DATCPs Power Structure Heard the Raw Milk Rumblings; Working Groups Ideas Expected in 6-10 Months
Consumers are becoming much more outspoken in demanding access to raw milk, and authorities are beginning to get the message.
Some 50 or more raw milk advocates showed up Tuesday evening at a normally perfunctory meeting of Missouri State Milk Board, and the local media gave it prominent coverage.
The Milk Board, according to the article, has committed to establishing a subcommittee to study the raw milk issue, which has become a big deal in Missouri because the state’s attorney general and Milk Board launched suits against two farmers after public health undercover agents purchased milk from their daughters.
It turns out that it was a similar outpouring of consumer concern—at a meeting in November of the nine-member Board of Directors of Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP)—that led to the sharp about-face by the agency Tuesday with establishment of a raw milk working group in that state. (The board is appointed by the governor; I've included a photo of the board's chairman, Mike Dummer, who seems to be an agribusiness type.) That November meeting attracted a contingent of raw milk proponents to object to Wisconsin’s crackdown on dairy farmers selling raw milk. I recounted in a November posting how attendees also passed out copies of my book to the directors.
We may never know how many of them read my book, but according to Donna Gilson, DATCP’s press representative, the November board meeting “was when this whole raw milk thing came to a head. A lot of raw milk advocates who came to that meeting spoke eloquently. The board and secretary (Rod Nilsestuen) said we need to deal with this somehow.”
The board, which is fairly independent because it is appointed directly by the governor, apparently prevailed on Rod Nilsestuen to form the twenty-person study group I described in my previous post. Donna Gilson described Nilsestuen as upset about the accusations by raw milk advocates, and on this blog, that DATCP was unfairly cracking down on owners of small dairies. “The secretary felt he has been unfairly accused of being anti-small-family-farm,” she said. “He comes from a small family farm. He has said over and over that we need economic diversity. He is troubled by the problems of the dairy industry.”
Well, maybe the fact that DATCP has conducted an aggressive six-month campaign against small-dairy producers and distributors of raw milk may have something to do with the accusations. But this was a discussion about what’s happening now and looking ahead, so I didn’t bring up those unpleasantries.
According to Donna Gilson, the new working group should have its first meeting during the second half of next month, and recommendations ready to present in six to ten months.
She added that it’s not clear what effect of the working group might have on proposed legislation introduced in the Wisconsin legislature that would legalize the sale of raw milk by licensed Grade A dairies. She noted that DATCP has taken no official position on the legislation. She said it’s possible the legislation could pass, and the study group’s recommendations would relate to how best to implement the legislation; or it’s possible the legislation doesn’t pass, and the study group could make recommendations on new legislation. Or the study group could recommend against any sale of raw milk. “It’s all hypothetical,” she said.
She did note that the new study group’s meetings will be open to the public. Seems like it may be a good idea for raw milk proponents to attend.
One final thing: the concerns Lola Granola, Miguel, and Don Wittlinger have about the role of regulators and their licenses are well taken. For now, though, as Devon Hernandez suggests, licensing is embedded into our regulatory culture. Even Lykke seems in good spirits about the move toward a spirit of cooperation, despite the fact that the move is an accommodation the authorities can't have been pleased to make. Farmers in many states need licenses to sell their milk, so, like it or not, it’s the system they deal with. (The challenges to the system are out there, most notably in the case of Barb and Steve Smith, which was argued this week by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund in the New York State Supreme Court.)
Each time I hear moaning and groaning about the terrible state of “the dairy industry,” I think about owners of raw dairies, who are working not only to supply consumers with the milk they want, but to establish a new economic model for the dairy business. I just wrote an article at Grist.org about my Public Radio pitch to get the dairy establishment to consider the raw dairy model.
The Marler Blog features a video of Mary McGonigle-Martin and family. Mary, as many here know, was a regular blogger here after her son became seriously ill from hemolytic uremic syndrome. Mary seeks to warn viewers away from raw milk.