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Legislators continue to weigh raw milk debate

AFP Correspondent

TRENTON — The New Jersey Legislature’s Agriculture and Natural Resource Committee is preparing to vote on Bill A743, which is all about pure, unadulterated milk.
Hearings, which have been occurring for the past year, were concluded with a final session on Jan. 24.
The next time the bill is before the committee, it will be up for vote. Should the committee approve the bill, it would then head for its next challenge: The Senate.
“We’ve heard a lot of positive feedback from a lot of positive people that are affected by raw milk,” Assemblyman and Committee Chairman Nelson T. Albano, D-District 1, said of the testimony from 2010 hearings. “My intention today ... was to have somebody here ... to testify on what they believe would be a negative affect of allowing the sale of raw milk.”
That, however, did not occur.
Testimony in favor of raw milk was heard by the committee.
No one spoke against raw milk.
Albano expressed his desire to have heard arguments from both the Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture.
However, no one representing either group gave testimony.
Assemblywoman Connie Wagner, D-District 38, signed on as a sponsor of the bill after hearing how important access to raw milk is to her constituents, and learning that a large amount of money is being spent on farms in neighboring states — where raw milk sales are legal.
“I do understand that there are some concerns out there health-wise,  and I can appreciate that,” she said. “This bill will provide for the testing and the standard to be maintained.”
Wagner added that a provision in the bill stipulates that mandatory labeling, warning that raw milk “does not provide protection of pasteurization,” would address some of this concern, allowing consumers the right to choose.
She said she feels that with 15 states permitting on-farm raw milk sales, and 10 states permitting retail raw milk sales, there is precedence and evidence that raw milk sales can be safely regulated and made available to those who choose to consume it.
And, with evidence of the extent of raw milk which is entering New Jersey and being consumed here, the economic boost legal raw milk sales would give to New Jersey’s farmers, as well as to the state, is substantial.
Assemblyman Gilbert Wilson, D-District 5, allowed for a moment of laughter when he commented that he didn’t realize that people were “bootlegging raw milk,” in response to Wagner’s statement that “some of them (consumers) are even having it delivered, illegally. But the bottom line is that they are getting it.”
“The last thing we want ... is for people to go out of state to purchase anything,” Albano said. “If it could be done here, we’d like to have it done here.”
Numerous consumers testified that they are outraged that they cannot purchase raw milk in New Jersey, and are forced to obtain it illegally from neighboring states.
Consumer Loren Muldowney, a Rutgers University alumni who has graduate and undergraduate degrees in biological sciences, addressed the committee.
She said she is appalled that New Jersey feels its constituents can not make their own decisions about raw milk consumption.
“Apparently I’m not competent to make these decisions. Why don’t I get a refund on my education? I wouldn’t buy raw milk from just anybody, no matter what rules get put in place for protection, I’m going to do my own checking anyway,” she added.
Muldowney learned that she could not purchase raw milk in New Jersey after approaching a farmer raising dairy goats, seeking raw milk.
The farmer is forced to dispose of eight gallons of raw milk each day, because she cannot sell it to consumers.
“That is so wrong. I am so outraged,”she said.
“I also think this is a jobs bill. This will be promoting New Jersey agriculture. I hate the thought of going to Pennsylvania, and New York, and Connecticut to get this product,” Muldowney added.
Pamela Schoenfeld, a registered dietician and co-founder of Garden State Raw Milk, testified as well.
“I know several farmers in New Jersey who would be very happy to supply it (raw milk) to me if it were legal,” she said.
Dr. Joseph Heckman, of the Department of Plant Biology and Pathology at Rutgers, is also a supporter of raw milk.
“Like a lot of people, I travel to Pennsylvania every week to get my raw milk,” Heckman said. “Where is the economic justice? We could bring back some dairy farming to this state,” by permitting raw milk sales.
Heckman cited statistics which show that Pennsylvania had issued 50 raw milk permits in 2005.
Currently, there are 136 raw milk permits in Pennsylvania, he said. “The demand is there, and the farmers are stepping up to meet the demand.”
Heckman also mentioned that the Pennsylvania dairy farmers who sell raw milk are capturing money from New Jersey farms in other ways, because consumers purchase other products while they are there.
The raw milk ban, in essence, is impacting all of New Jersey agriculture, not just dairy.
“We have great dairy farmers here in New Jersey that can do the very same thing,” he said. “We can bring back some dairy farming to this state.”
Raw milk permitting would give choice not only to consumers, but to dairy farmers as well, said Ed Wengryn, a staffmember of the New Jersey Farm Bureau.
The legalization of raw milk sales “can actually be a growing niche for farmers who want to do it.
“The customer base will actually grow,” Wengryn said, and would provide dairy farmers “the opportunity to deal directly with their customers.”
“For the guys in the industry that sell wholesale directly to your big milk processors, they want to make sure that the product that the consumer is getting is safe, so milk itself doesn’t get a bad name,” Wengryn said. “We think the language in the bill does that.”
Dairy farmer Peter Southway, who milks 90 cows at his Fredon dairy, testified that raw milk makes monetary sense for farmers.
Southway, a banker by trade, said he has milked commercially for eight years.
He knows numbers, and he knows that selling to Dairy Marketing Services, which is the “only game in town” for northern New Jersey dairy farmers, is a losing game.
“It’s a math issue. I pay the transportation. I pay the trucking,” Southway explained to the committee. “We as farmers used to get 50-55 percent of that (retail shelf) price. It’s down to 27 percent. That’s what happens when monopolies occur.
“Is raw milk the panacea to solve that? It is not,” Southway said. “Why is raw milk banned? It’s a control issue. The fine for me to sell you a gallon of raw milk is actually greater than if I sold you a little marijuana.”
Permitting raw milk sales would provide an option to dairy farmers, but is not in itself going to solve the dairy industries issues.
But it is a viable, profitable option for dairy farmers.
Raw milk sales in New Jersey could allow small dairy farmers to add income to their operations, while allowing customers the freedom to choose this unadulterated, natural food product.