Massachusetts Governor Meddles With Raw Milk Bill


The founding fathers saw the separation of powers among the legislative (making laws), executive (enforcing laws) and judicial(interpreting laws) branches as a bedrock of our constitutional republic, but what passes for the separation of powers under our current system of government has little resemblance to what our founding fathers intended, especially when a governor is directly introducing legislation.

On August 9 Governor Charles Baker amended a provision in an appropriations bill that would have expanded raw milk access for consumers and better enabled raw milk producers to make a living. Currently only the licensed on-farm sale of raw milk is legal in Massachusetts; House Bill 4835 (H.4835) would have allowed licensed raw milk farmers to:

  • deliver raw milk directly to a consumer, off-site from the farm if the raw milk farmer has a direct contractual relationship with the consumer;
  • contract with a third party for the delivery of raw milk off the farm to a consumer;
  • deliver raw milk through a CSA (community-supported agriculture) delivery system;
  • make deliveries to the consumer’s residence or to a pre-established receiving site so long as the site was not in a “retail setting”. Raw milk producers, however, could make deliveries in a retail setting through a CSA delivery system provided that the raw milk met the stipulation that it “shall be kept separate from retail items for sale and shall not be accessible to the public.”
  • sell raw milk from the farmer’s farm stand even if the stand is “not contiguous” to the farmer’s raw milk dairy. Current law requires the farm stand to be on the same property where the raw milk dairy is located.

H.4835 had a labeling requirement for raw milk being sold or delivered to consumers off-farm and the bill gave the state department of agricultural resources and the state department of public health joint responsibility to issue regulations governing the handling, packaging, storage and testing , and transportation of raw milk.1

The amendment Governor Baker sent back to the legislature for consideration as House Bill 4884 (H.4884) mentioned none of the benefits of H.4835 except for the sale of raw milk at a farm stand off-site from the dairy farm.

The summary to H.4884 reads:

    An act, a message from His Excellency the Governor returning with his disapproval of a certain section, and also with recommendations of amendments of certain sections contained in the engrossed Bill promoting climate change adaptation, environmental and natural resource protection, and investment in recreational assets and opportunity [see House, No. 4835]. August 9, 2018.

H.4884 states, in part, that “the commissioner of public health, shall, … adopt and promulgate rules and regulations to reduce the risk of milk-borne illness associated with the consumption of unpasteurized milk that is sold off-site of the farm at which such milk was produced. Such rules and regulations may include, but shall not be limited to, the sanitary and operational standards for the transportation, receiving, handling, storage, processing, packaging, labeling and sale of milk intended for human consumption prior to pasteurization. … Such regulations shall allow the sale of milk intended for human consumption prior to pasteurization at a farm stand owned or operated by the producer of said milk that is not on the site of the farm at which the milk was produced.”

Given the bias of the public health department against raw milk, it’s unlikely that any of the other benefits provided in H.4835 would be included in a regulation. H.4884 also requires raw milk producers selling at an off-site farm stand to obtain an additional license from the department of public health.2

Governor Baker based his authority to amend the raw milk section of H.4835 on a provision in the Massachusetts Constitution that states, in part, “the governor may disapprove or reduce items or parts of items in any bill appropriating money… As to each item disapproved or reduced, he shall transmit to the house in which the bill originated his reason for such disapproval or reduction, and the procedure shall then be the same as in the case of a bill disapproved as a whole.”3

There is nothing in the state constitution that says that the governor can amend the substantive language in a bill, but the way the executive branch of government has gotten out of control these days at both the federal and state levels in exceeding its powers with little resistance from either the legislative or judicial branch, there’s little reason to believe Governor Baker won’t get away with his violation of the Massachusetts Constitution.

Even if H.4884 is lawful, it’s a poor decision from a policy standpoint. The state’s licensed raw milk producers have an excellent track record of safety with few, if any, foodborne illness outbreaks attributed to the consumption of raw milk in Massachusetts. H.4835 was a way to help raw milk producers—at little or no risk to the public—which is especially important given the current crisis the dairy industry is in today. In 1997 there were 353 dairy farms in Massachusetts; at the end of 2017, there were 135.4

Instead of helping Massachusetts dairy farmers the way he had a chance to, Governor Baker bought into the fear-mongering on the “dangers” of raw milk fed him by his department of public health. The nanny administrative state marches on.

H.4884 has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.

