Proponents say that adults know what raw milk is and accept the risks; the bill will help keep small dairy farms in business by eliminating the middleman; they tout raw milk’s “health” benefits and indicate it has a positive economic issue since it sells at $4-8 gallon (or about $48-96/cwt.). Proponents claim that large dairy farms and processors that do not want the competition have “bought and paid for” the Department of Agriculture and that’s why the Department of Ag is against it.
But Ward said it’s not a “big vs. small” issue and there are inherently complicated factors associated with this bill, such as liability. “Why should the processors live under liability laws but a producer of raw milk does not have to?” he asked. There’s also the case of leveling the playing field. The dairy industry pays money into the Dairy Checkoff which promotes dairy marketing and research. Nowhere in the bill does it discuss how raw milk sellers would contribute to that.
“In the dairy industry we have to track everything that is taken off-farm and processed,” noted Ward. “The bill does not address traceback concerns with raw milk.” Also, if it’s such an economic stimulus for the small to medium producer (remember the $48-$96/cwt.), what about the Wisconsin Department of Revenue? “We have to report our sales of milk to the Department of Revenue, even when milk prices are low,” Ward said. “What about these on-farm sales of raw milk? That is not addressed in the bill.”
The subject is a sticky wicket with proponents and opponents both within and outside of the dairy industry. The Wisconsin Farm Bureau took a position at its annual meeting opposing the sale of raw milk, and the Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association also opposes it. But, the Wisconsin Farmers Union took a position to support the bill.
A March 10 hearing on the bill had both sides of the issues represented. “The dairy industry is very prominent in Wisconsin,” Ward said. “It’s the signature of our agriculture industry. We have a lot to lose if our industry image were to take a hit because of an illness associated with raw milk.”