Years-long battle results in reduced barriers for farmers & consumers
Published May 14, 2021
After 11 years of fighting over raw milk, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) today published new regulations that remove one of the key restrictions that hobbled raw milk producers for so long.
Since 2009, Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance (FARFA), a non-profit group that advocates on behalf of independent family farmers, led the charge to change laws that severely restricted where raw milk could be sold and imposed unnecessary regulatory burdens for these small farms.
Just over a year ago, when DSHS first released draft changes to the rule and requested public comment, FARFA entered into extensive negotiations with the agency to shape its language. The result is a rule that allows licensed raw milk farmers to deliver their products to consumers, provides farmers greater flexibility in how their product gets tested, and recognizes the legality of what’s called “herd shares,” where consumers purchase a share of a cow or an entire milking herd, in exchange for a comparable portion of the raw milk produced.
“The new rule allowing me to take milk to my customers ensures the highest quality of the milk as it moves from farm to customer,” said Bob Stryk, a second-generation dairy farmer in Schulenburg. “And the new provision that allows me to take my own raw milk product samples to an approved lab simplifies getting test results, improving product and consumer safety.”
Opposition to past legislative efforts came from the corporate dairy industry and from a few local health departments.
“Persistent, strategic organizing paid off,” Judith McGeary, executive director of FARFA, said. “The pressure our grassroots advocates created over the years, together with FARFA’s reputation for solid, factual arguments and for negotiating in good faith, led to these common-sense changes to the law.”
The most significant changes from the previous rule is that the new rule:
- Legalizes delivery of raw milk anywhere in the state that the consumers and farmers wish to arrange. Sales at farmers’ markets (a provision FARFA pushed for many years) still are not allowed, but a farmers’ market booth can serve as a delivery point for pre-purchased raw milk.
- Empowers farmers to take their own samples to any approved lab, so they can ensure proper handling and quick results. The lack of this option in the past caused several farmers to have their licenses suspended.
- Recognizes the legality of animal shares. Until now, cow/goat/herd shares operated in a gray area of Texas law. FARFA contended that they were legal under normal principles of contract law, while the agency contended that they were illegal sales. So, people with one or two cows (too few to justify the expense of a license) operated under a cloud of fear of government action. Now, as long as the herd share operates with a bill of sale and divides milk proportionally (which a true herd share should do), the agency’s new rules recognize that it is not a “sale” and is excluded from the regulations.
Additionally, the new rule does not include a requirement that a licensed raw milk farm keep a list of its customers, despite being proposed in the original draft and being urged by agency staff in 2009. The rule also expands the category of raw milk products that can be sold by Grade A licensed producers to include cream, sour cream, yogurt, buttermilk, whey, eggnog, and kefir.
The new rule includes provisions for a warning label on the bottles, consistent with the warning provided for other raw animal products, as well as consumer access to a raw milk farm’s recent test results.
Based in Cameron, Texas, Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance has a 15-year history of successfully advocating for national, state, and local policies that support the success of independent farms and local food producers. As a non-profit organization, FARFA focuses on changing burdensome laws that hinder the ability of small-scale, sustainable producers to provide products to consumers at fair market prices.