has already happened in both Vermont and Colorado.

Farmers in SE Colorado started harvesting the plant in 2013, and farmers in Vermont began harvesting in 2014, effectively nullifying federal restrictions on such agricultural activities. On Feb. 2, the Oregon hemp industry officially opened for business and one week later, the first license went to a small non-profit group who hopes to plant 25 acres this spring. The Tennessee Agricultural department recently put out a call for licensing, signaling that hemp farming will start soon there too. And a law passed in South Carolina in 2014 authorizes the same.

“What this gets down to is the power of the people,” said Mike Maharrey of the Tenth Amendment Center. “When enough people tell the feds to pound sand, there’s not much D.C. can do to continue their unconstitutional prohibition on this productive plant.”

Experts suggest that the U.S. market for hemp is around $500 million per year. They count as many as 25,000 uses for industrial hemp, including food, cosmetics, plastics and bio-fuel. The U.S. is currently the world’s #1 importer of hemp fiber for various products, with China and Canada acting as the top two exporters in the world.

During World War II, the United States military relied heavily on hemp products, which resulted in the famous campaign and government-produced film, “Hemp for Victory!”.

But, since the enactment of the unconstitutional federal controlled-substances act in 1970, the Drug Enforcement Agency has prevented the production of hemp within the United States. Many hemp supporters feel that the DEA has been used as an “attack dog” of sorts to prevent competition with major industries where American-grown hemp products would create serious market competition: Cotton, Paper/Lumber, Oil, and others.

Early in 2014, President Barack Obama signed a new farm bill into law, which included a provision allowing a handful of states to begin limited research programs growing hemp. The new “hemp amendment”

…allows State Agriculture Departments, colleges and universities to grow hemp, defined as the non-drug oilseed and fiber varieties of Cannabis, for academic or agricultural research purposes, but it applies only to states where industrial hemp farming is already legal under state law.

HB494 an essential first step forward, and will likely need to be followed by additional legislation implementing the program, unless – like in Colorado, Oregon and Vermont – courageous farmers in New Hampshire start growing industrial hemp without further authorization.  It now moves to the state Senate for further consideration.

Burlington Free Press: Bill would encourage Vermont farm-grown beer

April Burbank
February 16, 2015
Full Article

Vermont farmers could tap into the state’s burgeoning craft beer scene under a new proposal in the House of Representatives.

Rep. Bill Botzow, D-Bennington, recently introduced a bill that would create a new farm brewer’s license for Vermont farmers who want to brew beer with at least one ingredient grown on their property.

The bill marries Vermont alcohol with Vermont agriculture.

Farm beer would need to include at least 20 percent local hops and at least 30 percent other local ingredients — not including water — to be considered “Vermont beer” under a new legal definition. Those requirements would rise to 80 percent within a decade.

The bill would also create licenses for farm vintners, with accompanying definitions of “Vermont wine” and “Vermont cider” that use local ingredients. Farmers could host special events, offer tastings and obtain retail and restaurant permits to sell and serve their products.

A farm brewer’s or farm vintner’s license would cost $60, discounted from the current $285 manufacturer’s license fee.

The plan has picked up initial support from the Vermont Farm Bureau, said the organization’s Legislative Director Bill Moore.

But some Vermont brewers are cautious about the bill’s strict definition of Vermont beer.

“It’s very early,” said Kurt Stauder, president of the Vermont Brewers Association. “I understand the aims and I find them to be admirable, but I do have some concerns. … I think that the big point that is sticking with some of the brewers is the definition of Vermont beer.”

Peter Hopkins, who grows hops in Pownal, said he believes the bill would boost Vermonters’ efforts to grow hops, grain and malt.

“It should bring the farmers and the brewers much closer together. Each will depend upon the other,” said Hopkins, whose farm is called Hoppy Valley Organics. “If all of a sudden there’s increased demand, there’ll be more hops in the ground,” he added.

