Residents of Illinois could soon lose the freedom to buy and sell raw milk because of new rules proposed by the state’s Department of Public Health.
The Land of Lincoln is one of the few states that doesn’t ban or regulate raw milk sales, but that could soon change.
“Right now, there are no rules for raw milk,” Department Spokeswoman Melanie Arnold told Crain’s Chicago Business. “Nothing is spelled out.”
The department has proposed a nine-page set of regulations for raw milk producers that has stirred controversy among farmers. The regulations are so onerous that some farmers contend they might force them out of the raw milk business.
“They are very clearly trying to make raw milk sales and consumption in Illinois impossible,” dairy farmer Donna O’Shaughnessy said, adding that it would cost her about $300,000 to comply.
Among the proposed regulations:
- Farmers would have to keep lists of customers’ names, addresses and phone numbers, which the state could request at any time.
- Cows’ udders and bellies would have to be free of dirt. O’Shaughnessy thinks it would be impossible for grass-fed cows to comply with this rule.
- Cows would have to be milked in rooms with floors and walls that can be cleaned. That means cows could not be milked outside.
- Any size farm — from one cow to hundreds of cows – that sells raw milk would be affected by the regulations.
The regulations would not criminalize the sale of raw milk but they would require raw milk producers to follow the same rules as commercial dairy farms.
“We don’t want to prohibit anyone from purchasing raw milk,” Arnold said. “We just want to ensure that it’s as healthy as can be.”
Raw Milk Backlash
Raw milk drinkers are making their voices heard. State Rep. Dan Burke (D-Chicago) found that out the hard way when he introduced legislation that would have banned raw milk sales.
The bill generated so much political opposition that Burke himself withdrew it from consideration. Burke said he had never seen so much public reaction to a piece of legislation in his nearly 23 years in the legislature.
“They insisted that there are very significant health benefits from the consumption of raw milk,” he told WBEZ. “I mean individuals who have children with epilepsy, with Down Syndrome, you name it, there was someone who called to insist that their child, family member, friend whoever benefitted from the consumption of raw milk.
“… After that number of calls,” Burke said. “I’m convinced that the product is beneficial to this community and should be available. … In fact, I drank some myself and it was pretty good.”
It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of Illinois residents drink raw milk.
Burke did not say if he will take any action against the proposed rules. The Illinois Secretary of State is taking comments on the rules for 45 days (until early November).
O’Shaughnessy thinks big food might be involved in the push to ban raw milk sales.
“The sales of pasteurized milk have gone down by 25 percent,” O’Shaughnessy pointed out. “So rather than improving their own product it becomes easier to disparage farmers who produce raw milk.”
Raw Milk Prohibition?
She also predicted a black market for raw milk reminiscent of the one for alcohol during prohibition in the 1920s.
“Then it will just go underground and people won’t be any safer,” O’Shaughnessy said of raw milk prohibition. “People are not going to stop. And then what are they going to do? Are they going to start posting people at the end of the driveway? Are they going to start videotaping our customers as they come up the drive? Are they going to start checking people’s trunks as they leave our farm? The public is not going to stand for this.”
Do you live in Illinois? Send comments about the proposal to the secretary of state here.