Governor Brad Little, so he could claim bragging rights about being the “least regulated state” in the nation, ordered all departments within Idaho to do “zero-based” rule re-writing this past spring. The goal was to reduce words: hence regulation. We would call this “deregulation”.
Raw milk was always legal in Idaho without statute or rules.
In 2010, a new statute was passed titled “Acquisition of Raw Milk”. It only covered herd shares in detail and left the rest of the details to the rule-making process.
By 2013, Idaho had promulgated a reasonable administrative rule to govern raw milk sales in Idaho. It’s basic tenets included:
- Small herds that were 3 cows, or 7 goats or sheep, and less could get a small herd permit and not have to be inspected.
- Herds larger than this had to be inspected quarterly by Idaho State Department of Agriculture dairy inspectors and meet the “Pasteurized Milk Ordinance” sanitation standards. These standards are a federal standard for facilities and cleanliness that apply to all grade A dairies in Idaho. The standards include things like: floors have to slope to drain, milking areas have to have concrete floors in good repair, manure must be handled per a “Nutrient Management Plan” which considers the environment and soil’s ability to absorb nutrients, etc.
- All herds had to have samples of their products collected monthly by a state inspector and tested by the state dairy lab for total bacteria (known as SPC or PAC), somatic cell count (SCC, and coliform bacteria. Standards were set that were admittedly arbitrary, but now are proven to be good indicators of overall cleanliness. If a dairy could not meet the standards, they could not sell raw milk until the next test was passed. There was allowance for variance. A minimum of 3 out of every 5 tests had to be passed.
- Herds were to be tested for tuberculosis annually.
- The state would test for brucellosis at least annually, and for larger dairies, the state collected and tested water samples biannually.
At Pleasant Meadow Creamery, we are generally free-market and against regulation, but given that dairy has long been a regulated industry, and given that disease outbreak would not be good for our niche industry, and given that the standards were reasonable and made sense, we supported them. Our facility is built and was inspected to grade A/PMO standards, and we have tested every month for all the years since we started and have never had to not sell milk due to failure. In fact, our lab results are generally quite excellent.
During the process of re-writing the rule, we were very pro-testing and inspection both in written comments and in attending meetings. We are very disappointed in the end result of having a “wild West” of raw milk in Idaho, because we do not feel it is going to serve Idahoans who want raw milk in the long term well. The new rule is the very definition of deregulation compared to what we had last month and all the years since we formed our dairy in 2011.
The new rule requires the producer do their own TB and brucellosis annual testing, and otherwise, the only real requirement is we have to put a warning on our label that essentially warns the consumer that consuming this product may in fact “kill them”… or something to this effect. The real wording on the label could actually apply to all food products in the grocery store.
Being what we think is reasonably intelligent and somewhat scientifically-minded, we find the new rule somewhat abhorrent. However, producers were given very little voice in the deregulation process. We were largely ignored, though invited, except the few who love the idea of deregulation (these were the same dairies that were having a hard time passing the testing).
We are going to choose a course right now that ensures our product meets the minimum acceptable standards even if the state won’t be involved.
Today, I had a conversation with Raw Milk Institute’s (https://www.rawmilkinstitute.org/) Mark McAfee and Sarah Smith via Zoom. Pleasant Meadow Creamery, as of last month, has applied to be a listed farmer with “RAWMI” in order to assure our present and future customers that our milk meets the highest possible standards, even in a deregulated state environment.
By being RAWMI-listed, our monthly testing, which we will be doing through a private lab (not a new thing to us as we used to supplement state testing with private testing), will be available to you – our consumer. In addition to testing for total bacteria and coliforms, we will also be doing random testing for specific pathogens.
As well, we will have our quality plans, standard operating procedures, and other plans reviewed by our peers and posted on the RAWMI website for you to be able to see what we do to make sure you get milk that is far better in quality than if we did none of these things.
We want you to feel comfortable, that in spite of the CDC warnings about raw milk, and in spite of the very warning that will be forced to be on our bottle, we do everything scientifically possible to ensure you always get a safe, nutritious, and delicious dairy product from us. While we generally support “deregulation”, we do not support it so much in dairy. Or more accurately, maybe you could describe us as being on the fence – waiting to see just what our peers will do and how good or bad this could turn out to be for Idaho raw milk consumers. In the meantime, we are going to regulate ourselves to the highest standards possible.