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SD Legislature passes raw milk bill; governor expected to sign

PIERRE, S.D. -- South Dakota raw milk producers can continue to sell milk directly to customers, but under strict rules to protect the reputation of the larger commercial dairy industry.

PIERRE, S.D. -- South Dakota raw milk producers can continue to sell milk directly to customers, but under strict rules to protect the reputation of the larger commercial dairy industry.

SB 45 passed the House, 65 to 2 on March 3. The only opponents were Reps. Leslie Heinemann, R-Flandreau, and John Wilk, R-Big Stone City. Three members were excused. The House Agriculture Committee earlier had recommended a do-pass by a 12-0 vote.

The bill had passed the Senate Ag Committee 7-2, and the full Senate 30-4. Sen. Gary Cammack, R-Union Center, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, says the bill is a compromise with the larger-scale commercial dairy industry, which fears outbreaks of food borne illnesses. Legislative leaders expect Gov. Dennis Daugaard to sign the bill.

The change continues to allow farmers to sell unpasteurized milk in on-farm stores, but not to the general public from off-farm stores. It allows delivery to farmers markets as long as the milk has been presold to an existing customer of the dairy. It also adds to a raw milk human consumption component to the inspections carried out on dairy farms by the state ag department.

Raw milk is not pasteurized or homogenized, which makes it different than conventional or even organic raw milk.

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To informed customers

In January 2013, an informal group started meeting to discuss changing the raw milk marketing law because it was unclear whether certain tests were required. In February 2014, the state Senate Health and Human Services Committee recommended a formal Raw Milk Working Group be formed, with Secretary of Agriculture Lucas Lentsch as chair, and as a proponent.

Gena Parkhurst of Rapid City, S.D., is part of the group and says she is thrilled it finally passed, helping to ensure a supply.

At age 48, Parkhurst has been consuming raw milk on an intermittent basis since she was 14 and growing up in the Chicago area. She's drunk it regularly since age 40 when she moved to South Dakota, for various health reasons. She found she could get raw milk in South Dakota from both goats and cows. She gets her milk from Lila Streff of Custer, S.D., who has four cows and milking goats, and Tim Eisenbeis, with Happy Grazing Dairy of Marion, S.D.

"I have had serious health challenges, including arthritis since I was a kid. Raw milk is very helpful to me," Parkhurst says.

The price of raw milk varies tremendously -- from $8 a gallon to $40 a gallon.

A compromise

Sen. Bernie Hunhoff, D-Yankton, commended Lentsch and the Legislature for coming together to draft a compromise.

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"It seems like there's some friction between the local foods movement and 'Big Ag.' That's too bad;that needs to be resolved," Hunhoff says.

Hunhoff says the state needs to care about food safety, but the record shows the problems are mostly in poultry and seafood.

He says there are 5,000 food poisoning deaths each year in the U.S., but adds there haven't been any related to raw milk since records were kept.

"It's just not a problem," Hunhoff says, calling the bill a "good first step" that might be expanded if the industry can be comfortable with it.

Sen. Bruce Rempelberg, R-Rapid City, a former agriculture committee vice chairman, thinks the bill "covers the waterfront" of concerns for farmers -- in allowing the market niche and alleviating concerns about testing from larger-scale dairies and the public -- and for raw milk businesses -- in allowing them to improve and reduce liability.

Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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