Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Raw Milk Distribution - Just Another Hearing ...

Note:  This map is 3 years old, but it was the latest I could find.
In the past, I have done several posts about raw milk and our support of it.  The point of this one is to share my experience attending a hearing on June 3rd of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.

There is  a bill in the Massachusetts Legislature which would allow licensed raw milk dairies to deliver raw milk to their customers.  (H.717, "An Act relative to the distribution of raw milk.")  The bill would also allow licensed raw milk dairies to sell their milk on land that they own or rent which does not necessarily adjoin the land where they milk their animals.

The hearing on this bill was held in Spencer, Massachusetts (near Worcester) at a high school.  Anyone who wished could attend and offer testimony.  (If you live in Massachusetts, you can also call the switchboard for legislators at 617-722-2000 to offer support for this bill.)

I had learned about this hearing in an e-mail from NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association).  It didn't mention that there were 17 bills included in this hearing!  So, I stood in line for quite awhile to register.

The line behind me

The line ahead of me

A woman next to me in line explained that most of the crowd was there to protest the passage of bill H.753 "... to direct the Commissioner of Agricultural Resources to establish a livestock care and standards board to ensure the humane keeping and treatment of livestock."  She and many others felt that this board would have too much power and would not be accountable to animal rights organizations or any other concerned parties.

Sheryl Becker of Western Mass Animal Rights Advocates, opposed to Bill H.753

When we were finally seated in the auditorium, I learned that the people who wanted to speak had signed in and were being taken in order.  So, almost every speaker (who was supposed to keep it under 3 minutes) was speaking about a different bill than the one before.  (There were bills about dog grooming, GMO labelling, allowing sugar gliders (cute marsupials) to be pets, etc.)

The first speaker I heard was C. R. Lawn who spoke very effectively in favor of GMO labelling of both food products and seeds.  I talked to him later, as he ate his lunch in the hallway outside the auditorium.  He is the owner and founder of Fedco Seeds in Waterville, Maine.  He explained to me that Maine requires that 4 other states approve the labeling bills before they can be approved in Maine.  This is called a "trigger" clause and it was instituted partly because Monsanto has threatened lawsuits against any state which passes these bills.  The Maine legislature believes that it can only afford to pass the legislation if they can share the cost of a lawsuit with at least 4 other states!

C.R. Lawn of Fedco Seeds

As the hours went by, I heard speaker after speaker testify.  The ones who came about the raw milk bills were impressive- many were 10th and 11th generation farmers and many had advanced degrees in biology, etc.

It turned out there were actually two bills related to raw milk - the one I had come for and H.782 "to exempt the personal use of milk and raw milk products by owners of cows and goats from certain laws governing the use of said products."  (In other words, to establish that cow shareholders may have their milk delivered to them, along with their vegetables, etc.)

The owner of Eastleigh Farm in Framingham came to the committee with his state representative, Rep. Chris Walsh by his side.  He talked about the need to sell raw milk in order for his farm to survive.  He spoke about the economic benefits in states where raw milk can be sold in stores.  He mentioned that in Europe there are vending machines with raw milk in them. 

The president of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation, Richard Bonanno spoke at length about many of the bills.  He mentioned that the Farm Bureau supports the bill about distribution but not the one about cow shares.

Richard Bonanno, president of the MA Farm Bureau

I was able to talk to him in the hall later and he explained further his position on these issues.  He said he is worried that people are taking their station wagons to the farms and picking up the milk for themselves and their friends back home.  With no refrigeration, this is a safety issue.  So, he would rather see the state oversee the delivery of raw milk and which is why he supports H.717.

He said there are currently 25 licensed raw milk farms in Massachusetts and there are 2 1/2 inspectors for those farms.  The Farm Bureau believes that those inspectors could easily oversee the distribution of the milk they are already inspecting.

However, he feels that the cow share situation cannot be monitored.  So, he is opposed to the bill exempting cow "owners" from the current laws. 


We live in a country where we can make a difference in our laws by exercising our right to speak at hearings like this one.  We may be aware of the undue influence exerted by the big corporations with their large financial contributions,  but many of us still believe in the democratic process, which is why there were so many of us there.  Most of the people who spoke had gone to a lot of trouble to prepare their remarks.

There are a lot of well educated, responsible people in our state.  Many of them went to great lengths and came long distances to make their opinions known to the "powers that be."  My one conclusion is this:  It is exactly this kind of forum which makes our government work.  If we care about what's happening in our states, we need to show up at these hearings and speak our truths.   (And, of course, one of those truths is this - we would like to be able to make our cheese with real milk!)


Lauren Eggers said...

Excited to see how these turn out. I have to drive a fair bit to get to raw milk within the state of MA. So I dont make my cheese as often as I'd like. The cheese I've made with low heat pasteurized, which I can easily obtain, is not as tasty. I'd really like to see more avenues for sale that are safe to us, the consumer.

Jeri said...

You said it, Lauren! Thanks.

Sheri in Washington State said...

It seems kind of ridiculous that the goverment is so concerned about protecting people from drinking raw milk, but yet it is legal to smoke and consume alcohol which is much more dangerous for our health. Their priorities are a little messed up if you ask me.