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State Sour on Raw Milk Dairies

His answer? It€™s going to be a while.

The number of raw milk dairies in the state has more than doubled since 2006, increasing from 10 to 27. But farmers who want to sell the milk, which is not pasteurized and comes straight from the cow, face a web of local and state regulations.

Now, the state is proposing new language that could add another obstacle for farmers by firmly prohibiting people from picking up raw milk for others.

It is legal under state law for farmers to sell raw milk if the customer comes to the farm to pick up the milk themselves.

But in recent years, customers have formed buying clubs, where one member of a neighborhood or group picks up milk for everyone else.

The clubs are already illegal, said Agricultural Commissioner Scott Soares. But at a public hearing on Monday, state regulators will discuss language that would clarify the ban. Five buying clubs in the state have also received cease-and-desist letters, Soares said.

€œIt€™s happening at this particular moment because many of those groups were starting to advertise for new customers online and were essentially advertising that they were milk distribution businesses,€ said Soares.

Advocates of raw milk say the move would hurt local farmers and prevent customers who cannot travel to farms from getting their milk. They tout the health benefits of the milk, which contains beneficial bacteria and enzymes not found in pasteurized milk.

€œYou€™re more likely to get injured in a car on the way to pick up your raw milk, then you are drinking the raw milk,€ said Winton Pitcoff, coordinator of the Massachusetts Raw Milk Network, part of the Northeast Organic Farming Association.

€œSome people can€™t drive, don€™t have time, (or) don€™t have cars,€ Pitcoff said. €œIt provides access to a whole population that wouldn€™t otherwise have that access.€

But regulators say the buying clubs could increase the risk that milk would be mishandled. No one has gotten sick in the state from drinking raw milk since 1999, in his memory, said Soares.

But last year, two Connecticut families filed a lawsuit against a local dairy and Whole Foods store after three children became sick from tainted raw milk sold at the store.

Unlike in Massachusetts, it is legal to sell raw milk at retail stores in Connecticut and New Hampshire, Pitcoff said. In Vermont, farmers can deliver the milk to customers.

But Massachusetts state regulators say that even one milk-related illness in the state could hurt the larger market.

€œIt€™s indirectly related to public health,€ said Soares. €œIf someone gets sick, (there are) broader consequences on the milk market generally.€

But Pitcoff said the state€™s stance makes little sense.

€œIf (the Department of Agricultural Resources) trusts me to pick up my own milk, they should trust me to ask someone else to do it for me,€ he said.

Pitcoff said the new language could also damage farms by decreasing the number of customers.

Meanwhile, Dave Hanson has had enough trouble just trying to get a license.

€œI€™m not progressing as fast as I would like to,€ said Hanson. €œI think when I€™m ready to go, they€™re going to be very tough on me.€

Hanson said he used to sell his milk wholesale to Cumberland Farms, and always received compliments from the distributor about the quality of his milk.

But as Hanson waits for permission, his customers will have to wait for milk. Hanson said he has been drinking raw milk all his life and has never gotten sick.

€œThey do say it tastes different, but once you get used to it, you think it tastes better,€ he said.