Monday, September 8, 2008

The State Steps In

For the past two plus years this dairy has had a Grade 'A' dairy license. Issued by the Washington State Department of Agriculture, it gives me the right to sell milk, raw milk, to the public. The dairy is inspected, the milk tested, and product deemed fit for human consumption.

Raw milk is legal in only a limited number of states in the Union. Although the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance is a federal document (it also addresses raw milk laws) the states have the right to allow or not allow raw milk within their states. Raw milk is not eligible for interstate commerce. The state of Washington allows raw milk to be sold to the public and I am very fortunate for that law as are my customers.

I sell milk to many private people directly and also in a small general store here on Vashon Island where people can pick up a jug of raw milk where I deliver a few times a week a few blocks from the Farm.

In addition to selling jugs of milk, small cafes on the Island wanted to buy it to use it to make espresso drinks with. Their idea was that people wanted to drink high quality coffee drinks and an excellent local milk would contribute to their fine coffees. As these coffee shops took the milk seriously I agreed to sell it to them. They kept it cold at all times, kept low inventories, had a warning label on the counter where their customers could read it, offered it special to customers not automatically and they only steamed what they needed for that one drink ordered: they didn't keep large pitchers of warm milk around ever.

The customers loved it. They had the opportunity to read the warning label on the counter, understood it and wanted high quality local milk. They were not interested in low quality milk from large factory farms. They trusted me and my practices.

The King County Department of Public Health inspected these cafes over the past two years and did not see a problem. In one case they did ask for the warning label to be a bit larger so that there was no question that it was raw milk that was being freely offered and that it had a warning associated with it.
Last week one person called the Department of Public Health and informed them that my raw milk was offered for sale at all three cafes. The Department of Health revisited the issue, checked with the State Department of Public Health and required the three cafes pull the milk from their menus.

The State's opinion is that they are benevolent is allowing the people of the State of Washington to sell and buy raw milk in any form. They believe that the law says that raw milk must be only sold to the end consumer in a sealed container that is sealed at the dairy with a warning label on it. (I do conform to the law -- the cafes were selling it not in its original container).

I had looked up the issue in the Public Health statues on line months ago and had found this guideline:

(E) Whenever unpasteurized milk and FOODS containing unpasteurized milk are offered for sale at a FOOD
ESTABLISHMENT, except hard or semi-soft raw milk cheeses properly fermented and aged for a minimum
of sixty days in compliance with 21 CFR Part 133, the PERMIT HOLDER and PERSON IN CHARGE must
ensure that:
(1) The product is conspicuously labeled "RAW MILK" or "CONTAINS RAW MILK"; and
(2) A sign is posted in a conspicuous manner near the product stating: "WARNING: RAW MILK
WAC 246-215-051(1)]

I am not a lawyer, but rather just a guy that milks cows every day but this seemed to me to say that you could serve raw milk in restaurants in the State of Washington with proper notification. I must admit as I read this that maybe the Amended part at the end means that this is in the law but we changed it and forgot to take it out.

I am happy to pull my milk from three great small businesses on Vashon. I will have no problem selling my milk directly to consumers, I never have enough as it is. What is sad to me is a couple of things.

First, people really like this milk. It is tasty, local and a good product. People should have the opportunity to drink it if they understand the risks and still want it.

Secondly, I am rather disappointed that someone took the route of calling the health department to deal with their issue. The only way that someone would know that I sold milk at these three cafes was by reading my website. Would it be so tough for you to send me an email and at least chat with me or the cafe owners about it? It just seems so cowardly of this person to take their concerns anonymously to the State. Stand up to the people in line at Cafe Luna and tell them how you feel. The person who did this obviously is very well informed with the intricacies of the health system and knew they could hide behind an email.

The odd thing to me is that the State feels that this product is healthy enough for humans to drink. What is odd is that it is healthy for you to drink in your home, but not in a cafe. Pick one: it is healthy, or it isn't. If it shouldn't be consumed by humans, shut me down; pull my license. If it can be consumed by humans, let them buy it already.

Okay, I will get off my soap box and stop ranting.

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