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A Raw Deal for Raw Milk in Illinois?

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PHOTO: The Illinois Department of Health is holding a public comment hearing on proposed regulations on the production and sale of raw milk. Photo credit: Denis-Car Robidoux/flickr.
PHOTO: The Illinois Department of Health is holding a public comment hearing on proposed regulations on the production and sale of raw milk. Photo credit: Denis-Car Robidoux/flickr.
 By Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL, Contact
November 6, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Some farmers and local food enthusiasts say raw milk is getting a raw deal in Illinois.

For 30 years, the state has allowed Illinoisans to purchase raw milk directly from farmers with no rules.

Now, the Illinois Department of Public Health is proposing raw milk production regulations that include permits, inspections and specific equipment.

Wes King, executive director of the agricultural advocacy group Illinois Stewardship Alliance, says many raw milk farmers have said they will not be able to comply with the proposed rules.

"We're talking about regulations that could cost something like $25,000 to comply with for farms that have one to two cows that are milking maybe 50 gallons a week to sell to friends, family or just neighbors in the community surrounding them," he explains.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) opposes the sale and distribution of raw milk because it can contain bacteria that would normally be killed through pasteurization.

Supporters counter that many types of bacteria found in raw milk can be beneficial to health.

State leaders say more than 800 comments on the new regulations have already been submitted, and a public comment hearing will be held tonight at the state fairgrounds in Springfield.

State health leaders say the rules will allow for better tracking of food-borne illness outbreaks.

But King says since 1998, there have only been two incidences of illness outbreaks from raw milk in the state, with no hospitalizations and no deaths.

He says people should have a right to choose what they consume, and he sees the proposed regulations as a solution looking for a problem.

"We're really left scratching our heads, wondering why the department would propose rules that are going to hurt farmers, they're going to hurt consumers and they're not addressing any sort of emerging or evident public health threat here in Illinois," he says.

The public comment period ends Dec. 4.

The proposed rules go to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, which will take comments for 45 days.

A bill banning the sale and distribution of raw milk in Illinois failed last year.


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