Raw milk-drinking
Kate Plasterer, 11, drinks a cold glass of raw milk. Though her family reports improved health from drinking unpasteurized milk, state and federal public health officials have warned that unpasteurized milk can contain harmful bacteria. Andy Manis photo

Wisconsin came one step closer to allowing the sale of raw, unpasteurized milk to consumers Tuesday.

The Assembly Committee on Rural Economic Development voted 8-1 to send a bill permitting the sale of unpasteurized milk to the full Assembly for a vote. Spokeswomen for Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan, D-Janesville, and Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Weston, said both lawmakers will talk to their caucuses about the bill before moving forward on it. And a spokesman for Gov. Jim Doyle said he will review the details of the final bill.

The bill, AB 628 (or SB 434) authorizes a dairy farmer with a grade A dairy farm permit to sell unpasteurized milk from cows, sheep or goats directly to consumers on the farm, but only if that farmer obtains a raw milk permit from the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Committee Chairman Phil Garthwaite, D-Dickeyville, said the public wants the option of purchasing raw milk. But he said some of the claims on both sides of the issue have been exaggerated.

"Is it a wonder drug? No," he said after the vote. "Ya know, I don't buy that stuff. Is it going to kill 100 people tomorrow? No. If that were the case my whole neighborhood as a kid would have been wiped out."

The only legislator on the committee to vote against the bill, Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Fort Atkinson, said he isn’t opposed to raw milk but thinks more research should be done about public safety risks before the Legislature acts.

Opponents, such as the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association and Wisconsin Medical Society, have repeatedly warned about the potential dangers of unpasteurized milk.

Wisconsin is among a minority of states that currently ban all raw milk sales, including cow-share arrangements where consumers buy shares in a cow in order to receive the raw milk produced.

A Senate committee approved an identical version of the legislation earlier this month.

The bill no longer would allow the sale of unpasteurized buttermilk, butter and cream, nor would it waive liability for farmers selling raw milk. It also prohibits farmers from advertising raw milk other than signs on the farm.

To sell unpasteurized milk, a farmer needs to keep daily samples of it, maintain records of each sale, and have the milk tested for Salmonella and other disease-causing microorganisms. Dairy farmers must also provide certain information both on a sign where the milk is being sold and on the label of milk containers, including that unpasteurized milk can contain organisms that cause diseases.