But Vermont-grown hops can be significantly more expensive, said Todd Haire, operations manager for Switchback Brewing Company in Burlington.

Switchback has brewed with local hops through University of Vermont Extension, Haire said. He said brewers are willing to try Vermont hops but need a consistent supply.

Botzow said he modeled the farm brewer’s bill after a similar law in New York that took effect in 2013. The Bennington County Industrial Corporation suggested that New York had a competitive advantage in recruiting breweries, Botzow said.

“I don’t want us to not be able to compete on our home court,” Botzow said. He called the bill “proactive” and said it would stimulate an emerging part of Vermont’s economy and promote diversified agriculture and agrotourism.

Seventeen other legislators have joined Botzow in sponsoring the bill, which has been sent to the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs.

Valley News: The Chicken Count — Small Farmers Could Use Flexibility in Slaughter Rules

Chuck Wooster
Sunday, March 1, 2015
Full Op-Ed

This past year, we raised and sold 1,000 chickens on our farm outside White River Junction. We have a strong market for chicken, and every year we can sell this many birds with a reasonable return on time and financial investment. Why, you might ask, if the market is there, don’t we sell more birds? It’s simple. The 1,001st bird would set me back tens of thousands of dollars. Here’s why.

The state of Vermont and the U.S. Department of Agriculture regulate the production and sale of meat in Vermont. (New Hampshire’s approach is similar.) This oversight has been, by and large, wildly successful in improving human health. Nasty stuff like listeria, trichinosis and botulism, which used to lay our ancestors low by the bushel, have been largely eliminated from the food supply. We’ve accomplished this success through what might be called a “facilities” approach to meat production: We require animals to be slaughtered and processed inside facilities that can be cleaned and inspected and, in most cases, overseen by inspectors during their hours of operation.

All the larger livestock animals sold in this country today, like cattle, sheep and swine, have to be slaughtered inside such facilities. There is no exception to this — if cash is going to trade hands, animals have to be slaughtered inside under inspection. That’s true whether you’re a hobbyist selling one pig or a corporation slaughtering a pig a minute.

With chickens, you can avoid the facilities route if you meet certain criteria: you clearly label your birds as uninspected, you sell whole birds directly to the customer who is going to cook them, and you sell no more than 1,000 birds per year.

This so-called “chicken exemption” is widely used by farmers in the Twin States, with more than a dozen farms in the Upper Valley making use of it. But more and more, we’re coming up against the facilities limitation, both with chickens and with larger mammals.

The main problem with facilities is that they are expensive to build and maintain. If you’re a huge producer of meat, no big deal — you build your own slaughterhouse in your vertically integrated company. But if you’re a small player (and every farm in New England is small by virtue of our tight landforms and small holdings), you’re left competing for limited slaughterhouse space, usually in the fall, when the grass runs out and every other farmer is jostling with you for appointments.

The facilities approach has a second problem, besides hurting the little guy: It tends to centralize problems and make them difficult to sort out. We’ve all read the stories about an outbreak of, say, e coli in beef, which unfold over the course of years as inspectors try to figure out which farm brought which animals to which slaughterhouses and then sold them under which labels to which supermarkets. After the recalls are finished, the lawyers move in.

The meat slaughter issue is coming to a head right now in Vermont because the number of farms, the number of farmers and the acreage devoted to agriculture are all increasing. Due to our rolling hills, however, our farms are small. Due to the limited flat land, our growth potential is primarily in raising meat. And due to the facilities approach to meat safety, we’re having a tough time making the economics work out.

To its everlasting credit, the Vermont Legislature is taking the problem seriously and proposing potential solutions. For example, thanks to a two-year experiment set up by the Legislature last year, we were able to slaughter 25 lambs on our farm last fall and sell them to our customers. Of course, we had to meet some relatively strict conditions: We had to pre-sell the animals to our customers; we required that each of them purchase a whole animal; we hired a third-party professional to help us with the slaughter; and we filled out some paperwork for the state. I was happy to do all this because it meant that I could keep the lambs at home on the farm, where they were born and raised and felt comfortable, and I was able to avoid the expense and scheduling and transportation problems associated with finding a slaughterhouse.

