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Wisconsin opens raw milk door

Source: Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. – Proponents of unpasteurized milk hope a victory in “America’s Dairyland” will encourage other states to legalize sales and make it more available nationwide.

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle has indicated he will sign a bill allowing farms to sell raw milk directly to consumers through 2011. Although the bill is limited in scope, advocates who’ve worked for years promoting raw milk say legalization in Wisconsin could lead to broader acceptance nationwide.

“It’s the best state this could have happened in for us,” said Sally Fallon Morell, president of the Washington-based Weston A. Price Foundation, a non-profit group that advocates drinking raw milk.

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. With Doyle’s signature, Wisconsin would become the 20th state to allow direct sales of raw milk from dairy farmers to individuals. Another nine states allow retail sales.

Advocates had been hoping that number would grow this year as a half dozen states considered bills.

Even though Wisconsin is relatively late to the game in legalizing raw milk sales, and laws are more liberal in some other states, its acceptance of unpasteurized milk could ease consumers’ fears and set an example for the remaining 30 states, said Pete Kennedy, a lawyer with the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, which is affiliated with the Weston A. Price Foundation.

“It’s a foot in the door,” he said.

Janet Brunner sold raw milk from her farm in western Wisconsin until about two years ago when the state forced her to stop. She said she looks forward to resuming sales soon.

“We are the one that everybody’s watching,” said Brunner, who lives in Arkansaw, Wis., about 80 miles east of Minneapolis.

The fight over raw milk usually comes down to health risks. Supporters say pasteurization – the process that kills harmful bacteria and extends shelf life – also destroys beneficial nutrients and enzymes. Public health officials and epidemiologists say unpasteurized milk can contain bacteria, including E. coli and salmonella, that causes sickness and even death.

Seattle attorney Bill Marler has represented children and families all over the country sickened by E. coli and other food contaminants. As raw milk sales become more common, an inevitable outbreak if illness will make legislators regret liberalizing the laws, he said. “I’ve just seen too much illness and death due to bacterial contamination, and I frankly just think we ought to minimize it to the extent possible,” Marler said. 

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