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Raw-milk sales expansion delayed

By Bob Mercer

Capitol Correspondent

PIERRE -- The Legislature's rules review committee refused to give clearance Tuesday to broader regulations sought by the state Agriculture Department over South Dakota's dairies that generate raw milk for retail sale.

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The panel voted 3-2 to send the proposed rules back because the small-business financial impact statement wasn't adequately researched.

The split votes came down to Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, who voted against the regulations. He said costs might increase but more labeling information would be a positive development for raw-milk producers if problems need to be tracked down.

The panel then voted 3-2 to send the proposed rules back to the department for more work on the financial question. The next steps -- whether to gather actual data and make another attempt before the panel -- are up to the agency.

The rule-making process began in April and has already gone through two public hearings and a significant rewriting of the proposal to scale back the scope to raw milk only when it is offered for sale.

The original proposal would have covered all raw milk including for on-farm consumption.

State regulations already require labeling as raw milk. The key point in the proposed rules calls for additional labeling information such as the date of production by the dairy. Five dairies currently produce raw milk for retail sale.

The two producers who testified Tuesday via videoconference from Spearfish, however, said they weren't contacted by the department about the potential additional expenses for putting more information on the labels.

"I was certainly never asked how much it would cost me," said Lila Streff, who operates the Black Hills Goat Dairy in the rural Custer area.

Dawn Habeck said the cost to her family's dairy near Belle Fourche would be $12,000 to $15,000 to buy new glass jars, and $1 per label per jug each time one is filled, to fulfill the proposed labeling requirements.

"It will be very difficult to fit that on the jars and bottles we have," Habeck said.

The state Health Department prefers that raw milk isn't sold in South Dakota because the non-pasteurized product can more easily spread illness.

"I believe it is our responsibility to put these in place," said Rep. Ann Hajek, R-Sioux Falls.

Rep. Timothy Johns, R-Lead, initially opposed the rules because he didn't believe state laws gave the authority to the secretary of agriculture to regulate raw milk. He later withdrew those comments but voted against letting the rules take effect.

In other newsworthy action Tuesday, the panel cleared school-sentinel training rules, grain-warehouse rule changes and most of the school-bus inspection changes.