Raw milk believers argue health rules aren’t needed

Farm Forum

PIERRE – On June 6 a public hearing served as the latest battleground over regulation of raw milk in South Dakota.

The state Department of Agriculture proposed nine pages of rules regarding bottled raw milk for human consumption.

More than one dozen citizens, who believe in what they describe as the natural benefits of drinking raw milk, showed up to oppose the regulations, as did several farmers who produce raw milk for them.

There are five licensed raw-milk producers in South Dakota.

“It’s not the time to debate the health benefits or issues regarding pasteurized milk,” hearing officer Hillary Brady said at the meeting’s start.

Gena Parkhurst of Rapid City, who described herself as a raw milk consumer, said the rules as proposed would prohibit consumption of bottled or packaged raw milk produced by anyone without the necessary state permit, whether or not the milk was free or sold.

“They cannot offer it to their neighbor, they cannot offer it to their family, they cannot give it away to an informed consumer,” she said. Parkhurst described herself as the volunteer coordinator for Dakota Rural Action in the Black Hills.

She also claimed that testing for tuberculoses and brucellosis was “unnecessary.”

That’s different than the view of of state veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven, who spoke in support of the rules. He said raw milk can spread diseases such as tuberculosis.

The state Department of Health tracks illnesses linked to raw milk, while the Legislature allows its sales.

Mellette County raw-milk producer Leland Schoon said the proposed requirement of disease testing would be “burdensome and cost prohibitive” for him, because his cows are in a multi-purpose pasture.

He said he would need to have the tests conducted on all hoofed animals that share the space with his cows. He also said the disease testing was generally unnecessary.

Courtney De La Rosa, state director of agriculture policy, said the number-one goal of the rules is to protect public health.

She said four states – Nevada, South Carolina, California and Vermont – have rules tougher than those proposed for South Dakota and 20 states prohibit sales of raw milk.

The South Dakota rules call for monthly testing of a bottled-milk sample and would require the bottling to occur on the farm where the milk is produced, with the milk stored at temperatures of 45 degrees or colder.

The bottles would be required to bear labels stating the identity of the farm, the words “RAW MILK” and the date of bottling.

“The date of bottling can be crucial,” De La Rosa said.

The container also would be required to have a warning label stating the product hasn’t been pasteurized “and may contain harmful bacteria.”

That warning statement also would have a listing of people – pregnant women, infants, children, the elderly and persons with lowered resistance to disease – who would be at “the highest risk of harm from use of this product.”

The department is accepting written comments through 5 p.m. June 17. The proposed rules can be found at http://