A decision by a Dane County judge to block a northeastern Wisconsin farm from selling raw milk might have reignited a longstanding debate over free taste and health safety.
Kay and Wayne Craig, owners of Grassway Farm in Calumet County, had sued a state department after it shut down a membership program established for the farm’s customers. The Craigs created the memberships so customers would become part-owners of the farm, claiming that complied with a state law that a farm’s owners could legally drink unpasteurized milk from their own cows.
The state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection ended the farm’s plan because it allowed a regular base of customers to buy raw milk, which is illegal.
DATCP officials said that state law wasn’t meant to extend to dozens of farm members and the judge agreed, WISC-TV reported.
“This would be like saying that, if I joined Costco or Sam’s Club, Sam’s doesn’t have to follow the rules either because I willingly signed up and paid my fee,” DATCP administrator Steve Ingham said.
Only dairy producers, family, employees or incidental consumers can buy raw milk in Wisconsin. The prohibitions against large-scale operations exist because pathogens in unpasteurized milk are unsafe, Ingham said.
“People often say, ‘There’s a lot of stuff riskier than unpasteurized milk,'” he said. “Well, if it’s your kid getting sick, you don’t care about how many people are getting sick or hurt from other things, you care about your kid.”
Raw milk’s supporters counter that its health benefits outweigh possible side effects.
Dairy farmers’ families have consumed unpasteurized milk for decades, and they’re not unhealthy, said state Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend. Grothman has sponsored a bill, co-sponsored by other state Senate Republicans, to legalize most raw milk sales from licensed producers.
“It’s an archaic law,” he said. “I think we can look forward to the day, hopefully this time next year, where everything can be above board.”
Sellers now must sell at night or use tactic such as the Craigs’ to avoid the law. Raw milk producers contacted by WISC-TV for this story declined comment, and said they feared state inspectors would shut down their operations down, too.
Both houses of the state Legislature passed a similar version to legalize the sale of unpasteurized milk last year. But then-Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed the legislation, citing its negative health consequences.
The dairy industry, which on the whole doesn’t support raw milk sales, will force concessions from the bill’s sponsors this year, Grothman said. His bill would end most state regulations for licensed producers, especially small-scale operations.
“Maybe you have to look out that occasionally somebody could get sick, but the health care benefits outweigh that,” Grothman said. “You’ve got to remember that was a time in Wisconsin that was the norm.”