South Dakota raw milk advocates speak at latest public hearing

Farm Forum

PIERRE – No opponents testified on May 22 against proposed state regulations that would make production and sale of raw milk for human consumption simpler in South Dakota.

Four raw-milk advocates spoke generally in favor of the new rules during a public hearing held by the state Department of Agriculture.

They also praised the work of state Agriculture Secretary Lucas Lentsch in working to a compromise.

The meeting lasted less than one hour and was in sharp contrast to the combative mood at several rules hearings and legislative hearings in the previous three years.

Earlier this year, the Legislature approved a proposal submitted by Lentsch creating a specific place in state law regarding raw milk for human consumption.

The South Dakota State Medical Association and the South Dakota Dairy Producers opposed the measure, Senate Bill 45.

Even so, the Senate voted in favor 30-4 and the House of Representatives agreed 65-2.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed the legislation. Previously several members of his cabinet had split on raw milk for human consumption.

Health Secretary Doneen Hollingsworth strongly opposed its legal availability for sale to the public. She retired in December.

The ag department came under criticism in past years for being too strict in regulating raw-milk producers.

In turn, Lentsch made various personnel changes within his department after his appointment as secretary in April 2013, including replacement of several people who had previously worked on raw-milk regulation and rules.

Raw-milk advocates gained a foothold among legislators during the 2014 session when Sen. Phil Jensen, R-Rapid City, introduced a measure that would have repealed various rules.

A Senate committee tabled Jensen’s bill, but Lentsch promised to work with the sides. The 2015 legislation came from those roundtable conversations.

The rules proposed at the hearing on May 22 align with the new laws.

“It looks like today we have only proponents here to speak,” hearing officer Hillary Brady said.

Written comments may be submitted by June 3.

Lentsch said raw milk now will have a separate place in state regulations apart from other milk rules.

He said this creates “a better working environment” for production of raw milk for human consumption and distinguishes it from Grade A milk and manufacturing-grade milk for further processing.

Lentsch said the topic was of great interest to a number of stakeholders when he began as secretary of agriculture. “There wasn’t maybe the listening that should have taken place,” he said.

“Food freedom is much of the part of the dialogue we had around this,” he said. The goal was “taking the shout out of the conversation,” he said.

Gena Parkhurst of Rapid City said she is a raw-milk consumer. She moved to South Dakota nine years ago and was pleased that it was legal to drink raw milk because, she said, it is very beneficial for her arthritis symptoms.

Parkhurst, as member of the Dakota Rural Action organization, increasingly led the push the past two years for a more accommodating regulation of raw milk for human consumption.

She praised Lentsch’s leadership in achieving a compromise that she said safeguards human health and preserves availability of raw milk for human consumption. She said she supports the labeling and testing requirements.

“I believe producers will continue to produce as high quality a product as possible,” she said.

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