SD raw milk supporters oppose state rules on sale
PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — Raw milk producers and their customers asked South Dakota officials once again on Friday to scrap rules they argue would impose too many restrictions on the production and sale of unpasteurized milk.
At the South Dakota Agriculture Department's second hearing in two months, farmers who produce raw milk said the proposed rules on the production, testing and labeling of raw milk offered for sale are unnecessary, too stringent and too expensive for producers.
Lila Streff, owner of Black Hills Goat Dairy near Custer, said raw milk has been unfairly criticized as a health risk. The proposed label, which would warn consumers of potential health risks, is unnecessary, she said.
"Raw milk is incredibly safe," Streff said.
But Courtney De La Rosa, the Agriculture Department's lawyer and director of agriculture policy, said the proposed rules provide a reasonable framework for making sure raw milk sold in the state is safe. Raw milk for sale should comply with basic health and sanitary standards, she said.
"The rules do not take away a consumer's right to choose. The rules do not impose an undue financial burden on producers," De La Rosa said.
The Agriculture Department will accept written comments on the rules until Aug. 5. The department then will decide whether to approve the rules.
State Agriculture Secretary Lucas Lentsch, who listened to Friday's testimony, withdrew a previous version of the rules after a June 6 hearing in which opponents said the rules would apply even to milk consumed by a producer's family or given away free to others. The rules were revised to apply only to raw milk that is sold.
The proposed rules, intended to strengthen previous regulations, would set standards for bacteria and other contaminants, regulate the bottling of milk and require regular testing. They would apply to unpasteurized milk from cows, sheep, goats and other hoofed animals.
The rules also would require a label that says: "WARNING: This product has not been pasteurized and may contain harmful bacteria. Pregnant women, infants, children, the elderly and persons with lowered resistance to disease have the highest risk of harm from use of this product."
State officials say there are only five licensed raw milk producers in South Dakota.
Opponents of the rules on Friday criticized state officials' contention that 24 cases of the disease campylobacteriosis were associated with raw milk consumption last year in South Dakota. They said that's far from proof that raw milk caused the illnesses.
Gena Parkhurst, a Rapid City resident who drinks raw milk, said the proposed rules would impose "an even more vicious economic burden on small family farms" that produce the milk.
"Your department is proposing some of the strictest raw milk rules in our nation, so strict in fact they can clearly be shown to be economically unreasonable and financially burdensome," Parkhurst told Lentsch.
Carolyn Ness, another Rapid City resident who drinks raw milk, said the rules could force some producers out of business.
"If it's unavailable to me as a consumer, my right to maintain my health in the way I choose is compromised," Ness said.
But Roger Scheibe, executive director of the South Dakota Dairy Producers, said dairy farmers who sell pasteurized milk support the rules as a way to prevent or limit any disease outbreak caused by raw milk. Such an outbreak could hurt consumer confidence and reduce the consumption of milk, he said.
Sabrina King of Dakota Rural Action said the organization opposes the rules because they would impose too great a burden on raw milk producers.
"These rules do nothing to promote raw milk. They may just regulate it out of existence," King said.