6/8/2013 7:00 AM
By Katelyn Parsons Massachusetts Correspondent
SPENCER, Mass. — Monday’s public hearing on the expansion of raw milk sales in Massachusetts allowed farmers, advocates and the public to sound off on a proposed bill currently in the Massachusetts Legislature.
The Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture organized the hearing, which was held at David Prouty High School here.
While there are over 24 farms in Massachusetts that sell raw milk to consumers directly on the farm, the bill is looking at a way to help raw milk producers sell at off-site locations. This would give smaller dairies a wider range of customers helping them become more economically competitive.
"Many Massachusetts agricultural dairy product producers gain from the sale of raw milk," said executive director of Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation, Doug Gillespie.
The sale of raw milk is supported by many agricultural organizations in the Northeast.
"Raw milk offers an important economic benefit to Massachusetts dairy farmers," said Jack Kittredge, editor of The Natural Farmer and policy director for the Northeast Organic Farming Association or NOFA. "A license from the state of Massachusetts to distribute raw milk to off-site locations benefits Massachusetts dairy producers."
Dairy farmers in Massachusetts are currently unable to sell raw milk at off-site locations, like farmers markets, to consumers interested in purchasing raw milk for their household.
"Under current law, if you sell raw milk you have to sell it from the farm and cannot bring it to off-site locations for sale," said president of Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation, A. Richard Bonanno. "Therefore, consumers cannot purchase raw milk in locations away from the farm that may be more convenient for customers. What causes a problem with this is that people are interested in buying raw milk and live an hour or more away from a farm that sells raw milk."
Consumers are generally willing to drive over an hour for raw milk but some consumers have developed ways to save on fuel expenses to pick up their milk.
"Consumers form buying clumps where one person will drive to the farm to purchase raw milk for numerous households," Bonanno said. "They then return to their hometowns with the raw milk in the back of their vehicle to distribute it to numerous households. There are even some people forming businesses through contracts to transport raw milk."
These contractors do not follow regulations dairy farmers follow to limit bacterial growth in any form of milk.
"Many of these people selling off-site are utilizing unsafe heating and cooling methods for the raw milk which can lead to problems," Bonanno said.
Ann Richardson, a dairy farmer from Warren, Mass., is excited about having the ability to create a safe way to distribute raw milk. This bill would allow her family to increase sales of raw milk from their farm to off-site locations. Her family has always passed the monthly inspection and plans to pass inspection for off-site raw milk sales if the bill is passed.
The bill, H.717, would set up a system for Massachusetts raw milk producers to be able to distribute their product to consumers off-site in a manner that is safe.
"This is not the first time MFBF has worked to pass legislation like this," Bonanno said. "Last year we tried to pass a similar bill but were unable due to questions about the number of milk inspectors in the state of Massachusetts and their ability to reach all the possible sellers of raw milk."
During the year, MFBF was able to work with regulatory professionals to create a system that is safe for consumers and manageable for inspectors.
This legislation would utilize current milk inspectors in Massachusetts to certify possible sellers of raw milk, according to Bonanno, including checking the methods used to transport it to other locations. Handling and managing of on-farm raw milk is already part of the inspection process in Massachusetts.
"This bill gives the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture the responsibility to regulate the distribution of raw milk," said Alan Everett, a dairy farmer from Williamsburg, Mass. "Even though many dairy farmers in Massachusetts do not sell raw milk they understand the purpose of safely selling agricultural products, which is why we support this bill to control of the distribution of raw milk to minimize any future problems."
The goal of this campaign is to ensure public safety.
"Raw milk is an important part of dairy business in Massachusetts," Bonanno said. "However, MFBF does not want raw milk to become a public health crisis which is why we support this bill."