Panel continues focus on raw milk sales

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Farm Forum

PIERRE — A work group focusing on the state’s raw milk production has been formed, according to State Agriculture Secretary Lucas Lentsch.

Participants include consumers, current and former raw-milk producers, general dairy producers and regulators, said Lentsch, who briefed the Legislature’s government operations and audit committee on May 7 about a new round of discussions with producers selling raw milk for human consumption.

“There very clearly are consumers in our state who want access to raw-milk food product,” said Lentsch, who reported that the work group’s first meeting April 17 lasted four hours.

The next meeting will be July 17 during a tour of a raw-milk dairy near Marion. The third meeting will be Oct. 17 and Lentsch said he wants to have the mechanics of potential solutions in place by then.

“If April 17 is any indication of how the year goes, I’m very optimistic,” Lentsch said. “It’s an intellectual conversation worth having.”

There are two dairies selling bottled raw milk, and there are also herd-share arrangements, according to Lentsch. State inspections occur monthly for the bottlers.

“It’s a way for us to identify what’s working and what isn’t,” he said.

Sen. Larry Tidemann, R-Brookings, said that, as a former dairyman, he saw the standards as thresholds for managing operations.

Lentsch said he’s trying to achieve food safety while preserving access to local food.

Last year, Lentsch’s department held three rounds of public hearings to condense raw-milk rules and to require product-safety labeling. Dakota Rural Action unsuccessfully tried to stop the changes. Dakota Rural Action has attempted to convince legislators to reverse the rules. Lentsch formed the work group in response to that situation.

“What we’re finding is there are a lot of questions. When you sit down around a table, a lot can be accomplished,” said Lentsch, who reported legal responsibilities involving herd shares are still being defined.

Tidemann said he wants to see testing results and learn the suggestions offered by producers and consumers.

“If we need to re-visit the rules, we’re ready to do that,” Lentsch responded.

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