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Are Raw Milk Farmers Getting a Raw Deal?

Drinking raw milk straight from local dairy farmers is gaining popularity in Vermont.
NORTHFIELD, Vt. - Drinking raw milk straight from local dairy farmers is gaining popularity in Vermont. But farmers face tight limits on the product.

At the Green Mountain Girls Farm Stand in Northfield, you can find all sorts of straight-off-the-farm goods, including raw goat milk.

"We can only sell our milk from the farm," said Laura Olson, one of the owners. "We can't even bring it to a customer if we're on the way past their house. We can't do anything, we can't take it to the farmers' market," she said. Her business frequents the Northfield Farmers' Market, and occasionally the market in Montpelier.

The Green Mountain Girls also aren't allowed to sell other dairy products like cheese from their raw milk, so they hold classes to teach their customers how to make it themselves.

"There's a huge demand for it," Olson said. "People ask us--'can we have cheese? Can we get yogurt?' And we have to say 'no, sorry you can't'."

Act 62, the law regulating raw milk, was enacted in 2009. It sets the restrictions above, plus several more including how many quarts of raw milk farmers can sell per day. Farms are separated in Tier 1 and Tier 2; Tier 2 farms have looser regulations. In order to become Tier 2 however, farmers have to hand-deliver their milk twice a month to a state lab in Waterbury for testing, among other costs. Olson says the cost to become Tier 2 would eliminate all profits from her small business. There are only two Tier 2 farms in the entire state.

Rural Vermont is hoping to loosen the restrictions from Act 62. The organization gave its 5th annual report to the House Committee on Agriculture and Forest Products Tuesday.

"There's a story that's gotten embedded in people's minds that raw milk is dangerous," said Andrea Stander, Executive Director for Rural Vermont. She says raw milk is healthy, and not pasteurizing the milk retains the nutrients and good bacteria. She says there are also people with dairy allergies or who are lactose intolerant who can digest raw milk. The Vermont Department of Health calls these myths, saying "Raw or unpasteurized milk is an inherently risky food."

The House Agriculture Committee is currently discussing a raw milk bill, S.70, which passed the Senate last session. The bill would slightly loosen restrictions on farmers, but Rural Vermont asked the committee for more. Here are their requested amendments:

- More reasonable and affordable animal testing (farmers have to pay vets to test their animals for diseases)
- A third "neighborly scale" tier that would let farmers sell small amounts of raw milk to their own community
- Allow raw dairy products like cream, butter, yogurt, kefir, cheese and ice cream
- Create an average daily/weekly allowance rather than the current daily allowance, because farmers tend to have more   customers on particular days of the week
- Develop rules and regulations that make it more feasible for farmers to be Tier 2
- Expand sales to farmers markets and other central drop-off locations

"A little flexibility would be really nice," said Laura Olson. "Because right now we basically have to tell people who want to buy our milk "no"." She says being able to make other dairy products would seriously increase her business' profits.


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