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[1] Massachusetts House Bill H.4835, accessible at https://malegislature.gov/Bills/190/H4835
[2] Massachusetts House Bill H.4884, accessible at https://malegislature.gov/Bills/190/H4884
[3] Massachusetts Constitution, Article LXIII, Section 5
[4] Thomas Farragher, “The demise of a Massachusetts dairy farm”, The Boston Globe, 23 January 2018. Last viewed 9/10/18 at https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2018/01/23/the-demise-massachusetts-dairy-farm/G0tyAng0VJ9Ovy8nVvjrZK/story.html

Photo by Navraj Narula, Staff of Daily Free Press, published 9 January 2015

Virginia Ag Department Clarifies Policy on Herdshares


After two consecutive legislative sessions in which unsuccessful efforts were made that would have either banned or severely restricted herd share agreements, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has clarified its policy on herd shares. In an email to the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF), a VDACS official stated, “The agency has currently taken a hands off approach to herd shares as long as there is a legitimate contractual relationship conveying ownership between the consuming individual and the animal/herd. Value added products such as yogurt, etc. (again in the context of a contractual relationship between owner and consumer) are still on the table and I’m not sure where we are going with that but the agency is not taking any action regarding those types of products at this time.”1

Herd share agreements are private contractual arrangements in which someone purchases an ownership interest in a dairy animal (or herd of dairy animals) and pays a fee to a farmer for boarding, caring for and milking the animal(s). The owner has the property right to obtain raw milk from the animal(s). It’s legal to purchase ownership in a dairy animal and it’s legal to obtain milk from a dairy animal you co-own; currently, there is nothing in the Virginia Code on herd shares. Herd share programs have been thriving in Virginia for many years.

In 2017 an amendment to a food freedom bill was introduced that would have banned herd shares; the inducement for the ban was the legalization of the regulated on-farm sale of raw milk. The Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association (VICFA) and others–including the bill’s original sponsor, Nick Freitas–was successful in killing the legislation.

In 2018 opponents of herd shares–such as Virginia Farm Bureau, Virginia Agribusiness Council, and the Virginia State Dairymen’s Association–took a different tact; supporting the introduction of legislation in the Senate (SB 962) and the House of Delegates (HB 825) that would have officially legalized herd shares while attempting to intimidate both consumers and farmers from either entering into or continuing on with herd share agreements. Both bills required that shareholders assume joint liability if the herd or any milk produced by the herd was responsible for injury or illness; the way both bills read, giving raw milk to family or guests would be a crime. Both bills provided that violating any of the requirements in them would be first degree misdemeanors with criminal penalties of up to one year in jail and $2,500 in fines; everyday the violation continued would be a separate offense. Strong grassroots mobilization led by VICFA with help from the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF), FTCLDF and other organizations, carried the day; both bills died in committee.2

VDACS has long had a hands-off policy towards regulating herd share agreements but there have been reports of agency inspectors telling farmers that herd share agreements are illegal. Having a statement in writing from VDACS should help increase the sizable number of herd share programs in the state that already exist. The position of VICFA and its members has always been that the state has no jurisdiction over property rights in dairy livestock acquired through private contract, but there are others who were more hesitant to enter into herd share agreements without something in writing from VDACS on herd shares; they now have it.

In the past VDACS has been reluctant to acknowledge the legality of value-added products distributed through a herd share agreement, but recent precedent in other states shows the wisdom of VDACS current hands-off policy towards the distribution of raw dairy products other than milk.

In 2016 a Michigan court found a herd share operation not guilty of contempt for distributing butter and cream, among other product, to its shareholders; there was an injunction against the operation prohibiting it from violating Michigan’s dairy laws. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) had adopted a written policy allowing only the distribution of fluid raw milk through herd share agreements; in spite of the policy and plenty of evidence showing that other raw dairy was distributed through the herd share, the judge ruled that MDARD had not made its case that there were any violations of the state dairy laws. The case turned in favor of the herd share operation when one of its shareholders, Mike Lobsinger, successfully intervened as a party to the contempt proceeding. One of the arguments made by Lobsinger’s attorney was that, with the raw milk being his property, it was none of MDARD’s business if he had that milk processed into cream.3,4

In 2012 the Office of the Tennessee Attorney General issued an opinion finding that an “independent or partial owner of any hoofed mammal” may use a dairy product made from the milk produced by such animal for the owner’s personal consumption or other personal use.”5 Tennessee has a herd share statute recognizing that anyone who has an ownership interest in a dairy animal can use “the milk from such animal for the owner’s personal consumption or other personal use.”6 When the Tennessee Department of Agriculture claimed that the statute only allowed the distribution of raw milk and no other dairy product, State Senator Frank Niceley, the sponsor of the herd share bill that passed into law in Tennessee, sought the attorney general opinion.

