“Got Milk?” The answer to that question may not be as cut and dried as you might believe, at least in Wisconsin. In a May 19 letter to the state Senate, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle explained his rationale behind his veto of Senate Bill 434, which would have authorized dairy farmers with a Grade A dairy farm permit to sell unpasteurized milk, buttermilk, butter, and cream directly to consumers. Sellers would have been required to post a warning sign at the site of sale stating that raw milk does not provide the protection of pasteurization and is not recommended for certain categories of consumers – including children, seniors, pregnant or nursing women, diabetics, or those with compromised immune systems.
Citing widespread opposition from the public health community (including the Wisconsin Public Health Association and the Food and Drug Administration, which has previously issued releases on the health issues related to unpasteurized milk) and numerous industry stakeholders, Governor Doyle explained that, in his view, the lack of rigor in the testing standards for pathogens, risks to public health and the state’s economic interests should an outbreak of disease linked to consumption of unpasteurized milk occur, and the ongoing work of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s recently created Raw Milk Policy Working Group, which has been charged with reviewing the legal and regulatory framework surrounding the sale of unpasteurized milk to consumers in an attempt to strike a balance between market demand and public health, warranted a veto of the bill. An aide to Majority Leader Russ Decker stated that the Senate is not likely to attempt to override Governor Doyle’s veto.
This issue of the sale of unpasteurized milk to consumers is not limited to Wisconsin. In his letter to the Senate, Governor Doyle mentioned the comprehensive testing approach required for raw milk products under California law. In order for raw milk to be legally sold in California, it must meet the standards provided in the Milk and Milk Products Act of 1947. Under California Administrative Code, raw milk and raw milk products must bear a detailed warning to consumers on the principal display panel of the label. Washington State Administrative Code also requires raw milk containers to bear a warning label. As more consumers express preferences for unprocessed, “natural” foods, issues related to the sale and consumption of unpasteurized milk could find a more prominent place in the judicial system and industry marketplace.