“Dairy state” lawmakers working on bill to allow the direct sale of raw milk by farmers in Wisconsin

Here are some news stories about the state of raw milk in America’s “dairy state”. First, a report from WQOW news. Click here or on image below to go to a page from which you can view this video:

Click on picture to go to news page. Then click on text above the picture on left of that page to view video. Viewers must wade through an advertisement first.

Pepin County (WQOW) – More than two dozen states allow the legal sale of raw or unpasteurized milk.  The Dairy State is not one of them.  Since 1957, Wisconsin law has required milk sold to consumers be pasteurized.

Lawmakers are working on a bill that would change the rules and open up new opportunities for dairy farmers.  Wayne and Janet Brunner began selling raw, organic milk on their farm in the early 2000s.  At one time, they had 600 customers.

“It was real common to do 300 gallons a week there,” says Wayne Brunner, Midvalleyvu Family Farm.

“Some people would come once a month or once every six weeks, stock up and take it home and freeze it,” says Janet Brunner.

The sale of raw milk has been illegal since 1957, but there have been exceptions.  A judge’s ruling in 2004 allowed farmers, like the Brunner’s, to sell products like raw milk if they met certain conditions.

The Brunner’s are able to set their own milk prices, usually four or five dollars a gallon, which helped them stay afloat at a time when many farmers across the state are struggling because of low milk prices.

“There was a time this little store, well we were in competition with our milk checks lets put it that way.  It was doing okay,” says Janet Brunner.

Things changed when the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection or DATCP warned the Brunner’s to stop selling the milk.  The agency has concerns about the safety of raw milk and says public health has to be the priority.  And they say the judges ruling doesn’t make it okay for farmers to sell raw milk.

The Brunner’s say they complied, but in January they were served papers to provide DATCP with information about their operation, including the names and addresses of those who buy products from them.  DATCP says the Brunner’s didn’t have a retail license to operate the grocery store they have on their property.  The Brunner’s now have a license and DATCP has dropped the request, but they still aren’t able to sell raw milk.

Other farms have also been warned or worse.

“Two of them have had their milk producers license taken away as far as we know they’re been dumping their milk on the ground because they have nowhere to go with it,” says Janet Brunner.  “One farm has received a summary special order which says you stop selling and you stop selling now or we’ll pull your retail license.”

Rep Chris Danou says DATCP’s actions are out of line.  That’s one reason he supports a bill to legalize the sale of raw milk.

“I do think, especially what they’ve done to the Brunner family and some of the other operators, I think it’s a bit abusive and they’re pushing the envelope and I don’t like it,” says Rep. Chris Danou, 91st Assembly District.

Under the bill, farmers with a grade ‘A’ dairy farm permit would be allowed to buy a permit to sell raw milk.  They would have to meet certain sanitary conditions for bottling milk and have a sign to let consumers know raw milk doesn’t provide the same protection of pasteurized milk….”

Read that whole story on WQOW news.

Now here’s an excerpt from the Journal Sentinel report on the same issue, titled “State Crackdown on Raw Milk Sale Stirs Protest“:

“A crackdown on raw milk sales has drawn criticism from a legislator and a local sheriff who say the state has been too rough on family farms that sell unpasteurized dairy products.

State Rep. Chris Danou (D-Trempealeau) said Monday that regulators have subjected Midvalleyvu Family Farm, in Pepin County, to harassment and excessive requests for information.

The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection asked the farm’s owners for bank records including signature cards, monthly statements, canceled checks and deposit tickets.

It asked the farm to identify by full name, address and telephone number all people who supply animal feed, supplements, medications, cleaning supplies and equipment used for milk production. It also asked for copies of all invoices for the purchase of glass milk containers.

The farm has “a long history” of raw milk sales, said Steve Ingham, administrator of the agency’s food safety division.

With the exception of limited, incidental sales, state law prohibits selling unpasteurized milk to the public because it could carry bacteria that cause food borne illnesses.

To satisfy demand from customers, some farmers sell shares in their dairy herd and then provide raw milk to shareholders for a handling fee. That, farmers say, has allowed them to stay in business.

State regulators say the farm-share program does not allow widespread sales of unpasteurized milk to the public.

Midvalleyvu is one of many farms that state officials have investigated. But the farm, owned by Wayne and Janet Brunner, is one of only a few that the state has pressed for detailed documents through a process known as interrogatories.

“These were not typical situations,” Ingham said. “These were not farms where somebody just showed up with a jug wanting some raw milk.”

Yielding to pressure from regulators, Midvalleyvu no longer sells unpasteurized milk. Not long ago, the farm had more than 600 customers, said Janet Brunner.

“It started out with people coming to get dairy products and then wanting eggs, honey, maple syrup, beef and other things. Over the course of several years, a little store developed,” she said.

The Brunners say their income dropped 90% after they quit selling raw milk last October. They have recently acquired a retail license for their on-farm store, but without raw milk, the store doesn’t have much allure.

“We are really putting our time and attention into getting raw-milk legislation passed. Without it, our farm and others like us will be gone soon,” Janet Brunner said.

The Brunners are chapter leaders for the Weston A. Price Foundation, a national organization that promotes raw milk as a safe product with many health benefits.

