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Raw Deal? Farmers Decry Plan to Restrict Sale of Unpasteurized Milk

William Coutu is a dairy farmer who doesn't like milk unless it's coffee-flavored or sweetened with chocolate. But lately it's the state's plan to tighten raw milk regulations that is leaving a sour taste in his mouth.

"This whole thing doesn't even make sense," Coutu, of Paskamansett Farms in Dartmouth, said of a proposed change in the state's standards and sanitation requirements for Grade A raw milk.

The rule would bar out-of-town "buying clubs" from purchasing raw milk at dairy farms and then distributing it to others at home.

The measure is part of more than 300 proposed amendments, most of them formatting tweaks or changes to align the state's milk regulations with the national ones, according to Scott J. Soares, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources.

The proposal that is miffing raw milk consumers and farmers is not really a change at all, he said, but rather a clarification on what is already an illegal practice.

Still, the Organic Consumers Association plans to thumb its nose at the rule by taking a cow to Boston Common today before a hearing on the changes, staging a raw milk "drink-in." On the steps of the Statehouse, they also will pour a symbolic amount of pasteurized milk from companies that support tougher raw milk rules, according to Alexis Baden-Mayer, political director of the Washington, D.C.-based organization.

Because the Bay State has more liberal raw milk regulations, Baden-Mayer said, "we see this Massachusetts issue as being a national issue ... because Massachusetts is one of the states that we would hold up as a good example as other states come around to the idea of raw milk."

Raw milk refers to milk that does not undergo pasteurization, a process of heating the milk to more than 160 degrees to kill dangerous and beneficial bacteria, according to the Massachusetts chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association.

Coutu calls it "good, clean, delicious milk" that his lactose-intolerant system can digest.

"I won't touch the store stuff," he said.