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Raw Milk Bill Brought Back in America’s Dairy State

Buoyed by the partial acquittal of Sauk County raw milk producer Vernon Hershberger, a Wisconsin state senator is going to try again to make it legal to sell unpasteurized milk and milk products in the Diary State.

West Bend Republican Sen. Glenn Grothman has dropped a bill into the Wisconsin Legislature that would allow limited sales of raw milk and raw milk products, which he claims are recommended by nutritionists and chiropractors for health benefits.

“Unfortunately, there is a law on the books where technically it’s still illegal to sell raw milk in the state of Wisconsin,” says Grothman. His bill would permit the sale of unpasteurized milk from farms registered with the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. The same farms would sell buttermilk, kefir, yogurt, ice cream, butter and cheese made with raw milk.

Grothman’s bill, which won’t go to a public hearing until Fall, would allow on the farm sales directly to consumers, but would continue to ban retail sales in stores or farmer’s markets.

A dairy farm that sells raw milk directly to consumers would risk losing their license. The Grothman bill sets up an exemption to that possibility by allowing those interested in selling raw milk to register with DATCP.

The Senator claims farms that register will be under the same requirements, as they would normally have for producing grade A milk regarding cleanliness, temperature, and other safety requirements.

The bill also sets up criteria for clean containers, proper labeling, a posted sign, and compliance with all state rules. As Wisconsin is the nation’s largest dairy state, Grothman will face strong opposition by the multi-billion dollar pasteurized milk industry, which claims raw milk’s frequent outbreaks gives their product a bad name.

A spokesman for the Wisconsin Safe Milk Coalition say it is impossible to make raw milk safe. The Wisconsin Legislature passed a raw milk bill in 2010, but former Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed it. Attempts by Grothman and others since then to permit raw milk have since failed to go anywhere. A task force appointed by Doyle outlined what it would take to make raw milk both safe and legal in Wisconsin, but Grothman has ignored those stiffer requirements and other raw milk advocates.

Scott Walker, the current governor, has indicated he could sign a raw milk bill with sufficient safe guards in it. Unlike most state legislatures in the Midwest, the Wisconsin Legislature meets periodically throughout the year.

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Free Range Chickens Brought Under Egg Safety Rule

The draft rule for free range chickens coming out today might also have a calming effect on nervous fruit and vegetable growers, says Mike Taylor, who runs the food side of the business at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Laying hens that roam outside are the last to fall under FDA’s four-year-old Egg Safety Rule, which was designed specifically to cut down on the all-too-common presence of Salmonella Enteritidis (SE) in table eggs. Farms that raise free range and organic chickens get their first look today at FDA’s draft rule for their unique operations.

If the approximately 200 free range chicken farmers with 3,000 or more hens find FDA’s suggestions reasonable, their stance might help Taylor persuade the nation’s small fruit and vegetable growers that they can live with the produce rule FDA is putting into place under the landmark Food Safety Modernization Act.

“I think it puts folks at ease a bit,” Taylor told Food Safety News.

Earlier this year, produce growers generated enough Congressional heartburn to get FDA to extend the comment period for the new produce safety rule into the Fall. The United Fresh Produce Association and several regional commodity associations also joined in asking for the extra time, even though it is estimated that almost 80 percent of the nation’s  growers will be exempt from the produce rule.

Farms that “pasture their hens,” as Taylor calls it, need to keep SE out of their poultry houses. Just like the big poultry barns, they need to be concerned about wild birds, rodents and pests getting into their houses.

To understand how these farms might craft an regulatory approach that would fit the free range and organic segment, FDA visited farms on its own and with officials from USDA’s National Organic Program.

“In effect, we were on a fact-finding mission to see for ourselves how these farms operate and to better understand the unique challenges these producers face,” Taylor said in personal blog going out today. “We gained a better understanding of these challenges and used this knowledge to develop a draft guidance document specifically addressing the challenges and concerns we observed.”

“We strive not just to be regulators, but to work cooperatively with industry as fellow problem solvers,” he added.

Taylor says producers are concerned about their ability to meet the requirements of the Egg Safety Rule and their “discerning questions” caused FDA to rethink its approach and focus on what’s reasonable.

“We think we’ve come up with practical guidance,” Taylor told Food Safety News.

John F. Sheehan, director of plant and dairy food safety for FDA, said complying with the egg rule shouldn’t require much more labor intensity than these producers already experience.

Egg producers with fewer than 3,000 laying hens and those who sell all of their eggs directly to consumers are exempt from the Egg Safety Rule.

The campaign to increase the safety of the 80 billion table eggs Americans consume annualy began in 2009 when the Rule was published. It first applied in 2010 to more than 500 U.S. egg producers with 50,000 or more laying hens.

Shortly after large producers came under the rule, a nationwide SE outbreak was traced back to two Iowa farms. The two egg producers recalled more than half a billion eggs, making it the largest recall of table eggs in U.S. history.

After that, FDA enlisted several states to help it step up enforcement of the Egg Rule, which has since been applied to smaller producers.

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