A two year battle over raw milk regulation in Illinois ended with compromises on both sides.
The state’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules gave the greenlight to a set of rules that allow raw milk sales in the state, but only on the farm where it was produced.
Public health officials, who pushed for rules, say they are pleased—especially with the on-farm provision and mechanisms to trace any problematic milk back to its source.
“We are also pleased that the rules allow for a consumer advisory that raw milk can be hazardous if consumed, just like sushi or under-cooked meat,” the Cook County Health Department said in a statement.
Raw milk drinkers and farmers met the rules with mixed reactions. Rebecca Osland of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, which represented farmers, says some were glad to finally have legalizing rules in place. Others, however, felt the rules were “a solution in search of problem,” citing the lack of any raw milk-related illnesses in the state for 30 years.
Osland said many were also upset about restriction of all sales to the farm. This would prohibit the hundreds of gallons that are delivered to Chicago-area consumers every week through milk clubs.
Customers often pay $8 to $18 a gallon for the drink and cite taste and health benefits for their choice. Osland doesn’t believe they will stop their orders because of the new regulations.
“So they’re just going to stay under the table, which is not a good result, either for the farmers or people interested in public safety,” she said.
The state’s raw milk battle has placed public health officials on one side, with arguments that unpasteurized milk should be restricted (or even banned) because it can carry harmful bacteria. On the other side, raw milk drinkers and farmers argue that all foods come with risks. They say raw milk consumers are willing to accept those risks (and the high price) for the benefits they believe it offers.
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises against drinking raw milk, more than half of the states allow some form of raw milk sales. In states like California, Pennsylvania and Arizona raw milk can be sold in stores. Others allow subscription milk sales and others restrict sales to the farm.
Osland says the Stewardship Alliance hopes to modify the rules in the future in order to bring urban deliveries “above the table as well. In general we want to provide more opportunities for these small farmers to conduct their business and supply the high demand there is out there for raw milk.”
Monica Eng is a WBEZ food and health reporter. Follow her at @monicaeng or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org