March 14, 2006
The Daily News
It’s illegal to sell unpasteurized milk without a license in Washington, but Longview residents need only cross the Lewis and Clark Bridge to get raw milk in Oregon, where no license is required for small farms.
That could soon change, though, as Oregon officials review their laws in light of a December E. coli outbreak at a raw milk farm in Woodland.
And those changes could impact Oregonians like Rainier’s Tanya Duarte.
Duarte sells raw milk from her Jersey cows. She’s okay under current law as long as she has three or fewer cows, sells only on farm property and doesn’t advertise.
Until recently, Duarte listed her farm on a “Where Can I Find Real Milk Products” webpage of a national raw milk advocacy group.
Is that advertising?
That’s one of the things state officials hope to answer when they review their raw milk laws, admitting some are too vague to render an opinion about Duarte’s web listing. “I think those regulations were written before we had (websites),”
said Ron McKay, administrator of the food safety division of the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Advertising in newspapers or on the radio, though, is banned.
Duarte said she didn’t consider the website listing advertising, though she took her listing off the website after The Daily News contacted her. She said that’s because she realized she had enough customers.
“I’m not supposed to advertise, and that’s why I don’t have a price (on the milk listing),” Duarte said in a February telephone interview. “And I remember checking with the state and them saying the law had too many gray areas to address websites.”
The matter may not remain ambiguous for long, though.
McKay said this is one of several raw milk issues his department plans to review in the coming months. He said Washington’s Dee Creek Farm case — and the subsequent review in the Legislature — sparked the review.
Also included will be how cow shares — sometimes used in an attempt to circumvent bans on raw milk sales — should be regulated. Cow share programs sell a portion of a cow to a person for a monthly fee. In return, the cow’s “owner” receives regular milk.
Woodland’s Michael and Anita Puckett — who produced the E. coli-tainted milk that sickened 18 Dee Creek Farm customers — said their cow shares program exempted them from Washington’s license requirement. State officials disagreed, warning the couple months before the outbreak that they needed a license.
Legislation awaiting the governor’s signature strengthens that restriction, providing state inspectors greater access to farms and allowing producers to be charged with a misdemeanor for violations. Similar action could happen in Oregon.
“This whole issue of cow sharing or cow condos is something that we in the agency are looking into and the industry also is asking us about,” McKay said.
“We’re going to need to address what is going on and what our position needs to be.”
McKay said Ag officials will need to work with the state Attorney General’s office to determine their next steps, including whether to approach the Legislature or begin a series of public hearings.
Duarte wouldn’t mind the laws being clearer, but she certainly doesn’t want Oregon to follow Washington in requiring a license for all raw milk sales.
“That would be bad news, definitely,” she said.
And she worries changing the laws would keep her and her customers from drinking the raw milk they consider nutritionally superior to milk heated during pasteurization to kill bacteria.
Duarte entered the raw milk business in November — when her supplier retired — but has drank the milk for two years and remains a strong devotee despite the E. coli outbreak across the river.
“I just did a lot of research and came to the decision that raw milk is better for you,” she said. “I think the media does a really good job of scaring people a lot when it’s not necessary. And I think people ought to be more informed on both sides.”