The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection is considering whether it can safely allow the sale of raw milk to consumers in Wisconsin.

Secretary Rod Nilsestuen announced Tuesday that he is convening a panel of dairy industry representatives, raw milk advocates and public health officials to review the law here and in other states and make policy recommendations.

“There is a clear demand among some consumers and a clear desire on the part of some producers to open this market,” Nilsestuen said. “But we also have a clear duty in the (department) to protect public health and the reputation of our vital dairy industry.”

Wisconsin prohibits the direct sale of unpasteurized milk from farmers to consumers because of concerns about the transmission of illness-causing bacteria. Those who espouse the health benefits of raw milk have found ways to obtain the product from farmers on the sly.

In the last year, DATCP has increased its enforcement of the law, which prompted raw milk advocates to lobby the Legislature to introduce a bill that would legalize on-farm sales.

Brad Legreid, executive director of the Wisconsin Dairy Products Association and a member of the panel, said he will keep an open mind but comes to the discussion supporting the position of numerous health agencies that have pointed out the potential dangers of consuming unpasteurized milk.

“That could taint the entire dairy industry,” Legreid said. “You have a $26 billion industry in Wisconsin, and you don’t want to do anything to jeopardize it.”

Madison raw milk consumers Joe Plasterer and Melinda Starkweather, who are also on the panel, welcomed the creation of a panel as something that could drive innovation and be good for consumers, farmers and “the dairy industry as a whole.”

Elizabeth Rich, an attorney who represents raw milk advocates, said she hopes the panel won’t delay the legislative process. A similar panel in Michigan has been meeting for the past two years. “Our farmers can’t wait that long,” she said.

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