By Emmy McAllister
As of now, there are 21 licensed raw milk dairies in Washington selling raw milk. There are two others that are licensed to sell raw milk but have chosen not to do so. Thirteen of the dairies are located near Puget Sound and the Strait of Georgia; there are two dairies near Vancouver, and six in eastern Washington. There are approximately 60 towns and cities in Washington where raw milk is available, possibly more than any other state except Pennsylvania. Understandably, most of them are located close to the concentration of raw milk dairies, from the Puget Sound lowlands on up to the Canadian border.
Raw Milk Dairy Products that are Legal in Washington: Whole milk, cream, fat reduced milk, skimmed milk, colostrum and cheese aged at least sixty days.
Around the middle of January I received a sheet of paper in the mail from an unknown sender. The sheet was titled, “Raw Milk Advisory”. The word, “DRAFT”, was written several times across the top, and from the wording, it looked like it was written by the WSDA. The advisory says, in part, “Violation of the law could bring a high price. The first offense is a misdemeanor, with jail up to 90 days and a fine up to $1000; the second offense is a gross misdemeanor, with up to one year in jail and a fine up to $5000. Based on the definition of “sale”, this applies to both the producer and consumer of non-Grade A raw milk. Also included would be anyone who picks up or stores the milk for another person, even if they neither produce nor consume the milk themselves.”
The definition of “sale” as of last legislative session is: “selling, offering for sale, holding for sale, preparing for sale, distributing, dispensing, delivering, supplying, trading, bartering, offering as a gift as an inducement for sale of, and advertising for sale in any media.” I have not been able to verify that the WSDA wrote this draft or has released a Raw Milk Advisory; but, based on the new definition of the word, “sale” it does seem likely that the WSDA might intend to prosecute both consumers and producers of non-licensed raw milk, whether it publishes a warning or not.
The buzz around Olympia is that the WSDA intends to crack down on unlicensed dairies this year and penalize both farmers and consumers. If that is indeed the case, if there are still raw milk consumers here in Washington getting their milk from unlicensed dairies, perhaps they might want to consider giving or loaning money to the farmer who supplies them, to help him or her get licensed. Heck, if it were me, I’d rather give my money to a friend than to the state any day!
Federal regulations prohibit the selling of retail raw milk products across state lines. It has been assumed that if such a sale occurred, it would be only the seller and not the purchaser who would be in violation. I do not know at this time however, whether the definition of the word “sale” in the federal document would also include the consumer. That is research for another day. If anyone has a copy of the applicable federal regulations, would you please forward a copy to me?
As you know, last fall, Rep. Jim Moeller from Vancouver, WA, the same legislator who introduced the raw milk legislation last year requiring cow share dairies to be licensed, incorporating a new definition for the word “sale” into the law and inserting new penalties for distributing raw milk without a license, was quoted by his local newspaper as saying, “The 2007 legislature is certain to take a fresh look at banning raw milk sales in Washington because two outbreaks this year have been linked to unpasteurized milk. Maybe a ban will pass next session, where none did last winter. With raw milk making children sick, some legislator is sure to move to outlaw its sale in this state. It is banned in many others.” The article said that Rep. Moeller hadn’t decided whether to introduce a raw milk ban himself.
Because of Rep. Moeller’s public assertion that raw milk was in for another tough ride in 2007, throughout the months of November and December, I was working with others to create and implement the ANTI-BAN PLAN, knowing full well that there really wasn’t enough time to get all the pieces into place before the legislative session would begin on January 8. A goodly amount of work has already been done on the plan, however, and I will be sending you updates about that in the near future. Hopefully, at some point in the not too far distant future there will be a completed plan, waiting and ready in the event anti-raw milk legislation ever does pop up.
Last March, a Small Dairy Workgroup had been mandated by an amendment to Rep. Moeller’s bill to find, and make suggestions to remove, discrimination against small dairies in the wording of the WSDA’s Dairy Farm Manual, the RCWs and the WACs. There may be no greater barrier to licensing for a raw milk micro-dairy farmer than knowing that it would be many years before he or she could recoup their investment in facilities and equipment, if ever. It was hoped that the workgroup would do their job, and that a viable set of size and cost-appropriate requirements for facilities and equipment would be suggested, thus removing this major barrier to licensing that many raw milk micro-dairies had been facing. But this was not to be. The workgroup decided not to address discrimination based on size at all. Their report said, “Early on, the work group discussed whether there was a need to define ‘small-scale dairy.’ The group concluded that a definition would not be needed for its task, as the issue of food safety and concerns related to becoming licensed were not related to size.” Unsurprisingly, the work group concluded that small-scale dairies were not experiencing any major barriers to licensing.
Bewildered as to how the workgroup could have come to such an obviously erroneous conclusion, I engaged the services of a professional business process analyst to analyze the means by which the WSDA work group had done so. The Business Process Analysis of the WSDA report concluded, “…due to infrastructure problems, evidence of bias, and absence of survey data…the business processes associated with the conduct of this study were inadequate to produce a product which meets the need, purpose and intent of the directive.”
On, January 8th, the first day of the current Legislative Session, I represented the raw milk dairy farmers and consumers at the House Ag Committee Roundtable and presented 1) the results of the WSDA workgroup’s report, “Small Scale Dairies: Barriers to Licensing”; 2) the Business Process Analysis of that report; 3) copies of two documents containing barriers to licensing submitted on behalf of raw milk dairy farmers that chose to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal; and 4) an introduction to the SAFMILC Certification Program, a program being created to best insure public safety and the future of the raw milk industry in Washington. My purpose in being at the Roundtable was to ask the legislators to take into consideration the information contained in the Business Process Analysis, the list of barriers to licensing, and the creation the SAFMILC program before making any decisions on bills relating to raw milk that might be presented to them this session. I sent them all follow-up letters to this effect as well.
Shortly after the Roundtable, I spoke with Rep. Moeller’s legislative assistant, and she said that Rep. Moeller did not plan to introduce new legislation on raw milk “at this time”. As far as Celeste Bishop and I have been able to determine, there is no legislation about to be proposed that raw milk be outlawed in Washington, nor does there seem to be a movement to create legislation to oppose raw milk at this time. But in the absence of realistic requirements for facilities and equipment for raw milk micro-dairies, however, another set of circumstances has arisen that could be the undoing of our raw milk industry. (See immediately below.)
Insiders say that since last winter when the new raw milk legislation was passed, complete with its stringent penalties for non-compliance, “the WSDA has been under a lot of pressure to get all the raw milk dairies licensed.” The WSDA Food Safety Officers have indeed worked diligently since that time to get raw milk dairies licensed in the absence of 1) rules and regs that are appropriate for micro-dairies and for dairies that produce raw milk safe for human consumption; and 2) in most cases, in the absence of any background in dairying, much less in the production of raw milk safe for human consumption, which requires a different set of practices, from conventional dairying, and sometimes a different physical set-up and different equipment as well.
To get as many dairies licensed as possible, the Food Safety Officers have sometimes taken great liberties with the rules and regs, and sometimes even ignored certain rules and regs altogether. The problem is that they don’t always know how to distinguish between the rules and regs that are important for producing raw milk safe for human consumption and those that have nothing to do with raw milk safety; so unfortunately, some unwise decisions have been made. These unwise decisions may have unintentionally set the raw milk dairy farmers up for a fall – future outbreaks with the consequential banning of raw milk statewide.
It is the primary goal of the SAFMILC Certification Program, now under development, to keep this from happening. The SAFMILC Certification Program will provide raw milk dairy farmers 1) reliable information about production practices that consistently produce raw milk safe for human consumption; and 2) cost and size-appropriate kinds of facilities and equipment that support those proven production practices. Once the raw milk dairy farmers have this information, they will be able to make better informed decisions about their practices and their physical set-ups and equipment, and make any changes needed to protect themselves and others.
Realizing that the WSDA Small Dairy Workgroup did not do the job they were mandated to do, certain legislators have suggested that the best way to remove the current discriminatory requirements in favor of requirements that make sense for raw milk micro-dairies might be for a group of highly experienced raw milk dairy farmers to compile a list of proposed changes, along with an explanations for each one, and submit them to the WSDA and/or the Legislature for adoption. Once the SAFMILC Program has been developed and has the enthusiastic support of raw milk industry, this suggestion might be worth serious consideration.
For the last several weeks, my work with raw milk dairy farmers on the SAFMILC Program was temporarily suspended; Opposing Pro-NAIS and REAL ID legislation became a much higher priority for raw milk dairy farmers and raw milk consumers alike. I look forward to resuming work on the SAFMILC Program very soon. It’s an extremely worthwhile endeavor. I find it very exciting and I’m pleased to be part of it!
That’s it for now!
Emmy McAllister, Coordinator
Washington Raw Milk Campaign
a Project of the Weston A. Price Foundation