Senate doubles raw milk threshold
By Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont Press Bureau | April 10,2008
MONTPELIER — An agricultural tradition as old as Vermont itself may soon enjoy a revival.
The Vermont Senate on Wednesday gave its approval to a bill that would increase the amount of raw milk that can be legally sold on Vermont farms. The 50-quart limit approved by senators Wednesday doubles the old threshold and sets the stage for a growing movement to allow unlimited sales of unpasteurized milk in Vermont.
"This bill represents an important first step in allowing dairy farmers of Vermont to set their own price for milk and take advantage of a growing market in Vermont," said Amy Shollenberger, head of Rural Vermont, a farm advocacy group that lobbied for the legislation.
Dairy farmers get a minimum of $5 per gallon for raw milk, triple the price they get in the commodity market. Shollenberger said raw milk sales could single-handedly boost the financial viability of hundreds of small farms in the state.
The Agency of Agriculture also has agreed to lift a longstanding ban on advertising raw milk sales. By allowing farmers to market their unpasteurized milk, Shollenberger said, the dairy industry will cultivate a niche market for an increasingly popular "farm-fresh" product.
"It's a really big step for farmers because up until this point they haven't been allowed to advertise."
Rep. Kathy Pellett, a Chester Democrat, sponsored the legislation, which has already won approval in the House. She said Wednesday that the bill moves Vermont closer toward her ultimate goal of unlimited raw milk sales.
"It's really an incremental move. It can only be considered a first step," Pellett said. "Selling 50 quarts a day will not enable (farmers) to make a living selling raw milk, but it is a step in the right direction."
Earlier in the session, lawmakers had considered a bill that would have allowed unlimited sales of raw milk. Concerns over how to certify raw milk sellers and ensure milk safety scuttled the legislation.
But Shollenberger said she's optimistic that the effort will win wider support next year.
"There has been an agreement … that farmers should have this opportunity," Shollenberger said. "Legislators and the Agency of Agriculture have said they're committed to figuring out a way to allow for more sales of raw milk and make sure we're doing it safely."