From my perspective as a farmer, it’s time to build on the success of the chicken exemption, and on the success of this trial program, by creating a formal certification or licensing system for farmers who are selling directly to their customers.

Many farmers lack the capital or space to build fancy facilities on our farms, and many of us don’t want to inflict the stress of transportation on our animals. Yet we all have the time, especially when it’s below zero and there’s snow on the ground, to attend classes in food safety, proper livestock handling, appropriate equipment and tools, and disease epidemiology. Give small farmers the option of achieving food safety goals through education as opposed to construction. Animals can be processed safely, cleanly and respectfully on their home farms — without expensive facilities — if the farmer knows what he or she is doing.

What we need is a three-tiered approach to regulating meat.

At the high-volume “meat producer” level, the state should continue to require inspectors and inspected facilities. At the small-farm “direct sales” level, the state should require training and expertise as opposed to facilities. And at the tiny “subsistence” level, the state should allow people to, for example, raise and slaughter a limited number of animals without inspection or certification — two pigs, for example — so someone can sell the second one to a neighbor to cover the cost of raising the first. This is a time-honored tradition that has persisted for generations despite being nominally illegal and, as long as we’re fixing the meat regulatory system, should be acknowledged with more than just a wink and a nod.

The rub, of course, is figuring out where to draw the lines between the three tiers. The “subsistence” level is pretty easy, since the goal is to legalize the backyard hobbyist: something like one beef cow, two pigs, three sheep or goats, and maybe a dozen chickens or so.

For the small-farm “direct sales” level, the 25-lamb limit that’s part of the current experiment feels about right, though it would be nice if farmers could raise 25 lambs and 10 pigs per year instead of having to choose one or the other (as the law currently provides.) For chickens, the current 1,000-bird limit is too low because building facilities doesn’t make financial sense for bird number 1,001. With proper training and certification, that limit could be raised to 2,000 or 3,000 birds, at which point facilities start to make financial sense.

Right now, small farmers in both states are working backward — looking at what the regulations allow and then deciding how many animals to raise. What we should instead be doing is figuring out how many animals our farms can support in an ecologically appropriate way, and then, if we find we have a market for those animals, turning to the state to find a regulatory framework that works at that scale.

The market for local meat is here and growing. The Vermont Legislature is trying to help local farmers meet the demand. Adding an educational and licensing approach for direct-sales farmers would be a big step in the right direction.

Chuck Wooster is a farmer and writer who lives in White River Junction.

Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund: Wyoming Food Freedom Act Moves Toward Passage

February 17, 2015
Full Press Release

UPDATE 3/3/15 – Gov. Mead Signed HB 56 Today!

News from Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund member, Frank Wallis: 

RECLUSE, WY—(February 17, 2015)—The Wyoming Food Freedom Act [HB0056] has passed the Wyoming House of Representatives by a 60–0 vote and has cleared the Senate Agriculture Committee. The bill will now be heard by the full Senate; if passed, the bill will be sent to Governor Mead’s desk for a signature.

The bill sponsored by Representative Tyler Lindholm would stop overregulation of locally produced foods typically sold at farmers markets and like venues. As long as there is only a single transaction between the producer and the informed end consumer, there would be no government regulation or inspection. Meats would not be allowed to be sold in this manner, except for chicken. Chicken meat is already allowed under federal regulations.

“This law will take local foods off the black market. It will no longer be illegal to buy a lemon meringue pie from your neighbor or a jar of milk from your local farm,” said Representative Lindholm.

The Senate committee hearing was packed with consumers, ranchers, farmers and small food producers. They told the senators that the government should not be involved in dictating what kinds of food an individual wants to buy.

