Thursday, December 15, 2011

Raw Milk Could Become Legal In Kentucky

In my interest concerning the availability of good local foods and my passion toward raw milk, I have learned that one of the pre-filed bill for the next legislative session is about the legal sales of raw milk. I know that not everybody shares my love of raw milk but I and my family have come to believe that drinking it has kept us healthier and for those lovers of local foods, it just makes sense.

Local foods is a mantra which has been taken up by many, as is sustainable farming and food security on the local level. That may be what is behind this bill in tis initial form.

The bill, 12RS BR 294, is labeled as “AN ACT relating to milk.” and amends KRS 217C.030 which deals with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, the part of state government that has control over the production and sale of milk. I have no idea why this is not dealt with in an agricultural department but it is not.

The bill is simple enough, it just adds a new section talking about the legal sales of raw milk and its “permitted" producers. It sounds like something that I have been hoping for for some time now. But, there are always one of those around, anytime you have a simple allowance of something, government bureaucracy will find some way to foul the initial intent.

The first place that convolution can begin to rear its ugly head is the definition of “permitted” producer.

The normal producer of raw milk is, of course, the cow and I don't think that they need a permit but the dairy where the cow lives and the dairyman who milks her probably will. A dairyman is normally also called a farmer and farmers have been the backbone of American agriculture since colonial days. Farmers have supplied their families and the local villages with milk since Medieval times if not before. I believe that it is only since the middle of the last century, when large industrial dairies began to “produce” dairy products and relegated the farmer to the role of “supplier” that permitting became an issue.

The local farmer today, really wishes to grow and sell a good product and allowing an inferior product to leave the farm or potentially harm the consumer is the last situation that they want. Industrial farmers just need to move as much inventory as they can, because it is all about filling the contract and not feeding your friends and neighbors.

Under this new bill, any permitted producer may legally sell raw milk to the end consumer as long as it is at the farm where it is produced. That sounds good but I doubt that many of the industrial dairies would like for the average shopper to see the conditions in which the cows live. It is sometimes vastly different from the bucolic images shown of happy cows and verdant pastures. Some cows never see the light of day or green fields.

On the other hand, the permitting requirements placed upon the local farmer(dairyman) may be so onerous that attempting to comply would entail a full time staff of dozens. This is far from the concept of a small time farm family that conquered the wilderness of America.. Farmers with small or medium sized herds may not be able to meet these currently unwritten regulations.

Given the history of the inspectors of the Cabinet of Health and Family Services and their past demonstrated dislike of the dairymen with cowshare programs, the possible new regulations could surely create problems for the small dairyman.

The proposed new law also requires that all packaging be labeled in such a way that could subtly imply, through wording and “warnings”, that raw milk is inferior to the usual commercial offerings. It has been the experience of those of us who like raw milk, that we need to search out that which we feel is superior and will go the extra mile to get it. Of those I know in the cowshare “families”, we trust our dairymen and realize some of the inherent risk in the bottling process, yet others trust the government inspection system and its highly publicized and all too frequent failures.

Lastly, the bill reiterates that the raw milk may only be sold or sampled on the farm which produced it which puts the smaller sized dairymen at a significant disadvantage compared to industrial dairies and their convenient sales and delivery systems.

There is much to like in this proposed law. It brings to light the increased desire to consume raw milk and the rise in the re-localization of our basic foods. It show a desire on the part of a legislator to legalize what should be freely available, similar to the farmers market expansion we are currently watching happen. It helps bring Kentucky closer to the regulations of other enlightened states concerning local foods. It does many good things but it also falls somewhat short.

There is much to be done which will make this bill better.

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