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Wisconsin Governor Bars Most Raw Milk Sales In 'America's Dairyland'

posted on May 21, 2010

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- If you're looking to buy raw milk, don't rely on "America's Dairyland."

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed a bill Wednesday that would have allowed limited sales of raw milk, saying he wanted to protect citizens' health. He also was concerned about how a possible outbreak of illnesses from drinking unpasteurized milk could affect Wisconsin's $26 billion dairy industry.

"I recognize that there are strong feelings on both sides of this matter, but on balance, I must side with the interests of public health and the safety of the dairy industry," Doyle said in his veto letter to lawmakers.

Bill supporters argued that pasteurization, which kills harmful bacteria and extends shelf life, depletes milk of beneficial nutrients. But opponents - including the dairy industry - said the threat of E. coli or salmonella should take precedent.

Wisconsin allows incidental sales of raw milk, but dairy farmers who supported the bill said the state was cracking down on anyone who sold to regular customers or more than a few occasional gallons.

The federal government doesn't allow sales of raw milk because of concerns about food-borne illness, but states can allow them as long as the milk doesn't cross state lines. Nineteen states allow direct sales of raw milk from dairy farmers to individuals, while nine other states permit retail sales.

Between 1998 and 2008, there were 1,614 reported illnesses, 187 hospitalizations and two deaths from consumption of raw milk, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Doyle said in April that he was leaning toward signing the bill, but he was heavily lobbied in recent weeks by Wisconsin's dairy and cheese industries, the Wisconsin Medical Society, farm and health groups, and a host of other businesses. The National Milk Producers Federation and the International Dairy Foods Association joined the chorus last week.

Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, had pledged to drink raw milk for a year to prove its benefits if the bill was signed. He said Wednesday that the veto "infuriates me beyond belief" and hurts residents who believe that raw milk improves their health.

Other supporters included groups that advocate for family farms, support limited government intrusion into consumer rights and promote access to natural healing methods. Hundreds of people showed up in support at a public hearing earlier this year.

Seattle attorney Bill Marler, who has represented children and families all over the country sickened by E. coli and other food contaminants, said Doyle made the right move.

"Because Wisconsin's well-known as the 'Dairy State,' it sends the message that other states need to take a deep breath and understand that raw milk does not come without risks," Marler said.

The bill would have allowed farmers to sell raw milk directly to consumers on their farms through 2011, as a study of how to permanently deal with the issue was completed. The study, which includes supporters and opponents of raw milk, is under way.

Tags: agriculture dairy food safety governors industry milk news raw milk salmonella Wisconsin