Tuesday, a senate committee narrowly passed a bill that would make it legal for farmers to sell unpasteurized milk directly to consumers in Wisconsin.
It passed on a 3-2 vote with all Republicans in support and both Democrats against.
Raw milk has been a concern for many years. Pasteurization started about 90 years ago because of the illnesses milk could cause, but some say things have changed over time.
“There's people, honest to God, really looking for the product,” said Vincent Hundt, a dairy farmer in Coon Valley.
Hundt has spent all of his life as a dairy farmer. The milk his cows provide make up more than half of his business, but he said here’s an increase in demand for raw milk.
“There are thousands of people that are looking for unpasteurized milk,” said Hundt.
A true believer himself, Hundt said fresh milk straight from the farm can provide health benefits, especially for children.
He hopes the lawmakers debating over the bill that would make it legal for farmers to sell raw milk can see it, too.
“If you can get kids to go out to a farm a couple (maybe) three times a year, roll around in the dirt and have a good time, chase the chickens and drink raw milk, they'll be healthy for a lifetime,” said Hundt.
Jim Steinhoff of the La Crosse County Health Department said raw milk has risks, not benefits.
“Everything from E. coli, salmonella, cryptosporidium,” said Steinhoff. “(There’s) just a long, long, laundry list of dangerous microorganisms.”
The bill would allow farmers to sell raw milk to consumers under a few conditions.
In addition to keeping their cow healthy, farmers would have to freeze a sample from each day of production and preserve it for at least 15 days.
They would also have to keep sales records for each customer and make them available for inspection, and the milk would have to clear monthly testing.
Steinhoff said short of pasteurization, there really isn't anything else that would make raw milk safe.
“You're producing milk every day, and the presence of organisms on one day or a couple of days worth of testing will not afford enough protection,” said Steinhoff.
The bill is now on its way to the full senate, but it's not expected to be taken up until sometime next year.
The proposal faces an uncertain future, with the state's dairy industry against it and Gov. Scott Walker expressing reservations. Supporters say raw milk is safe and has health benefits, while opponents say it puts Wisconsin's dairy industry at risk.
If the bill becomes law, Wisconsin would join more than a dozen states, including Minnesota, that allow farmers to sell raw milk directly to consumers.