Herd share programs are at the heart of Virginia’s local food system; the written statement of policy from VDACS should only strengthen that. Hopefully, it will help convince herd share opponents not to introduce legislation again in the next legislative session; if they do, the grassroots will be there once more to contest them.

[1] Email dated August 7, 2018
[2] Pete Kennedy, “Victory in Virginia – Bills Threatening Herd Shares Now Dead”, RealMilk.com, 6 February 2018. Last viewed 9/12/18 at https://www.realmilk.com/victory-virginia-bills-threatening-herd-shares-now-dead/
[3] Pete Kennedy, “Wild Day in Michigan: A Court Victory and A Raid”, Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund website, 13 December 2016. Last viewed 9/12/18 at https://www.farmtoconsumer.org/blog/2016/12/13/wild-day-michigan-court-victory-raid/
[4] James S. Jamo, “Opinion and Order”, MDARD v Hill High Dairy, LLC et al, File No. 15-574-CZ, 8 December 2016. [view PDF]
[5] Robert E. Cooper, Jr., “Owner’s Use of Milk and Licensing of the Sale of Eggs”, State of Tennessee Attorney General Office, Opinion No. 12-04, 13 January 2012
[6] Tennessee Statute 53-3-119

STATE RAW MILK BILLS – 2018 UPDATE


There have been raw milk bills before the legislature in ten different states so far this current session. A bill has made it to the governor’s desk in Utah and there is legislation in at least a couple of other states that has a realistic chance of passing, including Louisiana which is one of seven states left where any raw milk sales or distribution is illegal. Bills before the legislatures include:

IOWA House File 2055 (HF 2055) would allow the unregulated sale of raw milk and raw milk products on-farm and through delivery. There is a labeling requirement that there be a statement on the container notifying consumers that the product has not been inspected and is not subject to public health regulations. Bills have also been introduced in the Iowa legislature that would legalize raw pet milk sales (HF 2057) and the distribution of raw milk through herdshares (HF 2056) but HF 2055 is the only raw milk bill the legislature has considered so far. On January 30 a subcommittee of the House Committee on Local Government recommended passage by a 2-1 vote; the bill is now before the full committee. Iowa is one of the remaining states that prohibits any raw milk distribution.

LOUISIANA companion bills, Senate Bill 188 (SB 188) and House Bill 437 (HB 437), have been introduced that would allow the on-farm sale of either cow milk or goat milk of an average of 500 gallons per month. No permit is required but producers are subject to inspection and must comply with milk testing, herd health, and sanitary standards as well as a labeling requirement that there be a warning that the raw milk may contain harmful bacteria. The bills are a reintroduction of Senate Bill 29 (SB 29) that nearly passed in 2016. SB 29 passed out of the Senate and was defeated in the House committee by one vote.

MASSACHUSETTS Senate Bill 442 (S.442) and House Bill 2938 (H.2938) are companion agricultural omnibus bills that include provisions which would officially legalize herdshare agreements and would allow the off-farm delivery of raw milk by licensed dairies. Under the bill, farmers with no more than twelve lactating cows, goats or combination of cows and goats can enter into herdshare agreements with those wanting to obtain raw milk. There must be a written contract that includes a statement that the raw milk is not pasteurized nor subject to inspection by the state Department of Health nor the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR). MDAR has power to issue rules on testing but cannot require testing more frequently than once every two months. The bills allow from a licensed raw milk farmer to deliver raw milk to a consumer with whom the farmer has a contractual relationship, including through the farmer’s agent and through a community supported agriculture (CSA) delivery system. The bill gives MDAR power to issue regulations governing delivery; the regulations must allow for non-mechanical refrigeration. The bills have passed out of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture and will likely next be assigned to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

NEW JERSEY Assembly Bill 502 (A502) is the same bill that has been introduced the prior three legislative sessions, A502 allows for the on-farm sale of raw milk and raw milk products by a licensed dairy. Producers must comply with labeling, signage, herd health, and milk testing requirements. The bill also legalizes herdshare agreements and states that no permit is required for the distribution of milk through a herdshare contract. New Jersey is one of the remaining seven states that prohibits any raw milk distribution. A502 has been referred to the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

TENNESSEE House Bill 2229 (HB 2229) and Senate Bill 2104 (SB 2104) would have allowed the unregulated direct sale from producer to consumers of all foods except meat, on the farm, at farmers markets and other venues. There were labeling and signage requirements but no licensing or inspection under the bills. The bills were both defeated in committee; under current law, the distribution of raw milk and raw milk products is legal through herdshare agreements. Herdshare programs have been thriving in the state.

