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January 29, 2018 · OPINION

Proposed legislation targets raw milk consumption

Legislation opponents want the right to buy milk directly from farmers without government interference.
By Elizabeth Melson
By Elizabeth Melson

Beware of HB 825 and SB 962, proposed legislation in the 2018 Virginia General Assembly. Upon first glance, it may be assumed that bills allowing for herd-share arrangements would be a good thing for farm and food freedom, right? We certainly, should be allowed to partner with our neighbors to produce food for our families. However, codifying and regulating these private agreements will have grave consequences for the producers and shareholders:

• The right to privacy is at stake.

With these bills herd share members’ names and addresses would be turned over to the government. Because herd shares are a closed loop arrangement, registration with the state should not be required since the direct relationship between farmers and shareholders makes traceability a non-issue. No other food is targeted in this way.

• If passed, the bill would require that the consumers assume joint liability for all milk produced by the herd, which is completely inappropriate and unprecedented.

• With HB 825, herd shares would be open to unwarranted premises and paperwork inspections and would have to adhere to yet-to-be-written stipulations put forward by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

• This bill would negatively affect people’s rights to acquire the foods of their choice because some herd share sellers would likely be forced out of business.

Folks who are seeking out cottage industry goods are doing so because they have done their research. They have health, ethical or philosophical reasons they are seeking to avoid products that come from CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) and large-scale production.

Reasons are many: avoiding antibiotics or pesticides that may be passed from commercial animals to dairy in large-scale operations, wanting to ensure their animals are being treated humanely and are grazing on lush pastures, allergies to bovine dairy leads to seeking dairy from goats, desire to support and participate in farming practices that are diversified and that value conservation, or superior flavor and nutrients. Others, may just prefer to operate in an arrangement with a neighbor, rather than a corporation via supermarket.

I am very involved in the local, direct-to-consumer food economy and homesteading community in the Northern Piedmont area of Virginia. I manage farmers’ markets in Prince William and Fauquier counties and have assisted with other markets and farms in Culpeper, Stafford, Madison and Ashburn. My network of farmers and locavores is vast.

I am asking on behalf of these small farmers, homesteaders, artisans, and consumers who choose to obtain food for their families, directly from family farms, that readers call your representative and ask that they please oppose SB 962 and HB 825. Even if you do not choose to drink raw milk, please, call. This type of bill could set precedents that endanger freedom to choose other small-scale agriculture or artisan products.

I have respectfully requested that Del. Knight and Sen. Obenshain withdraw these bills. Either legalize the direct-to-consumer sale of raw milk (without red tape) or leave citizens with private herd-share agreements alone to work out the details of their agreements. Do not codify and regulate herd shares. Let micro-economies and free enterprise operate. Let farmers be free to farm and citizens take responsibility for their health.

Rather than codifying herd shares, why not authorize funding for VDACS to begin an educational campaign for farmers and consumers that may be participating in herd shares to opt into? Farmers could choose to request posters to hang where their shareholders pick up products and in their milking stations. These posters or info cards could provide objective information and demonstrate how to properly handle and store unpasteurized dairy, how to hygienically milk an animal, keep a clean work space, and how to properly sterilize milking and storage equipment.

Far more people get sick from large-scale, inspected agricultural production (often from vegetables!) than they do from unpasteurized dairy. Withdrawing these bills will allow our farmers the liberty and freedom to farm in a way that God and nature-intended and will ensure consumers have the freedom to feed their families in a way that aligns with their values.

The writer and her husband founded Farm-to-Table Solutions, a consulting and marketing business.

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citizen observer · January 29, 2018 at 5:10 pm
Appears the state legislature is beginning to follow the federal legislature into becoming a dysfunctional joke.

They are worried about me drinking raw milk; but have no concerns about the idiot drivers paying more attention to their phones instead of the road and traffic? I have not heard of one proposal to fix the largely unenforceable and useless texting law we now have.

I guess the lobbyists for corporate farming have filled their pockets and that matters more than deaths on our roads.
BJ · January 29, 2018 at 2:30 pm
Why are our government representatives going after people who are providing other people food through shares that those same people own? If you want to drink raw milk (or eat raw eggs, for that matter), that's your choice. We have much bigger issues in this country such as the Opioid Epidemic, Healthcare, Gun Control or lack of, Education, Debt Reduction, Immigration Reform, Pollution, Climate Change, etc. Get back on track America!
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