AGRICULTURE

Raw milk legislation tabled in favor of working group

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Farm Forum

Pierre – In an effort to find common ground with the Department of Agriculture, raw milk proponents have asked to table Senate Bill 126 in favor of a 2014 Fresh Milk Work Group. Dakota Rural Action asked for a work group last year during the rulemaking process, and that suggestion has now been taken up by the Department.

SB 126 was drafted in response to restrictive rules passed by the Department of Agriculture in 2013. With input from members and staff of Dakota Rural Action and the support of the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, Senator Phil Jensen (R-Rapid City) sponsored the bill in the Senate, with Representative Jacqueline Sly (R-Rapid City) carrying the bill in the House. With the growing attention to the issue of raw milk over-regulation, the bill was introduced with 14 Senators and 28 Representatives signed on to cosponsor.

On February 7, the Senate Health & Human Services committee heard two and one half hours of testimony on SB 126, with the conclusion being a directive for the two sides to sit down and work through their differences. In response, the two groups organized a meeting last weekend to discuss options moving forward.

The result of those discussions is a commitment from Secretary Lucas Lentsch to suspend enforcement of the new rules while the work group convenes to determine how the law and current rules need to be changed, and a commitment from Dakota Rural Action producers and members to engage in the workgroup. “Due to the letter of intent and overtures from Secretary Lentsch, we believe that the work group can achieve the spirit of SB 126. This is a new avenue that became available to our group after the introduction of our bill,” said Frank DiCesare, a raw milk consumer.

Lila Streff, of Black Hills Goat Dairy, has been involved in the regulatory process since 2009. “Raw milk production is an important part of South Dakota’s agriculture and the demand for it is growing,” she says. “My hope is that through a work group, trust and accountability can be established between the Department of Agriculture and producers so that the goal of reasonable regulations can be met. Reasonable regulations would guarantee that consumers will have access to raw milk by ensuring that farmers can stay in business and succeed, while also maintaining appropriate safety measures.”

Work will begin as soon as who will be on the work group has been determined. Senator Jean Hunhoff will be sending a letter of intent to the Government Operations and Audit Committee to begin formal of oversight of the process.