SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — New rules covering the production, testing and labeling of raw milk sold in South Dakota will take effect Dec. 11, the state's agriculture secretary said Tuesday.
The changes have been in the works since last spring. Although the Legislature's Rules Review Committee approved them earlier this month, the Agriculture Department held three hearings on the issue and made several changes to the original proposal.
"We need to know the date that it was bottled on, who bottled it and at a bare minimum that this product has not been pasteurized and may contain harmful bacteria," Agriculture Secretary Lucas Lentsch said. "Those are all very minimum expectations that we've put out there for the raw milk producers, and it's really for the public health and safety."
Raw milk producers and customers argue the product is already safe and the new rules impose too many restrictions.
Dawn Habeck, owner of Black Hills Milk in Belle Fourche, said the state's new maximum coliform level of 10 per milliliter is next to impossible to hit, and it seems to be designed to put raw milk producers out of business.
The level of coliform — naturally occurring bacteria that can benefit the human body — increases the moment milk is drawn from an animal's udder, she said, and pasteurization, the process of heating milk to destroy bacteria and extend shelf life, destroys important nutrients and enzymes
"The reason people want raw milk is because of the enzymes, and the coliform is a measure of that," Habeck said. "Every hour after the milk comes out of the cow, those coliform values are rising."
Public health officials say raw milk carries an increased risk for bacterial contamination that can lead to illness and even death. Selling it to the public is illegal in some states and under federal law, which applies to products shipped between states.
In South Dakota, raw milk must be labeled as such and sold at the farm or through home delivery by the farmer. There are only five licensed raw milk producers in the state.
Lentsch said dairy regulators will continue to work with producers to help them get in compliance.
Habeck said she has no plans to comply with rules, and will instead switch to a herd share model in which a customer buys an undivided share in a cow. The model, which would fall outside of what is considered a commercial operation, works well in Colorado, she said.
"They do not purchase the milk," Habeck said. "They purchase a share of the cow and basically I am their hired person to take care of the animal for them and get the milk ready for them."