“Raw milk is a practice worth preserving.” This is an opening statement from a BDN editorial, and I couldn’t agree more. I have been drinking raw goats’ milk from my own animals for the past six years, and it is my favorite milk as a self-proclaimed “milk snob.” It may come as a surprise to hear that I am very worried about and directly oppose the legislation as currently proposed to do away with the licensing and inspections of the producers of raw milk in Maine.
There are several key points of concern to address with LD 1282 and LD 1287, all of which the “food sovereignty” group based in the Blue Hill area seem intent on ignoring.
The first is the most straightforward: public health and food safety. Raw milk, when not handled properly, with the proper equipment and with the proper knowledge, is a high-risk food. Pasteurization was invented for a reason. Yes, people drank milk for many hundreds of years without it, but people also contracted illnesses from milk and other inadequately prepared foods.
Unpasteurized milk can be a way to transmit zoonotic diseases (diseases that are passed between animals and humans), such as tuberculosis and brucellosis, as well as the pathogens that may come from the environment, such as E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus, due to improper sanitation and handling. If an animal is not tested or if the producer is not properly educated, there is no way to tell if these animals are shedding organisms into milk, or if the handling procedure is sanitary. This essential education and testing is provided to state licensed dairy producers as part of the Maine Department of Agriculture’s milk producer licensing program, minimizing risk to the public.
Another public health issue is drug residues. Penicillin allergies are not uncommon. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3 to 10 percent of U.S. adults have had a form of anaphylactic reaction to a penicillin type drug, and this is an antibiotic that is available over the counter for farm animal use.
Improper use of this drug or failure to observe the proper withholding time, results in drug residues in milk, putting the consumer at risk. This risk is minimized, again, by the proper education provided by the state milk lab to licensed dairy producers, as well as regular milk sample screening provided by the same.
My family’s farm obtained its dairy license in 2009. We were milking two goats, and we felt fortunate to live in Maine where the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Quality Assurance and Regulations had established a viable inspection program, approved by the state and respected by the Food and Drug Administration, to enable small-scale producers like us to get our foot in the door of the dairy industry.
I personally expect a level of professionalism when purchasing from farmers at market, their farm store or even their home. To allow the processing of milk and other dairy products to occur in a home kitchen with pets, children and visitors wandering around seems inadequate to me and certainly elevates the risk of product contamination.
LD 1282 would exempt raw milk producers who sell less than 20 gallons per day. But 20 gallons of milk is a lot of milk. Dairy farmers traditionally measure milk in pounds, and 20 gallons of milk is 160 pounds. Your 20-gallon-per-day farmer is producing more than 1,000 pounds of milk per week. This is not a small-scale production. Specialized equipment and dedicated space is absolutely required in order to cool raw milk to the proper temperature of a minimum of 45 degrees quickly enough to maintain the safety and integrity of the product. This is not something that can be done by a home kitchen refrigerator, and the risk of contamination from environmental pathogens is elevated when milk is handled in a home kitchen with children and pets and visitors coming and going.
Food sovereignty proponents would like you to believe that the state of Maine is oppressive and unreasonable in terms of regulation on small dairy farms to the point that no small farm could ever possibly meet their requirements. The truth is that in the past couple of years, the number of small scale, licensed milk producers in Maine has nearly doubled, to more than 120 from 68.
Maine has established a workable, flexible system that supports and assists the small-scale dairy farmer in establishing their business while still establishing adequate measures to allow for the safety of the public. What happened to the adage, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”?
Cara Sammons lives in Acton.