- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Virginia dairy farmers no longer can sell cheese or butter containing unpasteurized milk under a new state law that went into effect at midnight.

The law will protect the public’s health, advocates say, but smaller dairy farms are worried that the new regulations could force them to close.

The rule, with several other regulations, is part of a bill written by the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and recently signed by Gov. Mark Warner.

The Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, a Richmond trade group for about 146,000 farmers in the state, supported the regulations, saying they will protect public health and the farming industry.

“Whether a dairy farm has three goats or 30, the same manufacturing standards should apply,” said spokesman Tony Banks.

But some farm groups said the law’s changes for the manufacturing process of dairy foods will hurt middle-sized and small dairy farms. More dairy farmers are relying on the sales of cheese and butter to make up for their declining profits from milk production.

The regulations require that farmers making cheese out of their homes cannot do so in their family kitchens. Instead, a separate room with a tile or concrete floor must be used.

The production room must have a separate entrance from the rest of the house, primarily to keep dairy products from being contaminated, said Elaine Lidholm, spokeswoman for the state Agriculture Department.

The Agriculture Department has projected that the new requirements may cost farmers from $3,000 to $10,000 to be compliant.

There are 840 licensed cow dairy farms in Virginia, Ms. Lidholm said. She did not have any recent data on the number of goat or sheep dairy farms.

Farmers making fresh cheese must pasteurize the milk or age the cheese for 60 days or longer, she added.

State law has banned the sale of unpasteurized cow milk and products containing raw cow milk since 1986. The new law expands on that rule to include goats, sheep and other mammals that are milked for dairy products.

“This will wipe out the [unpasteurized] milk cheese industry in the state entirely,” said Sally Fallon, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a Washington nonprofit group that advocates traditional foods and raw milk.

Kathryn Russell, who runs a small farm in North Garden, Va., in Albemarle County, said she is worried the regulations will penalize farmers who make cheese or butter with unpasteurized milk for their families.

Ms. Lidholm countered that the law does not ban farmers’ personal use of unpasteurized milk.

While the state is required to inspect farms that sell dairy products to the public, which happens generally every six months, farmers are not required to register their farms with the state. However, dairy farmers whose farms are inspected and who continue to fail to comply with the new rules and manufacturing process could face steep fines or be shut down, Ms. Lidholm said.

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