“Reports of individuals becoming ill after drinking raw milk do exist . . . but even these reports do not usually provide proof that raw milk caused the illness,” Sally Fallon, foundation president said in a Journal Sentinel interview last year.

Danou has introduced legislation that would legalize the sale of raw milk in Wisconsin when done by permit under regulations. The legislator said he would not blame the Brunners if they ignored the state’s request for documents.

“My blood started to boil when I heard about this,” he said. “I almost felt as if these people were being punished for the legislation that I wrote.”

Pepin County Sheriff John Andrews, a former dairy farmer, has sided with the Brunners.

“An arm of the state should not be trying to intimidate small businesses and family farms by demonizing their product and threatening their livelihood,” he said. “I have watched for the last 25 years as politicians said they were concerned about small family farms and, while saying that, they were implementing policies” that put small farms out of business.

Last September, University of Wisconsin-Extension said at least 35 people, most of them children and teens, were sickened after consuming raw milk. State officials urged residents to discard any unpasteurized milk after individuals tested positive for campylobacter jejuni, a bacterial infection that causes gastro-intestinal symptoms and fever and occasionally leads to severe complications.

The illnesses were not connected to the Brunners’ farm. Raw-milk advocates said it was impossible to prove that the illnesses were tied to any farm….”

Read the whole of that story here. The story is followed by 35 comments.

And here’s one man’s opinion expressed in a followup letter to the editor:

“It’s a little disturbing that a person who makes laws and another who enforces them have so little regard for the law that they fail to understand why the state is cracking down on a farm that has been selling unpasteurized milk.

Let’s spell it out for state Rep. Chris Danou (D-Trempealeau) and Pepin County Sheriff John Andrews: Selling unpasteurized milk to the public is illegal except in limited quantities. And it’s illegal because unpasteurized milk could carry bacteria that cause food-borne illnesses.

That’s why state regulators have been investigating family farms that sell raw milk, including Midvalleyvu Family Farm in Pepin County. State officials are simply enforcing the law; they are not persecuting the farm’s owners, no matter what Danou and Andrews may claim.

Danou has introduced legislation that would legalize the sale of raw milk in the state when done by permit under regulations. And in January, state Agriculture Secretary Rod Nilsestuen put together a panel of dairy and health experts to consider legal and regulatory issues pertaining to the sale of unpasteurized milk and to consider what conditions would be required to protect public health.

That’s all fine; there is a growing market for raw milk. But let the lawmaking and rulemaking process play out – and a full debate be heard – before allowing the regulated sale of raw milk to the general public. And in the meantime, enforce the law.

Midvalleyvu is one of many farms that state officials have investigated. But the farm, owned by Wayne and Janet Brunner, is one of only a few that the state has pressed for detailed documents through a process known as interrogatories.

Midvalleyvu no longer sells unpasteurized milk because of the state pressure. Not long ago, the farm had more than 600 customers, said Janet Brunner. That’s a good-sized market for an illegal product.

Danou said he would not blame the Brunners if they ignored the state’s request for documents. And Johnson has sided with the Brunners as well, arguing that the state is putting small family farms out of business.

Yes, the traditional family farm is in trouble. And state regulators can be heavy-handed. But the answer is not to ignore state laws aimed at protecting public health. A lawmaker and a sheriff should know that.”

4 Comments

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4 responses to ““Dairy state” lawmakers working on bill to allow the direct sale of raw milk by farmers in Wisconsin

  1. Amos Turtle

    Make no mistake about it, the State of Wisconsin has gone into full war mode on raw milk providers. DATCAP is trying to crush the raw milk movement which threatens the monopoly that the cheese plants and their flunkies, DATCAP and the mega-farms have on dairy farming. Even the “independent” board that is “studying” raw milk has been loaded with industry and government stooges. The raw milk movement needs to morph into the next stage, a totally guerrilla operation, a barnyard revolt against the powers trying to eliminate the small farms. Pirate Farmers arise!

    • Michael Schmidt

      There is a way if we all have a clear inner understanding to whom we are responsible. If we understand our role in this game it should be not long until we reaching the tipping point. Yes farmers need to stand together but will always be alone in the crucial moment of truth. We just don’t understand how much power we in fact have by saying no.
      The act of civil disobedience and non -violent resistance is so much more powerful than any kind of violence. I do include in violence also inner aggression towards the other side.
      Our strength is in knowing whats right.

  2. Michael

    There is a way if we all have a clear inner understanding to whom we are responsible. If we understand our role in this game it should be not long until we reaching the tipping point. Yes farmers need to stand together but will always be alone in the crucial moment of truth. We just don’t understand how much power we in fact have by saying no.
    The act of civil disobedience and non -violent resistance is so much more powerful than any kind of violence. I do include in violence also inner aggression towards the other side.
    Our strength is in knowing whats right.

  3. jeanette

    This has nothing to do with food safety and everything to do with pandering to factory farms. I drank raw/bulk tank milk for 20 years and never once got sick. I have had food poisoning twice; once from store-bought potatoes and once from a restaurant. Let’s ban potatoes and restaurants, shall we. Madison does not represent the people of WI. The legislature is for sale to the highest bidder.

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