“The government is not my parent,” said Cheyenne resident Lisa Glauner. “I would much rather have food the way God made it than to have FDA-approved food that is not even real, like Kraft macaroni and cheese that doesn’t even have real ingredients.”

Frank Wallis from northern Campbell County, said many rural residents also depend on being able to sell their locally produced foods as a way to supplement their incomes. “I urge you all to vote for this bill; it will be good for the rural economy of Wyoming,” he said. “It will help small ranchers and farmers make a living.”

State health officials and Department of Agriculture representatives attended the hearing and answered questions posed by the senators. They had some concerns about food safety, but did not testify against the bill.

The bill passed the committee with Sens. Paul Barnar (R-Evanston), Leland Christensen (R-Alta) and Dan Dockstader (R-Afton) voting for the bill; Sens. Fred Emerich (R-Cheyenne) and Gerald Geis (R-Worland) opposed the bill.

“When the recession hit, this became a serious source of secondary income,” Senator Dockstader said. “So this would just set some clarity to statutes, because this is something that is not going to stop anytime soon.”

NPR: Why Some States Want To Legalize Raw Milk Sales

February 20, 2015
By Abby Wendle
Full Article

The federal government banned the sale of raw milk across state lines nearly three decades ago because it poses a threat to public health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association all strongly advise people not to drink it.

But individual states still control raw milk sales within their borders. And despite the health warnings, some Midwestern states have recently proposed legalizing raw milk sales to impose strict regulations on the risky — and growing — market.

Raw milk has become popular in recent years as part of the local food movement: An estimated 3 percent of the population drinks at least one glass a week. Many of its fans are fiercely passionate about what they see as its benefits. They say they buy raw milk because it doesn’t contain the growth hormone rGBH, they like the taste, and they enjoy having a direct connection to the food they eat.

“I like having a relationship with the people who are producing the food I put in my body,” says Holly Stovall, a raw milk consumer and advocate from Macomb, Ill.

But raw milk is particularly fertile for germs. By definition, raw milk is not pasteurized — the process of heating milk to 161 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds to kill harmful bacteria like salmonella, E. coli and campylobacter.

Dr. Robert Tauxe, the deputy director of the foodborne, waterborne and environmental disease division at the CDC, says that children, the elderly and pregnant women are most at risk. And no one is immune.

But warnings from federal health regulators haven’t dissuaded those determined to drink it.

Bob Ehart, senior policy and science adviser at the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, has been tracking raw milk policy in all 50 states for the past decade. He says more and more states are legalizing its sale.

According to NASDA’s most recent survey, conducted in 2011, raw milk sales are legal in 30 states, with a variety of restrictions on how it can be sold. Twelve — including California, Pennsylvania and Utah — allow raw milk sales in retail stores. In Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska, customers have to go to the farm to buy it. And in Colorado, consumers enter into a legal contract with the farmer in what’s called a cow-share — a CSA-style operation in which consumers buy a share of a cow in exchange for raw milk.

But NASDA’s Ehart suggests some states may not be legalizing raw milk sales to condone it. Rather, he says legalization may give public health agencies the power to regulate a market that might otherwise exist underground.

“Some would say that it would be worse if there’s nothing on the books that allows the agency to do anything,” Ehart says. “This at least allows them to do something if there’s an exposure level that affects public health.”

The battle over raw milk regulation is raging in Illinois. Despite being illegal, raw milk sales in the state have grown. Dozens of dairies now supply nearly a half-million customers.

Joe Zanger’s three Guernsey cows produce up to 30 gallons of raw milk a day. For the past few years, he’s been selling the unpasteurized stuff by the gallon, in glass jars, to a growing number of customers living in Quincy, Ill., the city down the road from his dairy.

Zanger says he earns a few hundred dollars a week from this side business — enough to pay for animal feed, vet bills and milking barn maintenance. He believes that one day, it could turn into a profitable venture.

“This is something that I can maybe grow a little bit, if I pick up more customers and buy more cows and just keep recycling that money” into the business, he says.

