A heated debate over raw milk and federal regulation is heating up in small towns and small farms across Maine. The catalyst for this struggle was a lawsuit by the state government against Dan Brown, a Hancock County farmer.
Brown’s farm currently sells and distributes unpasteurized milk without a state license. Current state law requires licensure in order to sell raw milk, but several Maine towns, include Brown’s hometown of Blue Hills, have passed food sovereignty laws, declaring that food sold to local consumers for household consumption is not subject to state or federal regulation and licensing.
Earlier this month, state officials sued Brown in order to prevent him from selling unpasteurized dairy products. The lawsuit, and the ensuing struggle over municipal power, has divided the agricultural community.
State officials, particularly agricultural officials, maintain that licensing and regulation is necessary to protect the health of the community. A sample of raw milk taken from Brown’s farm, for example, contained bacteria levels significantly higher than the legal limit. In addition, agricultural officials say they are protecting Maine’s dairy industry. A major milk related illness could severely damage the dairy sector, much like Colorado’s listeria outbreak has reduced their cantaloupe sales.
Some raw farmers have also come out in favor of the state policy, citing health concerns as well as the ease of obtaining a state license.
Many Maine farmers, however, see the lawsuit as an intrusion by state officials into local issues. One Penobscot farmer said, “We have asserted the right to choose what food we eat and feed our families.”
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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer