AUGUSTA, Maine — After being stymied by a veto by Gov. Paul LePage last year, advocates for deregulating the small-scale raw milk market will have another chance to see themselves exempted from state regulation and inspection.
Members of the Legislature’s Agriculture Committee on Thursday approved an amended version of LD 1786, a bill by Rep. Bill Noon, D-Sanford, that would allow unlicensed dairy farmers to sell raw milk and raw milk products to consumers but with several key limitations.
First, farmers could only sell their products from their farm, or at a farmstand located on the farm property. Customers must be allowed to visually inspect the farm, and farmers may not advertise their products through any means other than word-of-mouth. All products would have to be labeled with the name, address and phone number of the farm, as well as a disclaimer that the farm was not inspected or licensed by the state.
Lastly, despite the unregulated nature of the envisioned market, the Department of Agriculture would still have the right to investigate the exempted farm if there is reason to believe a foodborne illness originated there.
Last year, LD 1282 was championed by raw milk farmers and advocates of local food sovereignty but opposed by the Department of Agriculture and several dairy industry groups, including the Maine Cheese Guild, who thought the move would endanger the state’s dairy industry by opening it up to potentially unsafe food products.
That bill would have allowed the sale of dairy products from unlicensed farmers at farmers markets, and it could have necessitated convoluted registries and other bureaucratic hurdles.
Because Noon’s bill requires consumers to seek out unlicensed raw milk and bars producers from selling their products off-premises, neither the department or Cheese Guild oppose it.
Proponents on the committee tried four different iterations of the bill in an effort to win the most support possible but never drew more than a 6-5 vote.
The minority support a version of the bill that would also require the exempted dairy farmers to enroll in a food safety course at the University of Maine and get their water tested.
The bill faces further votes by the House and Senate.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.