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From Farm To Fridge: Should Raw Milk Be Easier To Get?

Nathan Greenwood-FreeDigitalPhotos

For Pamela and Ray Robinson, producing raw milk has been an economic lifesaver for their small, organic farm in Hardwick, Mass. Back when they used to send their milk for pasteurization, they earned less than they spent.

“Being conventional dairy farmers wasn’t paying the bills” says Pamela Robinson, a retired nurse midwife whose husband is a fourth generation farmer.

But their new source of income puts them in direct conflict with public health officials, who say raw milk is dangerous.

Massachusetts legislators are currently considering whether to make it easier for boutique farmers to sell raw milk – a measure backed by farmers like the Robinsons and advocates who say raw milk is more nutritious than pasteurized milk, which is heated to kill off pathogens. They say proper farming techniques, including a more stringent routine of cow care, milking procedures and testing, ensure safe milk.

But health officials say that farmers’ good practices can’t guarantee safety, and the extra health benefits come at too high a cost: a 150-times higher risk of food poisoning.

“Don’t drink it!” says Dr. Barbara Mahon, a CDC epidemiologist. “It is one of the likeliest foods  there is to carry germs that can make you seriously sick.”

House bill 717 would allow Massachusetts farmers to bring their raw milk closer to customers. Right now, raw milk and soft cheeses made from it can only be purchased on the farm where they are produced.  The new bill would allow farmers to transport their own milk to their customers directly to their homes, pre-established receiving spots or through community supported agriculture (CSA) arrangements.  Before purchasing their raw milk products, customers would be required to establish a contract with the farmer they plan to buy from.
Pamela Robinson spoke in favor of the bill earlier this month at a public hearing held by the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources & Agriculture at a high school gym in Spencer, MA.

Robinson says she’s frustrated by the current law.

“A lot of our customers come from urban areas,” she says.  “All the border states have looser raw milk laws, so we lose business to them.” Continue reading

Wal-Mart Goes Locavore: Will Double Its Local Produce Offerings

The local food movement meets the world's largest grocer

The words “Wal-Mart” and “sustainability” aren’t generally spoken in the same breath, but there’s news today that might change that: the world’s largest grocer is embracing the “locavore” movement in a big way, reports The New York Times, with more local produce on its shelves, support for small to medium-sized farmers and an efficiency index to track producers environmental waste.

In the United States, Wal-Mart plans to double the percentage of locally grown produce, to 9 percent. Wal-Mart defines local produce as that grown and sold in the same state. Still, the program is far less ambitious than in some other countries — in Canada, for instance, Wal-Mart expects to buy 30 percent of produce locally by the end of 2013, and, when local produce is available, increase that to 100 percent.

In emerging markets, Wal-Mart has pledged to sell $1 billion of food from small and medium farmers (which it defines as farmers with fewer than 20 hectares, about 50 acres). It will also provide training for the farmers and their laborers on how to choose crops that are in demand as well as the proper application of water and pesticides.

…And, it will begin creating an agriculture-specific index to measure waste and efficiency among produce suppliers. It will be asking its biggest producers to answer questions about water, fertilizer and chemical use. The eventual goal is to include that information in a sustainability rating that customers would see, so they could decide whether to choose one avocado over another based on how much waste it had created.