High Stakes for Raw Milk in Wisconsin

This article is a collaboration between the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) and the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF).

Wisconsin organic dairy farmer Chaz Self is a face of the crisis confronting milk producers across the country. Self’s cooperative recently dropped him as a member, leaving him scrambling to find another buyer for the milk his farm, Grassway Organics, produces. Self could be making up for some of the lost sales by selling raw milk; Wisconsin law allows the sale of raw milk on an “incidental basis.” The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) could be helping farmers like Self by using its enforcement discretion to let him sell raw milk. DATCP, however, recently served the farmer with a summary special order threatening the loss of his Grade A Milk Permit if he sold any raw milk for human consumption.

The farmer is currently dumping hundreds of gallons of high quality raw milk. Self’s case provides a great look at the unprecedented emergency dairy farmers are facing and how selling raw milk is a potential way to help keep thousands of them in business.

Self maintains a herd of around 100 cows on a 400-acre farm where he lives with his wife Megan and their three young children. His Jersey herd is 100% A2. The Selfs sell poultry, eggs, pork and beef to their customers on the farm and at farmers markets.


Last year Self appeared in the Netflix documentary, Rotten, a series of episodes uncovering fraud and corruption in the industrial food system. Self appeared in the episode “Milk Money” which discussed the production and sale of raw milk. Self never stated that he sold raw milk but the narrator of the episode implied that he did. Shortly after the episode aired, DATCP started investigating Self; the investigation wound up with the department issuing an order allowing him to keep his Grade A permit on the condition that he stop selling raw milk. This was an unjustified move, given that DATCP based its decision solely on what the narrator said he was doing; there was no other evidence mentioned in the order about Self selling raw milk.

To compound matters, on April 1 Self’s cooperative, Westby Creamery, terminated his membership; on April 18 DATCP sent Self a “notice of deadline to change assigned dairy plant”, stating the farmer has until April 30 to find a processor to pick up his milk. If he fails to do so, DATCP will revoke his Grade A permit; with the current state of the dairy industry, that is not an easy task.

The American dairy sector has been in a decades-long decline that is currently accelerating. In 1992 there were 131,535 licensed dairies in the U.S., at the end of 2017 there were 40,219.1 The number of dairies closing shop has increased substantially since the beginning of the year. In 1992 the average herd size for farms was 74 cows; by 2017 it had risen to 2342, showing the consolidation in the dairy industry and the exit of small farms from the commodity milk system.

Wisconsin went from about 29,000 dairy farms in 1995 to a little over 9,000 at the end of last year.1 Two particular recent developments have accelerated the decline of conventional and organic dairies in Wisconsin. First, more conventional milk is being shipped into Wisconsin from other states. In 2017 more than 100 trailer loads of milk per day3 was coming into Wisconsin from states such as Michigan, Indiana and Ohio; frequently this milk was being sold more cheaply than the price sellers of conventional fluid milk would normally get.

Secondly, this year certified organic CAFO dairies in Texas have increased shipments of milk to Wisconsin. According to a USA Today March 24 story by a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writer, six certified organic dairy farms in Texas produced about 23% more milk than all of Wisconsin’s 453 organic dairy farms combined in 2016.4 The greater supply of organic milk has led to more quotas for producers and co-ops cutting back on members; in addition to Self, Westby Creamery recently terminated the contracts of seven other members.

The commodity milk system is becoming more untenable than ever for small farms. Recent prices around the country for conventional milk have been as low as $1.11 per gallon; while there are some organic producers that are still doing well, prices overall have declined substantially for organic milk. Farmers wanting to sell cows are finding little or no market. Oversupply and lower pay prices mean a race to the bottom for commodity milk.

One way for producers to escape or survive the commodity milk system is to sell raw milk for direct consumption; prices farmers can get for raw milk sales to the consumer are much higher than what they can receive for either conventional or organic milk intended for pasteurization. In Wisconsin the law is there for dairies to sell raw milk and improve their bottomline; the problem has been DATCP and its interpretation of what an “incidental sale” is.

The legislature passed the incidental sale law in 1957. The original intent of the law was that any sale of raw milk for human consumption was an incidental sale. At the time the law went into effect, there were over 100,000 dairies selling raw milk intended for pasteurization in the state 5; for all of them, sales of raw milk for direct human consumption were likely a very small percentage of total sales.

At one time DATCP interpreted the incidental sales law as meaning only one sale of raw milk per customer ever. In 2008 the department changed that, issuing a regulation that stated, “a sale is not incidental if it is made in the regular course of business, or is preceded by any advertising, or solicitation made to the general public through any communications media.” There is nothing in the statute legalizing incidental sales that prohibits advertising or solicitation.