When Illinois became aware of the growing market, the health department proposed rules that would technically legalize raw milk, but impose strict regulations on the industry. Similar to other states in the region, sales would be limited to the farm.

Farmers would also be required to place a warning label on the product, sell it within five days of milking, and keep records of whom they sell to. By keeping track of where raw milk flows, public health officials say they’ll be able to more effectively respond to outbreaks, if they happen. But farmers complain it’s an unnecessary headache.

When it comes to the milking operation, the proposed rules mandate that all farmers keep their dairy cows “free from dirt” and routinely have their milk tested for harmful bacteria. Farmers would also have to upgrade their infrastructure to have an easily cleanable milking barn, proper plumbing, and a separate milk house to store the product in a refrigerated, stainless-steel tank.

The Illinois proposal is currently on indefinite hold. Legislation to open the market in both Iowa and Indiana was proposed in 2013, but stalled in committee.

The proposed regulations in Illinois have garnered fierce resistance from raw milk consumers and producers, who see them as an attack on small businesses and personal freedom.

“The free market has taken us so far already. Why not just keep letting it go?” asks dairyman Zanger. “If you come out to my farm and you see something you don’t like that makes you not want to buy my milk, you have every right to say, ‘No, thanks.’ If everything looks appropriate, why can’t you buy it?”

In the absence of legislation in Illinois, producers like Zanger are left wondering whether they’ll have to pay for expensive upgrades in the near future — or worse, be shut down by regulators.

For now, Zanger continues to sell raw milk and cream to his customers. Even though it’s illegal, the thirst is there, and Zanger says so is his commitment to quenching it.

VT Digger: House Fish & Wildlife sends out tough water quality bill

John Herrick
Feb. 20 2015
Full Article

A panel of lawmakers has approved Vermont’s hallmark water quality legislation that puts in place new regulations to curb pollution and raises money for cleanup efforts.

The House Fish and Wildlife Committee voted 7-2 Friday to pass H.35, a 127-page bill that will form the foundation of Vermont’s effort restores impaired waterways stretching from Lake Champlain to the Connecticut River.

“This may be the pinnacle of my work on water quality,” said committee Chair David Deen, D-Westminster, minutes before the committee voted late Friday afternoon.

The bill would put in place new pollution control measures for farms, existing development and roads. The permits are designed to limit pollution runoff flowing from these areas and raise money for projects that help absorb runoff.

The bill also raises at least $13 million to pay for new water quality projects across the state, including a $15 per ton fee on fertilizer, a 2 cent per gallon increase to the gasoline tax and an increase to the rooms, meals and alcohol tax.

Environmental groups say the bill lays the groundwork for new water quality programs that address all major sources of runoff pollution in Vermont. Some say it could impose stronger regulations, but at least the proposed regulations are all-encompassing.

“It draws in all sectors. We don’t generally do that,” said Kim Greenwood, a water scientist with the Vermont Natural Resources Council. “And I hope it’s representative of a new way of thinking about water quality protections.”

“This is a critical foundation for moving in the direction of a clean lake. We certainly can’t do less than this,” said Chris Kilian, vice president and director of the Conservation Law Foundation.

He said the committee was prepared to set mandatory pollution control measures on farmers in sections of the lake where pollution levels are higher. These are areas of the lake where the state’s plan will not go far enough to reduce phosphorus pollution enough to comply with limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Farmers oppose the fertilizer fee, arguing that it hits large farmers who follow water quality rules harder than smaller farms unfamiliar with the rules. The current fee is 25 cents per ton and would be increase to $15 per ton. The House Agriculture Committee opposes the fee increase.

“It hits large farms harder, those that are already doing the right thing. It would be unfair,” said Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham, chair of House Ag.

Municipalities support the water quality bill, but asked for money to implement the upgrades. The bill includes a provision that directs funding to municipal pollution control projects.

The bill now goes to the Agriculture Committee before moving to Ways and Means.