By Pete Kennedy, Esq.
The future of Lawton’s Family Farm (Lawton’s), one of the oldest farms in the U.S., was threatened by the town of Foxborough’s Board of Health. Lawton’s is one of about thirty licensed raw milk dairies in the state of Massachusetts; raw milk has a great track record for safety in the state with no cases of foodborne illness linked to raw milk consumption going back to at least the 1990s. Despite this, the Foxborough Board of Health proposed raw milk regulations threatening to put the dairy out of business; under Massachusetts law, towns can impose stricter requirements than state law prescribes on raw milk production and sales or even ban the product outright. The initial regulations proposed by the Board of Health would have in effect amounted to a ban on the sale of raw milk in Foxborough. The regulations contained among other requirements, that:
- Raw milk dairies test their milk on a weekly basis; no law in the U.S. requires that raw milk dairies test more frequently than once per month.
- If the dairy fails any test, its sales could be suspended for up to thirty days. The required tests include standard plate count, somatic cell count, and coliform counts.
- The producer must submit a written plan for the dairy’s standard operating procedures each year for approval by the Board of Health.
- The dairy would be required to maintain a list of the names, addresses, phone numbers and emails for each customer and make those available to the Board of Health upon request.
- Obtain product liability insurance with an aggregate of up to three million dollars at a minimum. No state currently requires a raw milk producer to obtain product liability insurance; most insurance companies that do offer raw milk product liability insurance will not provide an aggregate over two million dollars.
The Board of Health was scheduled to vote on the proposed regulations November 25 at a public hearing but postponed the hearing indefinitely when a crowd of nearly twice the capacity of the meeting venue showed up to oppose the regulations. Shortly after the postponement, the board amended the proposed regulations, taking out some of the more onerous clauses on testing and punishment for failed tests, but the product liability insurance and customer list requirements remain.
The Lawton family has been farming in the area since 1732. Terri Lawton, the principal operator of the farm, was at one time a dairy inspector for the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources. The dairy has had its sales suspended twice for short periods of time for tests above the legal limit but has never been accused of making anyone sick. Whatever the reasons for the proposed regulation, the actions of the Foxborough Board of Health are more evidence of the bias public health officials have against raw milk and their desire to make raw milk sales go away.
The growth in the demand for raw milk, and the growing public acceptance of the product as a food everyone should have the right to consume, makes the public health sector position increasingly a minority view.