After the fast progress of SB 434, "The Raw Milk Bill," through the state Legislature this spring, it's hit a stumbling block. Governor Jim Doyle, who had initially indicated he was in favor of signing the bill into law, in the last week has begun to express reservations.
Today supporters of the raw milk bill, which will allow the licensing of farmers to sell raw milk directly to interested consumers, rallied on the State Street steps of the State Capitol to urge Governor Doyle to sign the bill into law.
The noon rally got off to a slow start, with raw milk samples being served to anyone who wanted a taste, before the first speakers stepped up to the megaphone about 12:20 p.m., to express their support for legalizing raw milk in Wisconsin. At the height of the rally about 50-60 attendees gathered around.
Advocates believe that the nutrients in raw milk provide health benefits that pasteurization destroys. The argument is also made that raw milk just tastes better -- "This is really yummy, you need to try it," said Family Farm Defenders organizer John Peck, who was manning the raw milk spigot.
Furthermore, the direct-to-consumer sale of raw milk is often cited by supporters of the bill as a way to save or at least aid family farms and help dairy farmers earn a decent price for their milk, an area where they are currently losing ground (and, literally, farms).
The primary sentiment at today's rally, though, was anti-government. Signs like "Yes to choice, yes to liberty!" and "Don't pasteurize it, legalize it" and "Keep the government off our farms" predominated.
"The constitution preserves the rights of the people, not big dairy" said speaker Rosanne Lindsay of the Wisconsin Alliance for Raw Milk. "Our government was founded on the freedom to choose."
Andy Mastrocola, a Weston A. Price Foundation chapter head for Jefferson and Waukesha counties, stepped up to the microphone and announced that he's been drinking raw milk for 12 years without getting sick -- "Twelve years of Russian Roulette," according to the government, Mastrocola underlined. The demand for artisanal raw milk has grown, said Mastrocola, just like the demand for artisanal cheese and beer. "We love our milk as well," he said before asking Governor Doyle to "imagine new dairy farms, imagine thriving local economies."
Raw milk advocate Joe Plasterer, who introduced himself as the consumer representative on the Governor's raw milk advisory board, was perhaps the event's most impassioned speaker. He and his family have been drinking raw milk for seven years and he says it's only recently that he has seen what he called "bullying tactics" from the Wisconsin DATCP making farmers scared to sell raw milk, scared of losing their farms.
As seen in this video of the rally, he encouraged support of raw milk "for health, for entrepreneurship, and for freedom."
"We have choices right now with what we eat," Plasterer continued. "We can eat raw fish, we can eat raw meat, we can smoke, we can ride our motorcycles without our helmets. We have choices and freedoms in Wisconsin. Why can't we buy raw milk?"
Scott Pfaff, a Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association consultant who opposes the bill, was handing out a flier entitled "Please Veto the Sale of Raw Milk."
Pfaff, who said he grew up drinking raw milk on a dairy farm, is opposed to the sale of raw milk because he believes consuming raw milk is dangerous and, he says, if people get sick from drinking it, that will damage the entire Wisconsin dairy industry.
Why would consumption of raw milk have an impact on sales of pasteurized milk, if those who got sick were clearly drinking unpasteurized milk?
Fears of the swine flu brought down sales of pork even though swine flu is not about pork, Pfaff responded. "We need to defend our product."