Here’s an excerpt from the latest raw milk intelligence briefing from David E. Gumpert at the Complete Patient blog:
“For years, Massachusetts has epitomized a sensible approach to raw milk. It provides permits to dairies selling raw milk directly from the farm. And it’s tolerated buying groups that deliver milk from the rural central and western parts of the state to Boston in the east, and other urban areas.
Now, all of a sudden, the state seems unwilling to turn a blind eye to the buying groups it has tolerated for some years. In the last year, three have been sent cease-and-desist orders by the state’s Department of Agricultural Resources. The latest to receive such an order is Blanche Lennington of Granny B’s Raw Milk Buying Group, in western Massachusetts, which serves about 15 customers. She says that when she called the state official who signed the order, she was told it originated from a complaint from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
The buying groups extend the reach of raw dairies way beyond the farm, allowing consumers who are unable to drive the hour or two to a farm to conveniently obtain their raw milk from dropoff points designated by the buying group.
Why the shift by the state? I asked that question of Scott Soares, the DAR’s commissioner, and he insisted there has been no shift. He argued that the buying groups have always been illegal under Massachusetts law, and that his department has begun going after them after learning about their existence from its own investigators scanning the Internet.
“Entrepreneurial individuals are looking to extend sales off the farm,” he told me.
The fact that some buying groups have been operating for a number of years doesn’t make them legal, he explained. “It was an illegal project then and it’s an illegal project now.”
Nor would he allow that such buying clubs are akin, as one farmer put it to me, “like asking a friend to go pick up your milk for you.” Under Massachusetts law, raw milk can only be sold direct from the farm by dairies with raw milk permits issued by his department. The buying groups are “actually more accurately described as milk distributors, which is illegal…They would have to be licensed as milk dealers,” which participate in the pasteurization process.
He admitted that there have been no reports of anyone becoming ill from raw milk in the state—indeed, Massahusetts hasn’t had any illnesses from raw milk since 1999, while three people died from pasteurized milk in 2007. Still, he said, his agency has concerns about “a loss of control when (raw milk) leaves the farm. There is no guarantee the milk will be held at the proper temperature.”
He denied that the three cease-and-desist letters have come about because of complaints from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. And he denied suggestions that a crackdown on buying groups would severely curtail raw milk sales in Massachusetts, despite the fact that several have grown significantly in recent years, and many consumers depend on their convenient regular dropoffs. “We’ve been trying to promote people visiting farms. This has been driving more people to visit (raw dairy) farms.”
Despite the denials about a change in policy, it appears that the policy has changed. Everyone involved in raw milk in the state appeared to have been pleased with the existing arrangement, and last June, the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) of Massachusetts released a study describing the economic benefits of raw milk to local communities around the state, indicating that raw milk sales account for $600,000 revenues annually, which mostly stays within local communities….”