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Got controversy? Dane County Board wades into raw milk dispute
Dane County Supv. Carl Chenoweth (left) introduced the resolution to oppose the state bill sponsored by Sen. Glenn Grothman (right).

Since state Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) introduced a bill this summer to legalize the limited sale of raw milk in Wisconsin, no local government has registered a position on the controversial issue, according to Government Accountability Board records.

But the Dane County Board of Supervisors is considering taking a stance. Supv. Carl Chenoweth has introduced a non-binding resolution to formally oppose SB 236, which was the subject of a public hearing in September. The bill would, under certain conditions, allow consumers to buy raw, unpasteurized milk directly from dairy farmers.

Chenoweth drank raw milk when growing up his family's farm in Maryland. But as the only member of the Board of Health, the advisory body for Public Health Madison & Dane County, he says he is acting as a "messenger" to "send a statement to the state."

"Raw milk is enough of an issue that our public health officials believe that it's not a responsible method of distributing dairy products," Chenoweth says. "Nobody is saying this is an epidemic, but there is ... a need for us to say this is an issue."

The language of Resolution 150, which opposes the raw milk bill on public health grounds, is consistent with the findings of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration. Both organizations say raw milk does not have any additional health benefits, as some advocates claim, and is more likely to contain harmful bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella than pasteurized milk and its derivatives.

Grothman, who learned of the resolution from an Isthmus reporter, was surprised the county board would oppose legalizing raw milk.

"Why the Dane County Board would side with agribusiness and the medical establishment ... is beyond me," Grothman says. "If the county board passes this, it will be just more evidence of the desire for enforced conformity by the left."

But Chenoweth does not see his resolution as a sure thing. "Frankly, I don't think there's a lot of reception to this," he says.

There is, in fact, divided support for the state measure among raw milk supporters.

Carol Graff, a raw milk advocate, opposes the bill because it would require farmers to go through a costly registration process in order to continue selling raw milk and raw milk products. She considers some of the other requirements, including mandatory monthly testing of raw milk by health inspectors, onerous.

"We've been getting stuff from Vernon [Hershberger] for the past eight years," Graff says. "I've never had a problem, so why do we need government interference?"

Loganville farmer Hershberger, who recently beat charges in a high-profile Baraboo trial for selling raw milk illegally, also opposes the bill.

Graff gets a fresh gallon delivered for $6 every Monday night and goes through two glasses of raw milk a day. She says she and other raw milk drinkers worry it might be harder to get the product if Grothman's bill were to pass.

Graff is not worried about siding with raw milk critics in opposing the state bill.

"It doesn't really matter if I oppose it too," Graff says. "We're just opposing it for different reasons."

The Dane County board's Environment, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee will review Chenoweth's resolution Dec. 3, followed by the Executive Committee. After votes in both committees, the full county board will take up the resolution.

The state Committee on Financial Institutions and Rural Issues approved Grothman's bill Nov. 11 with added conditions for milk sales. Grothman says the bill will likely get a vote before the full Senate in January or February.

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