Third Raw Milk Rules Hearing Report

Dakota Rural Action Testifies at Third Raw Milk Rules Hearing

Black Hills Milk, LLC Switches to Herdshare Business Structure to Avoid Future Harassment

On October 9, 2013, the South Dakota Department of Agriculture held its third raw milk rules hearing since June, for the same set of rules proposed at the July 26, 2013 hearing. Over 600 written comments were submitted for the July 26th hearing record, yet the Department of Agriculture failed to incorporate any of those comments into their proposed rules. At the hearing, numerous opponents reiterated similar arguments made at the July 26th hearing and called the Department to task for not taking public opinion into consideration. Emotions ran high at the hearing, with opponents making the case that the Department of Agriculture has lost credibility with raw milk farmers and consumers.

In the fall of 2012, the Department of Agriculture mishandled a milk sample taken from Black Hills Milk, LLC’s dairy in Belle Fourche, resulting in an allegedly positive campylobacter test. Nobody had gotten sick, and subsequent tests were negative. The sample was tested approximately 12 days after being collected, after traveling to 2 different labs, inexplicably ending up in Florida. The five day shutdown of the dairy and negative media coverage has made other raw milk producers wary of the Departments intent with proposing increased testing. Larry Eisenbeis, with Happy Grazing Dairy in Marion, South Dakota, testified at the Wednesday hearing that the 2012 event scared the “daylights out of him” and other producers.

On a press call hosted by Dakota Rural Action after the hearing, Dawn Habeck, co-owner of Black Hills Milk, LLC, announced that her dairy is switching to a herdshare format to avoid further missteps and overreach by the Department of Agriculture. Herdshares are private arrangements between individuals regarding private property, and are not regulated in the state of South Dakota.

“I am concerned that if these rules are implemented, the Department of Agriculture will have even more tools to shut down raw milk dairy farmers,” says Dawn. “These small family businesses do not have the resources to hire attorneys and lobbyists to fend off hostile actions by the Department of Agriculture. The proposed rules will be an economic barrier for prospective farmers looking into starting a raw milk dairy. In addition, I am very concerned about the vagueness of the statutory authority for these rules. After the negative publicity last fall due to the campylobacter testing fiasco, sales dropped from 95-98 gallons per day to 45 and never recovered from a year ago, effectively not allowing us to cover our fixed costs. In a small operation, gallons per day are critical to cover fixed costs. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. More regulations mean higher prices for customers due to an increase of fixed costs that have to be passed on to the customer so that the producer can stay in business.”

Dakota Rural Action members will continue to work to keep the proposed rules off the table until the legislative session, where they hope to work with the Department of Agriculture to fix the statute regarding raw milk to ensure a vibrant local raw milk industry.

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