Federal LegislationSeptember 1, 2009
Fresh, Unprocessed (Raw) Whole Milk: Safety, Health and Economic IssuesNovember 19, 2009
By Pete Kennedy
Update, Winter 2010: Good news from Pennsylvania! On October 7, the Pennsylvania Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) met to vote on whether to approve dairy regulations proposed by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA). The proposed regulations contained burdensome requirements for raw milk producers including two particularly onerous provisions. First, the regulations would require a mechanical bottling machine for producers; with a limited exception, handcapping would be prohibited.Second, bottling, single-service container storage, and bottle washing would need to be done in rooms other than the milk room; currently, many raw milk producers in Pennsylvania bottle and handcap in the milk room and would have needed to incur the expense of constructing a separate room. Moreover, bottle washing would not be allowed in the room devoted to bottling and storage. Often, bodies such as the IRRC simply rubber-stamp proposed regulations into law with minimal debate. Not this time. Tom Maurer, president of CARE (Communities Alliance for Responsible Eco-agriculture), and Bryan Snyder, the Executive Director of PASA (Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture), rallied their respective members against the proposed regulations. At the October 7 meeting, Snyder did a great job in explaining to the IRRC how PDA was misleading them when describing the effect the new regulations would have on raw milk producers. The committee chair for the IRRC pointed out that raw milk regulations should not be combined with Pennsylvania’s adoption of the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (also known as the PMO), which is mainly what the proposed regulations had to do with. The IRRC voted three to two to reject the proposed regulations.On November 22, PDA submitted a revised version of the disapproved regulations to the IRRC. Although mechanical bottling and capping would not be required for milk sold on the farm, this would still be required for raw milk sold in retail stores. The revised regs still require that the washing of returnable bottles occur in a room separate from the milk room. Another provision that requires the raw milk producer be responsible for the costs of all pathogen testing (currently the testing is paid for by PDA) remains in the latest version of the regs. IRRC was scheduled to meet on December 16 to vote on whether to approve the revised regulations.
Update, Fall 2009: The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) has proposed new regulations to revise its Milk Sanitation code. Of interest to the state’s licensed raw milk farmers is a provision that requires testing at least twice a year for the presence of pathogenic bacteria including salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, campylobacter, and E. coli O157:H7. Under the proposed regulation, “there may be no pathogenic bacteria present.” If there is any pathogenic bacteria present in the tested milk, the permit holder must immediately stop selling raw milk for human consumption and must not resume selling until there have been two consecutive subsequent tests showing that the raw milk is free from “disease-producing organisms.” The trouble with the proposed regulation is that not all pathogenic bacteria cause illness in humans. A number of Pennsylvania farmers have had their sales suspended in the past few years for a positive pathogen test when there has been no incidence of illness from the consumption of the suspended farm’s milk. There are hundreds, even thousands, of subtypes of a pathogen like Listeria monocytogenes; and many, if not most, of these subtypes are benign. An effort will be made to change the language in the provision to read: “There shall be no positive test for the presence of pathogenic bacteria known to cause illness in humans.” In addition to this revision, an effort could be undertaken to amend the proposed regulations to provide for an exception to raw milk permit requirements for those selling direct to the consumer. The comment period for the proposed regulation was set to expire on September 30.