When it comes to raw milk, even dairy farmers who drink their own product disagree over whether they and their peers should be allowed to sell it.
The issue has made headlines with the recent trial of a Sauk County farmer, who was acquitted last month of three charges of producing, processing and selling milk without proper licenses but convicted of violating a holding order by continuing to sell his products after ordered to stop.
The Journal Times reported 31 states allow some level of raw milk sales and 19 do not, according to the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture. Wisconsin bans the sale of raw milk, with extremely limited exceptions.
Raw milk advocates argue it tastes better and has more nutrients; but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says most nutrients stay in milk even after pasteurization.
Farmers interviewed by the Journal Times have different views on the issue.
“It’s a sticky issue,” said Burlington-area farmer Brian Schaal, who milks nearly 300 cows and drinks the raw milk produced on his farm. “Personally, I don’t like the government making rules about what’s best for the public.
“But on the other hand,” Schaal continued, “what if someone buys raw milk and would get sick – who’s responsible? Is it the person or the farmer? And the whole dairy industry would get a black eye.”
Kathy Baumeister, a former Burlington-area dairy farmer, said her family drank raw milk until they sold their herd nine years ago.
“We love it, our kids love it. We never had an issue, but we took very good care of the milk,” she said.
“It was never sitting around. That’s where the issue is,” she said. She said if milk isn’t properly taken care of, bacteria can quickly grow and make people sick. And she’s not sure how the state could monitor that.
“I can’t definitely say one side or the other is correct, because I can see both sides,” she said.
Town of Burlington dairy farmer Dave Elderbrook said farmers should be able to sell raw milk. “We have sold to neighbors for years till the lawsuits and all of that started,” Elderbrook said, “and then we quit. We have people stop all the time and ask for it, but we won’t do it anymore because of the liability.”
Former Raymond dairy farmer Bob Hunter also supports consumer choice.
“I still think when a consumer wants to buy raw milk it should be up to them. I don’t really care if the state likes it or not. I think a farmer is providing what the citizens want,” he said.
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