« WSAU Opinion Blog

OPINION - The farmer and his milk

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU)  In general, my preference is for minimal government regulation. Regulations are legitimate when they set guidelines for public safety and insure fair trade in the marketplace. Those two points collide in the trial of Vernon Hershberger, the Sauk County dairy farmer who goes on trial for selling raw milk in violation of state law.

He will argue that these state regulations lead to unfair trade restrictions. Mr. Hershberger has to sell his milk to a middle-man for pasteurization. He can’t get a license to sell it otherwise.

The state will make a public safety argument; that unpasturized milk is unsafe.

If I was going to guess which argument wins out, I’d bet on the state. And I think they should prevail. Here’s why:

Granted, there are many people who talk about the health benefits of raw milk. And if a dairy follows normal levels of cleanliness (which is expected however the milk is processed) raw milk is probably safe to drink. But it’s only safe right out of the tank, i.e. if you drink it right away. If you take it away and try to bring it home, it’s not safe. Bacteria multiply quickly, especially in the heat. Imagine someone who lives 10-miles away from a farm. They buy raw milk on a hot August afternoon and drive home to put it in their refrigerator. That milk is not safe to drink. Most people, unless they come to the farm with a glass bottles and a dark cooler, cannot safely transport safe milk from farm-to-house. So, should raw milk only be available to a farmer’s neighbors? Should the buyer have to demonstrate that they can transport it at a cool, safe temperature, and consume it right away? Should they have to sign a waiver in case they get sick?

That’s a bridge too far for food products. While I sympathize with dairy farmers that want to sell direct-to-the-public, the state is correct in its ban on raw milk. I wish Farmer Hershberger well, but he will lose his case in court.

Chris Conley