Countdown to Pierre – Raw milk and the meaning of food rights

2013 was certainly the Year of Raw Milk.

Dakota Rural Action members, raw milk drinkers, producers, and food rights advocates had two meetings with the Department of Agriculture, testified at three raw milk rules hearings, sent in 2,000 comments to the Department of Agriculture against their proposed rules, testified at two Legislative Rules Review Committee meetings, and mobilized citizens and legislators to petition the Department of Agriculture to delay implementation of their new rules until after the 2014 legislative session.

All this to stop poorly written, onerous rules the Department proposed in May. The rule proposal came out of a botched test of a Belle Fourche raw milk producer in late 2012, which prompted serious questions about how the Department was treating raw milk producers. So the Department responded with the most restrictive rules in the country for direct-to-consumer raw milk sales. That’s right: the most restrictive in the county. The rules the Department proposed, and finally got passed on a technicality, are what might be appropriate for retail sales of raw milk. But that isn’t legal in South Dakota (yet). Raw milk producers can ONLY sell directly to the people who will take the milk home and drink it. Much like vegetable producers selling at a farmers market.

So that is what we are looking to solve. Part of the problem lies in the fact that when raw milk sales were legalized in 2010, the law was not really written for direct sales, per se. It just adopted some of the regulations for other kinds of raw milk sales, like selling to a milk buyer who will pasteurize it and sell it anywhere across the country.

We are working on a proposal to clarify that when unpasteurized, whole (raw) milk is sold directly to consumers, it is subject to the same kinds of regulations as other products sold directly to consumers. We’re also working on a proposal to get retail raw milk sales legalized in South Dakota. During the final hearing on the rules the Department of Agriculture, the representative from the South Dakota Dairy Association said, “why should raw milk be treated any differently than other milk?” And, quite frankly, we agree: there is no reason unpasteurized, whole (raw) milk can’t be sold in grocery stores right next to the pasteurized stuff.

Here are some thoughts from our members on unpasteurized whole (raw) milk, and we look forward to working with you all to get these bills passed this year.

I object to those aspects of these rules which add to the cost of production without allowing for any new marketing venue. If we are going to be held to higher testing and facility standards, we should be given the right to retail raw milk through existing stores. Greater opportunities to market raw milk could help to offset the additional costs of complying with these rules. Since no provision in that regard is made, enforcement of these rules will restrict our business and that of other producers, current and future. Furthermore, most likely compliance will cause milk prices to rise, which for some customers becomes a matter of eliminating their freedom of choice.” – Tim Eisenbeis, Happy Grazing Dairy; Marion, SD

“At the national level, both the Food and Drug Administration and Center for Disease Control, are anti-raw milk. I find it disheartening the SDDA takes the same stance as the FDA and CDC…There is an anti-raw milk agenda, campaign, and all-out war going on, and it is based on a much bigger issue than raw milk alone. This is about food freedom.” – Carolyn Ness, raw milk consumer.

Photo by Barry Amundson, courtesy of Tri-State Neighbor

Photo by Barry Amundson, courtesy of Tri-State Neighbor



  1. Very succinct summary of the convoluted raw milk drama of 2013!

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