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Since the onset of the Covid crisis and the decline in the reliability of the conventional food system, the regulatory climate for locally produced food has improved considerably in many states. State legislatures and regulatory agencies have moved to increase access to local food to meet growing consumer demand and to strengthen food security. Raw dairy products are no exception; so far in 2021, several states have moved to increase access to raw dairy.
MONTANA – On April 30, the Montana Local Food Choice Act became law, legalizing the unregulated sale of raw milk and all other raw dairy products by producers direct to consumers; there are limited testing requirements for producers but no inspection or licensing, and the producer must keep no more than “five lactating cows, ten lactating goats, or ten lactating sheep” for the production of milk. Previously, there was a limited exception to the prohibition on the distribution of raw milk under Montana securities law, an exception that few producers chose to take advantage of, opting to sell raw milk on the black market. With the passage of the new law, there will be substantially more dairies producing raw milk for direct consumption than raw milk for pasteurization; there are currently forty-five Grade A dairies left in the state.
TEXAS – On May 17, new regulations amending the state raw milk dairy code went into effect in Texas. The regulations are a big improvement over the prior law especially in the following respects:
- Now delivery from licensed raw milk producers (in Texas only licensed producers can legally sell raw milk) to consumers can take place anywhere in the state the two parties agree to. Prior law limited sales and delivery to on-farm, a major problem for producers far away from any population centers.
- The new rules expand the number of raw dairy products licensed producers can sell. Under the previous law, it was clear that producers could sell only raw milk; the regulations now state that they can also sell cream, sour cream, yogurt, buttermilk, whey, eggnog and kefir.
- The new regulations recognize the legality of herdshares, a contractual arrangement under which someone purchases an ownership interest in a dairy animal or herd to be entitled to a portion of the milk production. As long as there is a written bill of sale for the purchased interest and the consumer receives an amount of milk proportionate to that ownership interest, the arrangement is legal. Previously, the Texas Department of State Health Services had interpreted herdshare agreements to be the illegal sale of raw milk if the farmer operating the herdshare was unlicensed.
VERMONT – The Vermont legislature passed a bill going into effect July 1st that allows farm stands and community subscription agriculture programs (CSAs) to sell raw milk “produced on a farm other than the farm or farms where the farm stand or CSA is located.” The bill increases potential markets for raw milk producers; under current law, only producers can sell to consumers.
WEST VIRGINIA – The West Virginia legislature legalized the sale of raw pet milk through the passage of a broader agriculture bill. The state law currently allows the distribution of raw milk through herdshare agreements if the farmer registers with the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, but few farms have registered so far, partly due to the high cost of the herd testing requirements. The new law opens up new markets for producers.
Demand for raw dairy products has increased over the past year; the trend toward a more favorable overall regulatory climate for raw milk producers should continue.