Joint Ag committee discusses raw milk rules
Powell – After controversy arose following last year’s change of food safety rules regarding raw milk, the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources committee was charged with investigating statutes regarding raw milk consumption.
At their May 6-7 meeting, they considered a number of topics, with raw milk rules subject to much discussion.
Raw milk discussion
“After meetings last summer around the state, we did add a subsection that allowed for individuals to obtain milk from animals owned by themselves for their family, and the raw milk products can be furnished to members of their family and non-paying guests,” says Wyoming Department of Agriculture Manager of Consumer Health Services Dean Finkenbinder. “We have also had calls from people who want to sell it at farmer’s market’s. We weren’t sure where we stood on that.”
Wyoming Department of Agriculture Director Jason Fearneyhough added, “Last year, when Senator Hastert came with his bill to look at retail sales, we decided to needed to look around this issue.”
“This is our first stab at looking at what other states are doing when it comes to retail sales,” he continued.
Finkenbinder also noted that questions about cow shares and determining ownership of animals also came up several times.
“We are operating under our current rule, which allows for cow shares,” said Fearneyhough. “We have some problems with ownership, however.”
Finkenbinder notes that cow shares are legal in Wyoming, and raw milk may be distributed to shareholders.
“However, our representative in the Attorney General’s Office said that we have no authority to determine ownership – that belongs to the state veterinarian,” said Finkenbinder.
Committee Chairman Representative Mark Semlek commented, “The issues begs the question as to how do we verify and validate what would be a means of determining a share of an animal. If we can’t qualify that, we can’t qualify the integrity of a herd share program.”
Semlek suggested that animals must be owned in a legal partnership, such as a corporation or limited liability corporation (LLC), to address ownership concerns.
Responding to Representative Nathan Winters’ inquiry on how other states handle cow shares, Finkenbinder noted, “Colorado does allow animal shares, and they are supposed to register with the state, but it is my understanding that they haven’t been enforcing the registration.”
“I think a path forward for us should be to look at what other states do, rather than reinventing the wheel,” suggested Winters.
The concerns in identifying shareholders revolve around the potential for disease outbreak, in the event that one occurs.
“As far as tracking any outbreaks, the state health department has the authority to get that information,” said Finkenbinder.
Rather than tracking corporation or owners, Senator Larry Hicks suggested tracking ownership using brand documentation and tracking animals, rather than people.
“If we have an outbreak, we don’t want to find out who owns the company, but rather we want to track the animals,” he said. “We can do the registering under their brands.”
Utilizing brand data necessitates the cooperation with the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB).
Comments of the public
Jim Magagna, executive director of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association commented, after much discussion of cow shares and ownership, “It seems that we are losing sight of the issue. The issue is the safety of raw milk. In terms of long-term look, consider a program that allows direct sales of raw milk from the producer to the consumer, with adequate labeling a risk, requirements of the producer to keep a log of the sales and focus on the trace back mechanism, rather than the fiction of who owns the cow, which doesn’t have much to do with the safety of the milk.”
“We’ve had numerous discussion on the sale of milk, and we have been resistant to that,” Semlek noted.
After much discussion, WLSB Director Leanne Correll indicated her willingness to cooperate with the Wyoming Department of Agriculture as necessary, and the committee directed the Wyoming Department of Agriculture and WLSB to work with the Wyoming Department of Health to establish recommendations and possible alternatives and report back to the committee.
Joint Ag activities
Along with raw milk rules, the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources committee also heard from a variety of agencies, including the Office of State Lands and Investment, Forestry Department, Wyoming Department of Agriculture, State Engineer’s Office and the Wyoming Livestock Board.
Member of the Joint Ag committee include Representatives Mark Semlek, Stan Blake, Rita Campbell, John Eklund, Mike Greear, Hans Hunt, Robert McKim, Nathan Winters and Dan Zwonitzer, and Senators Gerald Geis, Ogden Driskill, Fred Emerich, Larry Hicks and Wayne Johnson.