Lawmakers evidently expect a high turnout Wednesday for a public hearing on a bill that would legalize the sale of raw milk in Wisconsin. The meeting notice for the hearing before the Senate Committee on Financial Institutions and Rural Issues requests that speakers plan to keep their comments brief "due to anticipated volume."
The push to legalize the sale of raw milk in Wisconsin has generated considerable controversy in the state in recent years.
Wisconsin dairy farmers are currently prohibited from selling milk that has not been superheated through pasteurization to kill bacteria. Under Senate Bill 236 and its companion bill in the Assembly (AB 287), customers would be allowed to buy raw milk and raw milk products directly from registered dairy farmers. If approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Scott Walker, Wisconsin would become the 30th state to allow the sale of raw milk.
In 2010, similar legislation made its way through both chambers and onto the desk of Gov. Jim Doyle before he vetoed it over public health concerns.
Only Republicans, including Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) and Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center), are sponsoring the Senate bill, while the Assembly version is co-sponsored by Democrats, including Rep. Terese Berceau (D-Madison).
Raw milk supporters, who rallied in support of the 2010 bill, argue unpasteurized milk should be legalized because it tastes good; it will help dairy farmers who struggle with low milk prices; and it's healthy for you.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Food and Drug Administration, however, there is no proof that raw milk has any more health benefits than pasteurized milk. Raw milk can also contain harmful bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella, and is 150 times more likely to cause food borne illness than pasteurized dairy products.
The Wisconsin Farmers Union, representing many small-scale family dairy farmers, is supporting the bills, while health groups like the Wisconsin Medical Society and dairy trade groups, including the Wisconsin Dairy Products Association, are opposed.
The most recent push to legalize raw milk comes in the wake of the recent acquittal of Sauk County dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger on charges of illegally selling raw milk. Hershberger was found guilty of violating a hold order meant to prevent the sale of raw milk and food products at his store, however. It was a high-profile trial that generated national attention.
The public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 11 at 2 p.m. in Room 411 South of the state Capitol.