Pass the Raw Milk While You Can

Proposed legislation from the state Department of Agriculture to place heavier restrictions on the production and sale of raw milk may have a drastic financial impact on local farm owners.

“It’s a huge, huge, huge economic impact on the small towns and their farms,” said Christopher Newton, owner of Baldwin Brook Farm in Canterbury. “It would likely shut a lot of businesses down.”

Newton is one of several local producers of raw, or unpasteurized, milk who would be hit hard by the proposed legislation, now being reviewed by the department’s Milk Regulation Board before it is submitted to the General Assembly.

Dr. Bruce Sherman, director of the Bureau of Regulation and Inspection with the agriculture department and Wayne Kasacek, assistant director of the bureau, said the proposed legislation aims to place more stringent warnings on raw milk containers, require increased testing at a cost to farmers and limit raw milk sales to farms only.

‘A big hassle’

Newton said the proposed legislation would require quarterly testing for fecal coliform matter on each animal at $111 per animal. Newton milks nine cows, and the yearly cost would total $3,996. The legislation also would require monthly testing for pathogens at $135 each, an annual cost of $1,620.

Newton also said 50 percent of his sales come from retail locations, which the proposed legislation would ban.

“It’s not only going to have a humongous impact on us as a small business, but its going to impact tons of small businesses across Connecticut,” Newton said.

Paul Trubey, owner of Beltane Farm in Lebanon, said he agrees with the legislation’s efforts for more stringent labels and even with the additional testing, though he does not agree with farms carrying the burden of cost.

But Trubey said he sells his raw milk to more than 14 farmers markets and several retail locations, and limiting his sales to on the farm would put a significant dent in his profits.

“This part of the legislation is effectively going to put people out of business and limit choices,” Trubey said.

Kris Noiseux, owner of Meadow Stone Farm in Brooklyn, said limiting retail sales would not affect his farm much, because most of his sales are already on the farm. But Noiseux said the increased costs of additional testing could be more than his farm could handle, and may lead him to stop selling raw milk.

“It’s very possible, because we don’t sell a huge volume and it’s a big hassle,” Noiseux said.

A safety issue

Kasacek said increased regulations on raw milk has long been a department initiative. Twice since 1991, the department has proposed legislation that would ban raw milk, Sherman said.

Kasacek said work on the current proposed legislation increased after a June outbreak of E. coli linked to raw milk at a Simsbury farm infected 14 people.

Sherman said the overall goal is to help consumers be fully informed about the risks associated with raw milk consumption and to prevent accidental purchase of raw milk by consumers who believe they are buying pasteurized milk.

But Bruce Oscar, assistant manager at Willimantic Food Co-op, said in the eight years the store has sold raw milk, he has never had a customer confused by raw milk or received a complaint about raw milk.

Oscar said the store sells three types of raw milk and five types of pasteurized milk, and the raw milk from Baldwin Brook Farm is the best-selling milk and the third best-selling dairy product.

The Milk Regulation Board will discuss the proposed raw milk legislation at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.
Copyright NORBL - Norwich Bulletin
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