A bill to legalize the sale of raw milk is back in the Wisconsin legislature. Republican Representative Dave Murphy introduced a bill last week that would let dairy farms sell raw milk and raw milk products directly to customers where they are produced. The farmers would not need state milk producer licenses or permits, and state milk quality rules would not apply to these products.
At this time, selling raw milk is illegal in Wisconsin. “Incidental sales” of raw milk directly to consumers at a dairy farm for consumption by that consumer, the consumer’s family, or nonpaying guests, is exempted from the law. But if done on a regular basis, or if the sales involve advertising, those sales are deemed illegal.
Dairy farmers who are considered “bona fide” owners can consume raw milk from his or her own farm, and can serve that raw milk to family members and nonpaying guests. It’s important to note that a “cow share” or “herd share” is not bona fide ownership. A person who “merely makes a sham investment in order to obtain raw milk is not a bona fide owner,” according to Wisconsin law.
An organization called the Wisconsin Safe Milk Coalition, which includes health professionals and commerce leaders, is urging lawmakers to reject this bill. They state that consumers cannot be sure that these products are safe. Shawn Pfaff, group representative, said, “studies and reports and real-life incidents continue to show that raw ilk can cause people to become severely ill. Medical, public health and microbiology professionals recognize the substantial risk for serious infectious diseases to occur with the consumption of unpasteurized milk.” Almost 140 raw milk health outbreaks have occurred in the U.S. since 1998.
States that allow raw milk sales have an increased rate of outbreaks linked to those products. The number of outbreaks in this country caused by unpasteurized milk increased from 30 in 2007 – 2009 to 51 in 2010 – 2012. Most of these outbreaks, or 81%, were in states where the sale of raw milk is legal.
Moreover, children are at the highest risk for illness from raw milk. Fifty-nine percent of outbreaks involved at least one child younger than age five. And 38% of illnesses caused by Salmonella and 28% of illnesses caused by Shiga toxin-producing E. coli were among children aged 1 to 4.
In fact, a Campylobacter outbreak linked to raw milk produced at a farm in Wisconsin sickened 38 people and hospitalized 10 this past September. The owners of the farm did not tell the attendees at a football potluck dinner that they were drinking raw milk. Lab tests showed bacteria in manure samples taken from the farm matched samples in patients.
More states are legalizing the sale of raw milk even though this leads to more outbreaks, according to the CDC. In 2004, 22 states allowed the sale of raw milk. This number increased to 30 in 2011. And raw milk sales in one state can lead to outbreaks in neighboring states.