Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The revolution will not be pasteurized

Raw milk controversy hits more than a few raw nerves in Massachusetts. Thanks to my buddy Bruce for the heads-up on this story. (GW)

Chill over milk

Buying clubs may be be over

By Bradford L. Miner
Telegram & Gazette
May 11, 2010

HARDWICK — Their passion is raw milk, but Raymond and Pamela Robinson along with two dozen other certified raw milk producers see a move by the state to put a stranglehold on “raw milk buying clubs” as a raw deal.

The bottom line for the Robinsons is that more than half their income from daily production of 20 to 25 gallons of unpasteurized milk comes from agents who buy milk at the farm to deliver to those who can’t or don’t want to make the trip themselves to the Jackson Road organic farm.

“More than 50 percent of our customers either share a ride to the farm or pay someone to pick up the milk for them,” Mrs. Robinson said.

The Hardwick couple is not alone in depending on a network of “raw milk clubs” to distribute their product. Many other certified raw milk producers rely on sales to individuals who pick up milk to deliver to others, and tightened regulation of that network worries both producers and consumers.

Winton Pitcoff, coordinator of the Northeast Organic Farming Association/Massachusetts chapter Raw Milk Network, said the impassioned testimony from the 80 or so at the state Department of Agricultural Resources hearing at the Saltonstall building was not just about raw milk rights, but preserving food freedom.

Mr. Pitcoff said one individual told Commissioner Scott J. Soares that a person on their death bed in a hospital could ask a friend or relative to pick up a pack of cigarettes at a convenience store, a prescription for OxyContin at a pharmacy, a pint of vodka at a package store, and a gallon of raw milk at a state-certified farm, and the courier could only be arrested for transporting the milk to a third party.

Commissioner Soares said moving forward from yesterday’s hearing the DAR would take a broader look at the milk market before considering any amendment to regulations involving raw milk clubs.

“Fifty or so testified, and there were many very thoughtful comments. Although on Friday the department withdrew an amendment that would limit the sale of raw milk to the farm where it was produced, many spoke to that issue nonetheless,” the commissioner said.

Commissioner Soares said the department understands that licensed milk dealers have been and will continue to be the only ones authorized to distribute milk of any kind.

A milk dealer is defined in regulations as “anyone in the business of receiving, purchasing, pasteurizing, bottling, processing, distributing or otherwise handling milk.”

“This is still the case, and MDAR will take such steps to enforce violations as they become aware of them,” according to the DAR.

Commissioner Soares said there has been interagency cooperation on the raw milk front between the DAR and the Department of Public Health, which does not condone the drinking of unpasteurized milk.

The commissioner said he’s not aware of any instance where a foodborne illness has been reported as a result of raw milk transported from farm to consumer through a club or cooperative.

He said because DAR’s authority is limited to the farm, any attempt to legalize the third-party raw milk delivery system would require cooperation with other departments.

Mrs. Robinson said she and her husband took part in the rally on Boston Common before the start of the DAR hearing, and she enjoyed milking “Suzanne,” a pasture-raised Jersey from the Eastleigh Farm in Framingham.

“She was quite content and thoroughly enjoyed Boston Common’s clover,” Mrs. Robinson said.

Mrs. Robinson said she has no idea how the DAR would enforce what it considers violations of milk control regulations.

“For our part this has been a cooperative effort to get raw milk to people who want it and in doing so, support our efforts at sustainable agriculture through organic farming,” she said.

Mrs. Robinson said she and her husband have never had any complaints about the milk they sell for $7 a gallon.

“People who come to the farm to pick it up for others make an effort to see it’s well-chilled when it’s delivered,” Mrs. Robinson said.

She said they are building a cheese-processing plant that, when complete, will allow them to divert some of the milk they might lose from fewer milk club sales to the production of cheese, an additional source of revenue.

Mr. Pitcoff encouraged those with an interest in keeping raw milk flowing from dairy to consumers to contact him at winton@nofamass.org for additional information.

Alexis Baden-Mayer, political director for the Organic Consumers Association, which organized the Boston Common rally, said, “We don’t need a ‘new solution.’ Up until this proposed ban, everything has been fine. If there’s any change to Massachusetts regulations, it should be a change to make it easier – not harder – for us to get the healthy organic raw milk and dairy products we want. This law would deny us our right to choose what we eat and drink.”


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