DATCP’s interpretation of “not in the regular course of business” has been unfavorable to raw milk producers and consumers. It’s time for that to change; America’s Dairy Land is in an emergency situation. Dairies are going out of business every day in the state. DATCP can help Wisconsin dairy farms by either adopting a more liberal interpretation of what constitutes “not in the regular course of business” or by waiving enforcement against dairies selling raw milk direct to consumers in the regular course of business. For precedent on the latter step, DATCP only needs to look at the bordering state of Michigan.

Michigan law prohibits the sale or distribution of raw milk for human consumption; nevertheless in 2013 the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) adopted a written policy in which it would not take action against dairy farms distributing raw milk through herdshare agreements. MDARD set parameters that had to be in place, such as a written contract between the farmer and consumer for it to waive enforcement; DATCP could take a similar tact in Wisconsin.

DATCP is charged with promoting Wisconsin agriculture; one way it can do that with the current dairy crisis is to change its enforcement or interpretation of the law to one that benefits raw milk producers and consumers. Producers like Chaz Self have the quality raw milk and the potential demand to succeed. DATCP shouldn’t be preventing Self from selling raw milk. DATCP has an opportunity to help dairy farms stay in business. Ultimately, it would be great to pass a bill taking the word “incidental” out of the Wisconsin raw milk statute; but with the accelerated decline dairy is going through, there is no time to waste. The department should either adopt a new interpretation of the raw milk law or exercise its enforcement discretion now.

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[1] Dennis Halladay, “Here it comes: less than 40,000 dairies”, Hoard’s Dairyman, March 19, 2018. Last viewed 4/25/2018 at https://hoards.com/article-22818-here-it-comes-less-than-40000-dairies.html

[2] Corey Geiger, “Dairy farm numbers hover near 40,000”, Hoard’s Dairyman, February 26, 2018. Last viewed 4/25/18 at
https://hoards.com/article-22687-dairy-farm-numbers-hover-near-40000.html

[3] Pete Hardin, “March Dairy Meetings Somber in Wisconsin…”, Milkweed, Issue No. 465, April 2018; p. 5. [Wisconsin Farmers Union, “How Does It Work, and Would it Work Here?”, Dairy Supply Mgmt. in Canada, meeting 15 March 2018 at Dodger Bowl Banquet Center, Dodgerville, WI, recorded by www.wiseye.org; last viewed 4/25/2018 at http://www.wiseye.org/Video-Archive/Event-Detail/evhdid/12277]

[4] Rick Barrett, Wisconsin’s small organic dairies squeezed by Texas mega-farms”, USA Today, March 24, 2018. Last viewed 4/25/2018 at https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2018/03/24/wisconsins-small-organic-dairies-squeezed-texas-mega-farms/455330002/

[5] U.S. Department of Commerce, “County Table 10 – Dairy products and poultry and poultry products sold from farms: Censuses of 1959 and 1954”, U.S. Census of Agriculture: 1959, Volume 1, Part 14: Wisconsin (Chapter B – Statistics for Counties), p. 163. Last viewed 4/25/2018 at http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/usda/AgCensusImages/1959/01/14/866/Table-10.pdf


Photo courtesy of Grassway Organics LLC facebook page

Raw Milk Bill Officially Introduced in Wisconsin

As promised, Wisconsin Representative David Murphy (R-Greenville) has introduced a bill that would legalize the sale of unpasteurized milk and dairy products, when sold directly to consumers on the farm.

Previous attempts to change raw milk legislation were drafted in 2013 and 2014; both bills failed to make it to a vote on the state legislature floor. Wisconsin, “the heart of American’s dairy land,” is seemingly one of the most difficult states to pass raw milk-friendly regulations due to its Big Dairy presence and reputation.

Read more about the controversy and the proposed bill here.

To learn more about raw milk and other nutrient dense foods, visit westonaprice.org

Raw Milk Heats Up in Wisconsin

Previous efforts to legalize raw milk sales in America’s Dairyland have been unsuccessful, but Wisconsin raw milk advocates in the region haven’t given up hope yet. Assembly Republican David Murphy of Greenville, WI says he plans to introduce a new bill in November 2015 that will give people the freedom to buy raw milk straight from the farm.

Former Governor Jim Doyle previously rejected a similar bill when it came across his desk in 2010, due to last-minute lobbying to convince him of the risk that raw milk-related illnesses could pose to Wisconsin’s reputation. Current Governor Scott Walker’s office said they will consider a similar bill if it reaches his desk but that it must include safeguards to protect individuals’ health and the reputation of the dairy industry.

Support the Campaign for Real Milk, join the Weston A. Price Foundation, today!

Wisconsin Senate Committee Passes Raw Milk Legislation

On November 12, 2013, the Wisconsin Senate Committee on Financial Institutions and Rural Issues passed Senate Bill 236, which would allow the sale of raw milk directly to consumers on the farm.

