On January 13, the Illinois Joint Commission on Administrative Rules (JCAR) approved regulations governing raw milk production and sales; the Illinois Department of Health (IDPH) spent over three years working on the measure. The new rules, which take effect on July 1, 2016, limit sales to on the farm and require producers to obtain a raw milk permit from IDPH.
For over 30 years, IDPH had a policy of allowing unregulated sales of raw milk on the farm; the policy worked well with few, if any, cases of foodborne illness attributed to raw milk produced by Illinois farmers. An Illinois statute that became law in the early 1980s allowed on-farm sales by a Grade A dairy if the dairy followed regulations set by IDPH on raw milk production. IDPH never did issue regulations and by policy allowed all dairies to sell raw milk. Once it finally started work on developing regulations in 2012, IDPH reversed its policy, claiming that raw milk sales were illegal until the regulations went into effect.
JCAR is a legislative committee that has the final say on the approval of proposed regulations. In August 2015, JCAR rejected raw milk regulations proposed by IDPH, giving IDPH six months to work out a deal with other interested parties over a revised version of the proposed rules that was acceptable to the committee. If IDPH had not been able to do so, it would no longer have had the authority under Illinois law to issue rules governing raw milk sales and production.
There was support among Illinois raw milk producers and consumers and IDPH to allow the delivery of raw milk to customers at a distribution point, but an organization called the Northern Illinois Public Health Consortium (NIPHC) successfully lobbied the JCAR members against it. NIPHC, which consists of Northern Illinois City and County public health departments, has a history of opposing raw milk. In 2014 it unsuccessfully tried to ban raw milk through a stealth maneuver by convincing a legislator to introduce a bill establishing the prohibition through an amendment to the Public Access to Restrooms Act; NIPHC did this when IDPH was preparing to issue regulations on raw milk sales. In other states, county health departments fall in line with what the state health departments want, but not in Illinois.
The new regulations state that only a dairy farm producing raw milk for consumption by the farmer and family members shall be exempt from the permit requirements. The regulations prohibit the sale of other raw milk products (raw milk cheese aged 60 days can be produced and sold under a separate permit). The regulations contain standards for sanitization equipment, construction and storage, the milking environment, milking practices, labeling and consumer advisories. One requirement is that the producer provide “instructions for the consumer to notify the local health department for the area in which the consumer resides of a consumer complaint or suspected foodborne illness or to notify the Department of a complaint of farm sanitary conditions.”
There could be further lawmaking on raw milk during the current session of the Illinois legislature. It is possible that legislation will be introduced to allow distribution of raw milk off the farm. If that happens, NIPHC and its members will again lobby on the taxpayer’s dime against expanded raw milk access for Illinois consumers.
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