More than 30 years ago, the Illinois legislature passed the law that governs dairy in Illinois. That law required the pasteurization of milk except under certain conditions, and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) was expected to write rules to regulate the unpasteurized, or raw, milk.
For some reason, rules were never written and raw milk farmers went about their business continuing to sell unpasteurized milk under loose regulatory guidance from IDPH…until last year that is. In 2016, rules were implemented that required equipment upgrades and testing similar to commercial dairy operations while dramatically reducing raw milk farmers’ ability to distribute their raw milk. These rules added expenses for farmers while also limiting all sales and distribution of raw milk to on-farm only.
Illinois Stewardship Alliance believes that if raw milk farmers are to be formally regulated, those regulations should still provide opportunity. Commercial dairy operations often include hundreds, if not thousands of cows, with milk being shipped in from multiple farmers, and shipped out to hundreds of retail locations, creating many opportunities for bacteria and disease to spread. Regulations are needed in order to insure safety at that scale and scope of distribution. Raw milk farmers, on the other hand, often have much smaller herds, sometimes only a few cows or goats. They are selling their milk fresh, direct-to-consumer. Safety measures should be in place, but they need to be reasonably achievable so that farmers can comply, instead of driving them into a raw milk black market (yes, it’s a thing). Consumers should know the risks of drinking unpasteurized milk up-front through appropriate labeling, as mandated by the rules, much the same as when eating sushi (raw fish) or a rare steak, but they should also be able to reasonably have access to this product.
With the requirement that raw milk only be sold or distributed “on-farm,” farmers have to comply with similar standards to commercial dairies, but are not allowed to sell or market their milk in the same way. In fact, the new regulations are so burdensome, given the constricted market opportunity, that many raw milk farmers have gone out of business or have been driven underground. Only three farmers in the state have completed the permitting process for their raw milk license in order to sell it legally. That means most consumers in the state have no access to legal raw milk right now.
These new rules include even herd shares in the on-farm only requirement, taking away the entire market that had grown up “organically” around in-town drop-off points. For decades, it has been common for consumers to purchase herd shares or cooperative shares, which gave them legal ownership of a portion of the animal herd or business. That has been considered a property rights issue. When people take delivery of the milk, it is milk that is the product of the animals they own. Therefore, it was always seen as permissible for people to make any arrangement they wanted to get their own milk, including meeting their farmer in town– until now that is.
This year, Illinois Stewardship Alliance and the raw milk community are fighting for a small step towards more equitable regulations: off-farm sales and distribution. The current regulations only allow on-farm sales, so customers must make a trek all the way out to their farmer to purchase their milk, which is not only burdensome for customers and even impossible for some that are disabled or lack transportation, but is unjust to farmers who are complying with similar regulations to commercial dairies. Drop-off, delivery, and pick-up sites for raw milk would be a huge step in helping both farmers and consumers.
Ten states are supporting their small farms by allowing raw milk sales in retail stores (Arizona, California, Connecticut, Idaho, Maine, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Washington) while here in Illinois, we have effectively put our small farmers out of business.
For farmers, raw milk is a vital part of building a viable small-farm business by providing an extra source of income from pasture-raised cows. For consumers, especially those who have trouble processing pasteurized dairy products, raw milk offers many health benefits. For our community, it is important to support small, sustainable farmers that are providing nutritious food to our communities as well as to support the right of consumer choice.
Supporting raw milk is as simple as making a phone call. It’s important to get as many people as possible to let their legislators know this is an important issue. Please call today.
Here’s what Illinois residents and families are saying about why they support raw milk:
“When I stopped nursing my baby daughter J., she immediately developed severe constipation. No amount of fiber or medication seemed to help. By the time she was four, she had also developed digestive issues, had almost stopped growing, and was below the 5th percentile in weight and only 25th percentile in height A pediatric specialist said the constipation was probably caused by a milk allergy, which “is very common among toddlers,” she explained. However, Dr. Joseph Mercola wrote that it could be the pasteurization that was causing the problem, because the process destroys the beneficial bacteria, the enzymes, and most of the vitamins. He recommended raw milk for kids like J. At first, I was too afraid to try it. After all, think of the germs and the diseases! However, I located a herd share program and talked to the farmer, who said that his milk contained one-tenth of the allowable bacteria for pasteurized milk, and he tested his milk every week. OK, I decided to try it. J’s constipation improved immediately, and she started gaining weight, and within one year, she climbed to the 75th percentile in height and the 50th percentile in weight! Now, over decade later, she still drinks whole raw milk, with a thick layer of cream on top, and she’s five-foot-ten, with no health issues at all.” – Joan
“Three years ago when my 1 year old was diagnosed with eczema we noticed that traditional dairy was aggravating his eczema and started him on raw dairy. Even though I have to drive quite a while to get it, I think it is worth my effort seeing my child love the taste and us seeing the health benefits of it. It is my urge that we truly give people the freedom to choose eating close to nature especially because it is more humane for the animals as well as us humans. In the 3 years that we have been drinking raw milk we have never gotten sick of food poisoning. we need to move towards being a society that does things better (propagating and teaching farmers how to produce high quality raw milk) not more convenient just pasteurizing all the milk to make it feel more safe when in the long run it [could be] more harmful and inflammatory.” – Noor, Riz, Amaar, and Salaa
Kathy: Click here to view Kathy’s video.