The Bill makes several requirements of the farms, including:

  • Farms selling raw milk must register with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
  • Farms must keep records of the names, addresses and telephone numbers of raw milk customers.
  • Farmers must take daily milk samples that must be available to health officials.
  • Raw milk must be free of pathogens, as determined by monthly tests, and meet bacterial and somatic cell counts.

Unfortunately, people on both sides of the issue have complaints about the bill. Some raw milk advocates believe the requirements could make it too expensive for small farms to sell raw milk. Some raw milk opponents believe the bill is too relaxed and are unlikely to support farm inspections once every two years when once every six months is standard for other dairy businesses.

Current Wisconsin law prohibits the sale of raw milk, so the passage of this bill is a small yet significant step. Wisconsin is the heart of America’s Dairyland, and “…has been at the center of the national raw milk debate for several years, [so] the current legislation will be watched closely by both sides of the issue in other states.” The bill passed the committee by 3-2 and now goes to the full Senate for vote.

Sources:

http://www.jsonline.com/business/wisconsin-bill-would-legalize-raw-milk-with-caveats-b99139658z1-231516791.html

http://www.jsonline.com/business/senate-committee-passes-measure-to-legalize-raw-milk-sales-b99140829z1-231603271.html

The Campaign for Real Milk is a project of the nutrition education non-profit, The Weston A. Price Foundation. Donate to help fund research into the benefits of nutrient dense foods.  http://www.westonaprice.org/lab

Dairy Industry Groups Don’t Speak on Behalf of All Dairy Farmers

The Wisconsin Senate is considering a bill that would allow small, local farms to sell raw milk so long as it is labeled as such, provided in a clean container, and complies with DATCP rules for grade A milk regarding appearance and odor, bacterial count, temperature, and other factors.

Unsurprisingly, the FDA, Wisconsin Public Health Association, and the Wisconsin Association of Local Health Departments oppose the bill. The Dairy Business Association and the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association also oppose the bill. Most recently, the Wisconsin Safe Milk Coalition, a group made up of public health officials, dairy processor groups, and dairy farmers also opposed the bill. All groups cited raw milk being “unsafe for human consumption” as their primary reason for banning the sale of raw milk in the state. Continue reading

Wisconsin Action Alert

Wisconsin is currently considering Senate Bill 236 and Assembly Bill 287, bills that would permit the sale of raw milk directly from Wisconsin farmers to consumers.  Raw milk has been a staple of Wisconsin and American diets for many generations and it has been consumed for many years without negative health effects.

The bill is sponsored by Senators Grothman, Schultz, Leibham, Vukmir and Tiffany; cosponsored by Representatives Murphy, Danou, Clark, Doyle, Knodl, Craig, Pridemore, Pope and Berceau.
The Weston A. Price Foundation is in support of the bill.
Action to Take Continue reading

Proposed Wisconsin Legislation to Allow Sale of Raw Milk

New legislation that would allow Wisconsin farmers to sell raw milk directly to consumers is currently being drafted at the state capitol.

The proposed bill would allow farmers to sell Grade A raw milk directly from the farm to consumers, so long as the milk is labeled as unpasteurized. Additional “unpasteurized” signs would need to be posted at the farm. Continue reading

Raw Milk Trial Ends in Victory for Food Rights

The riveting, weeklong trial of Vernon Hershberger, the Wisconsin farmer charged with four counts relating to selling raw milk and cheese, ended on May 25th with the jury finding him not guilty on 3 of the 4 charges – giving raw milk advocates hope that public support for the legalization of unpasteurized dairy products is gaining momentum. 

Hershberger was declared innocent of producing milk without a license, selling milk and cheese products without a license, and operating a retail establishment without a license. He was found guilty of one count of breaking a holding order issued by the state in June 2010, which prohibited Hershberger from selling or distributing any of the food he produced without a license. Hershberger faces up to 1 year in prison and a maximum penalty of $10,000.

“The maximum penalty is still a small price to pay compared to the price of a guilty conscience because of letting good food spoil while families with small children are in need of it,” said Hershberger.

The not guilty verdict on the other three counts means that Hershberger can continue to sell raw milk and raw milk products to members of his buying club – ensuring that Wisconsin residents who rely on raw milk for health benefits have at least one way to get it.

Read The Wall Street Journal’s coverage of the trial, and watch a short clip here:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324125504578509453007615858.html

Read the full press release on Hershberger verdict here:

http://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2013/05/28/550238/10034247/en/Jury-Finds-Peaceful-Farmer-Does-Not-Need-Licenses.html

Realmilk.com is a project of the nutrition education non-profit, The Weston A. Price Foundation.