UTAH Senate Bill 108 (SB 108) has passed through both the Senate and House and are on the desk of Governor Gary Herbet. SB 108 allows the delivery and sale of raw milk through a mechanically refrigerated mobile unit by licensed dairies. Currently only the on-farm sale of raw milk by license holders is legal unless the producer has a majority ownership interest in a retail store (only one of the state’s ten licensed dairies meets this qualification). SB 108 also allows for the unlicensed on-farm sale of up to 120 gallons per month by unlicensed dairies if the producer is in compliance with labeling, recordkeeping, milk testing, and milk cooling requirements. Producers wanting to sell under this exemption must notify the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF) that they are doing so. UDAF has power under the bill to order a producer to stop selling raw milk if the producer’s dairy is linked to a foodborne illness. The department has the power to levy administrative fines against producers who have been linked to a foodborne illness outbreak.

VIRGINIA Senate Bill 962 (SB 962) and House Bill 825 (HB 825) would have officially legalized and regulated herdshare operations. State policy in Virginia has long been to leave the many herdshare programs existing in the state alone. The original versions of both bills would have criminalized the refusal of either farmers or consumers to turn over copies of their contracts to government agencies. Both bills stated it was illegal for anyone besides the party to the contract to receive raw milk; in other words, giving raw milk to family or guests would have been a crime. Criminal penalties for violations of the bill’s requirements were up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine; every day the violation continued would be a separate offense. The bills also required that the herdshare contracts contain a clause that shareholders assumed joint liability if the herd or any milk produced by the heard was responsible for any injury or illness. SB 962 was in Senate committee and shortly afterwards was stricken in the House committee.

For further updates on the progress of raw milk legislation, go to the bill tracking page at realmilk.com.

Victory in Virginia – Bills Threatening Herd Shares Now Dead

Joel Salatin said, “If this is not reminiscent of David and Goliath, I don’t know what is”, referring to the defeat of two bills posing a major threat to the future of herdshare programs in Virginia. Virginia Farm Bureau, Virginia Agribusiness Council, and the Virginia State Dairymen’s Association all supported the legislation but grassroots mobilization against the bills lead by the Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association (VICFA) won out with an assist from members of the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) and the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) and other food freedom advocates.

Herdshare agreements are private contractual arrangements in which someone purchases an ownership interest in a dairy animal (or herd of dairy animals) and pays a fee to a farmer for boarding, caring for and milking the animal(s). The owner has the property right to obtain raw milk from the animal(s). It’s legal to purchase ownership in a dairy animal and it’s legal to obtain milk from a dairy animal you co-own. Herdshare programs have been flourishing in Virginia for many years.

Last month legislators carrying out the agenda of industrial agriculture introduced House Bill 825 and Senate Bill 962 in the Virginia legislature. While the bills officially legalized herdshares [currently there is nothing in the Virginia Code on herdshares], they were an attempt to intimidate both consumers and farmers from either entering into or continuing on with herdshare agreements. Each bill provided that violating any of its requirements would be first degree misdemeanors with criminal penalties of up to one year in jail and $2,500 in fines; every day the violation continued would be a separate offense. Both farmers and consumers could have been found guilty of a crime for not turning over copies of their contracts to government agencies. Both bills stated it was illegal for anyone besides the party to the heredshare contract to receive raw milk; in other words, giving raw milk to family or guests would be a crime according to the wording in the bills.

To scare consumers away from signing contracts, there was a requirement in both bills that the herdshare agreements contain a clause stating that shareholders assumed joint liability if the herd or any milk produced by the herd was responsible for any injury or illness. HB 825 and SB 962 each required there be a label on all raw milk containers with a consumer advisory warning about the dangers of consuming raw animal foods. Why would shareholders need a label on their own property? Why should they be forced to trash their own property with an advisory?

Reaction to the bills’ filings was swift. Farmers and consumers bombarded legislators with phone calls, emails and in-person visits to the capitol. VICFA kept people apprised of the bills’ status and mobilized the local food community to attend the hearings on the bills. Herdshare farmers like Dwayne McIntyre of Goshen Homestead, Jacques and Kim Fuhrmann of Our Fathers Farm, the Wilkes family of Honey Brook Farm, Tim and Joy Alexander of Avery’s Branch Farm, and Scott Wilson of Full Quiver Farm all made a difference in building opposition to the legislation.

On February 1 the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources held a hearing on SB 962; around 100 opponents of the bill packed the hearing room. Senator Mark Obenshain, seeing the writing on the wall with the opposition to the bill, took out a number of SB 962’s more onerous provisions but opponents weren’t buying the revised version of the bill. Their message throughout the testimony opposing SB 962 was clear: no regulation, period!

