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SD raw milk farmers upset about 2nd rules hearing

Intern Cole Trager, 19, of Brooklyn, N.Y., screws on the tops to mason jars full of fresh milk at the E Z Rocking Ranch April 11 in Recluse, Wyo. Trager found farmer Frank Wallis through the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms program and has been interning for Wallis since mid-February. Wallis, who currently has nine milking cows on his ranch for raw milk, says it takes approximately six hours a day to milk the cows. Trager says the work has been fun and rewarding. (Leah Millis, Star-Tribune)

RAPID CITY (AP) -- Western South Dakota farmers who produce raw milk are unhappy about having to make a second trip to Pierre next week to comment on revised state rules governing the sale of unpasteurized milk.

The second hearing is being held July 26 because state Agriculture Secretary Lucas Lentsch decided to change the proposed rules after hearing from hundreds of people at the department's first hearing on June 6. The major change is that the revised safety regulations would apply only to raw milk for sale, not milk that is offered or provided for free.

Raw milk sellers have asked the Agriculture Department to let them testify through the state's Digital Dakota Network, a two-way television system, so they don't have to travel to the state Capitol for next week's hearing, the Rapid City Journal reports.

Courtney De La Rosa, the department's director of agricultural policy, said officials will look into the possibility of allowing people to testify through the television system. However, she said she doesn't know if that will be possible because the department has never used the DDN for a rules hearing.

People also can submit written comments until Aug. 5 on the revised rules, which deal with testing, labeling and other safety precautions.

Black Hills Food Freedom, an advocacy group, is opposed to the rules. Gena Parkhurst, a group member, said the proposed rules would not increase safety. The rules are unnecessarily stringent and could halt the sale of raw milk or limit its availability by driving producers out of business, she said.

De La Rosa said the proposed rules would not prevent the sale of raw milk. Of the 33 states that allow some commerce in raw milk, several have more stringent rules than those proposed in South Dakota, she said.

"They're not only achievable and attainable, they're practical," De La Rosa said of the proposed rules.

The state Health Department says 24 cases of the disease campylobacteriosis were linked to raw milk consumption last year in South Dakota, since the greatest risk factor for those cases was the consumption of raw milk. But that contamination was never officially traced to a raw milk source, so supporters argue that raw milk cannot be blamed as the cause because the disease can be spread on many other ways.