Here in Wisconsin, we produce more than 25 billion pounds of milk every year. Now, the debate over raw milk is back on the table in America's Dairyland.
Currently, state law says people can drink raw milk, but farmers can't sell it. Republican state Sen. Glenn Grothman from West Bend hopes to change that. He and other proponents say even though pasteurizing milk does kill bacteria, it also destroys nutrients. Sen. Grothman is working on a bill that will legalize the sale of raw milk, but to gain enough support, he'll have to include enough safety barriers to minimize people's risk of getting sick.
"It's been super long, lots of snow," Sam Zimmermann said. "And it's hard to manage everything in this weather." Spring can't come soon enough for Zimmerman, a dairy farmer from Ringle. His 160 cows produce around 1,000 lbs. of milk each day. But nearly all of that heads south to Mullins Cheese in Mosinee.
"It would be nice to be able to sell [milk] locally." he said. "Like vegetables, you can sell vegetables at a farmer's market."
Zimmermann says the opportunity to sell his raw milk straight from the cow to the consumer, could help him distinguish himself from the competition.
"If all of the right safety precautions were in place, that might be something we could do," Zimmermann said.
Some of those necessary safeguards include the testing of certain organisms, checking the health of the herd, and informing people about the potential of getting Salmonella, E. coli and other diseases associated with consuming raw milk.
Yet most health experts still say it's not worth the risk.
"Studies haven't proven there is a significant difference between raw and pasteurized milk," said Dale Grosskurth, the Environmental Health and Safety Dir. with the Marathon Co. Health Dept. "But there is enough evidence that there are outbreaks associated."
A recent multi-year study from the CDC found dairy ranks at the top for food borne-illness hospitalizations, and among disease outbreaks from raw dairy products, 60 percent were attributed to milk.
"What would it do the reputation and the economics of our industry if an outbreak were to occur because of a raw milk scare," said Shawn Pfaff, a spokesperson for the Wis. Safe Milk Coalition.
To counter this latest push for a new raw milk bill, the Coalition sent out a letter last month, urging lawmakers not to sponsor any such legislation.
"We think it is impossible to make an unsafe product safe unless you pasteurize it," Pfaff said.
This is the second time Sen. Grothman has tried to get a raw milk bill passed. His first one failed last year because it didn't have enough restrictions. No word yet on when this latest version will be introduced to the Legislature.
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