VICFA member and herdshare pioneer, Christine Solem, began the opponents’ testimony by angrily warning the committee that she would “fight this all the way.” Twice, Solem took herdshare lawsuits to the Virginia Supreme Court in the 1980s with the court implicitly recognizing that herdshare agreements were legal.

Mark Wilkes of Honey Brook Farm commented in his testimony that the bill “was a solution in search of a problem.” VICFA president Anne Buteau backed up that statement in her testimony by pointing out to the committee that, in the 30 years of herdshares operating in Virginia, government officials investigating the one foodborne illness outbreak attributed to raw milk distributed through a herdshare did not go public with the information because, as they stated, “the nature of the herd-share programs are such that we were confident that we would effectively reach those who were truly at risk for illness.”

Herdshares are closed-loop arrangements with a high level of traceability. Virginia government officials have all the authority they need under existing law to conduct an effective investigation if there is a suspicion of foodborne illness.

Senator Richard Black agreed with Wilkes and Buteau, firing up the crowd when he remarked, “I don’t know what problem it’s addressing. People life a free life in rural areas and don’t want government peeking over their back and telling them what to do.”

Once the testimony was over, the committee voted 8 to 7 not to report the bill out of committee. Delegate Barry Knight, the sponsor of HB 825, knowing how difficult it was going to be to pass a more burdensome bill than SB 962 (HB 825, unlike the Senate bill, gave government broad rule-making power) moved to withdraw his bill; on February 5, a House Agriculture subcommittee struck the bill by an 8-0 vote.

VICFA’s mission “is to promote and preserve unregulated direct farmer-to-consumer trade that fosters availability of locally grown or home-produced food products.” VICFA co-founder Salatin, Solem and other VICFA members such as the late Katherine Russell, helped create a “don’t tread on me” culture that is present throughout Virginia when it comes to farmer-to-consumer unregulated commerce, particularly with herdshares. Those in the local food movement there don’t ask the government for permission to exercise their rights and they want the government to leave them alone.

VICFA operates on a shoe-string budget but members, like Buteau, Solem, past president Lois Smith, and Suzi Croes, will spend the time it takes to protect herdshares–the crown jewel of the local food system in Virginia. They continue to be effective in keeping herdshares away from any regulation; in 2017 VICFA helped kill an attempt by Farm Bureau to ban herdshares. When it comes to establishing and protecting unregulated direct farmer-to-consumer commerce, it is a model organization for those in other states to follow.

Click image below to watch the video from the 2/1/18 Senate committee hearing on SB 962 starting at time marker 0:45:40 (Note: Christine Solem stands to the right, behind Senator Obenshain)

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

Virginia Bill Proposed to Legalize Raw Milk Sales

A new controversial Virginia bill, House Bill 1461, would allow state farmers to sell raw milk if they own three or less milking cows.

Currently, cow shares are legal in Virginia, but the change in regulations would help small, local dairies improve their businesses. The bill “Exempts persons who own three or fewer milking cows from the oversight of the Milk Commission and the Board of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ requirements governing the quality, grading, and sanitary standards for milk so long as the milk their cows produce is sold directly to consumers and contains a label stating that the product has not been inspected by the state.”

While some will fight against the bill in the name of public health, others, including many of the state’s small dairy farmers, will speak up against this attack on small farms and try to share accurate raw milk safety facts with their legislators and the public.

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

Maine Raw Milk Bill Changes Still in Committee

A Maine bill that would allow dairy farmers to sell unpasteurized milk directly to consumers on the farm without a license is undergoing changes in committee before going to the House of Representatives for a vote.

Representative William Noon, who sponsored the bill, said that the bill needs to be refined in the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, but did not say when he expected the bill to go to vote. This is one of several food freedom bills the Maine State Legislature is considering in 2015.

Maine dairy farmers are divided on these bills, and not all of them believe that producers should be allowed to sell raw milk to consumers without a license. Read about some of the clashing perspectives via Concord Monitor.

Realmilk.com is a consumer education project of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nutrition education nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. Visit their website, westonaprice.org.

West Virginia Governor Vetoes Raw Milk Bill

West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed a bill that would have allowed consumers access to raw milk through herdshare agreements, which the state Senate had earlier approved.

Governor Tomblin’s veto message used the tired argument that allowing people to drink raw milk “would pose a serious risk to public health.” West Virginia House Delegate Kelli Sobonya (R – Cabell) called the veto shortsighted, preventing West Virginia from “…joining a majority of other states who support farm food freedom.”

Realmilk.com is a consumer education project of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nutrition education nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. Visit their website, westonaprice.org.

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