Wyoming Legislature explores raw milk sales

2013-04-25T06:00:00Z Wyoming Legislature explores raw milk salesBy JOSHUA WOLFSON and LAURA HANCOCK Star-Tribune staff writers Casper Star-Tribune Online

RECLUSE – A brown cow named Now munched quietly on a bucket of grain inside a log barn just south of the Montana border.

Now’s owner, Frank Wallis, cleaned her udders and attached a 3 ½ gallon stainless steel milker. He flipped a switch and the machine began to hum. Less than a half hour later, Now’s milk was chilling in large Mason jars, ready for consumption. There was no pasteurization, no fancy bottling machines or dairy trucks.

“Healthy cows on healthy pastures make the best milk in the world,” said Wallis, who goes by Farmer Frank.

In December, Wyoming lifted its prohibition on raw milk sales. Ranchers such as Wallis can now sell directly to consumers through what are called herd-share agreements. Under such arrangements, customers help pay for the animal’s care in exchange for a share of its milk.

It remains illegal for grocery stores to sell raw milk in Wyoming. Lawmakers want to study whether to change that. Legislative leaders have asked their Joint Agriculture Interim Committee to spend the remainder of the year exploring options for retail sales of unpasteurized dairy products.

The committee plans to examine how neighboring states regulate raw milk. If legislators conclude another state’s laws might work in Wyoming, they could draft a bill for the 2014 session, said the group’s chairman, Sen. Gerald Geis, R-Worland.

But given the health questions associated with unpasteurized milk, there are no guarantees.

“I have a lot of concerns,” Geis said. “But we can only protect people so much from themselves.”

Raw or pasteurized

Most people drink milk that’s been heated to kill harmful bacteria. Health experts credit the process, called pasteurization, with preventing millions of illnesses.

Growing up in the 1930s and 1940s, Geis saw people fall ill and even die from drinking raw milk. He’s interested in finding a way to end the lengthy debate over raw milk, but worries about the consequences.

“It is a real health concern,” he said.

The health risks haven’t dulled interest in raw milk. Some people simply prefer its taste to its store-bought counterpart. Others say it has health benefits not found in store-bought milk.

Pasteurization removes or damages Vitamin D and calcium in the milk, Wallis explained. Dairy companies have to add that stuff back in and the stuff they’re adding isn’t always natural, he said.

“What they’re replacing it with is not nearly as healthy as Mother Nature intended it to be,” he said.

Past attempts to allow retail raw milk sales have failed in the Legislature. State health officials worry legalizing it would result in more illness.

“There really isn’t any logical dispute to the data that shows raw milk is a health risk,” state Epidemiologist Dr. Tracy Murphy said.

The doctor doesn’t question whether families should be able to consume milk from their own animals. But retails sales increase the time between production and consumption, creating opportunities for dangerous organisms to proliferate, he said.

“If there are people who own dairy farms and they are able to handle raw milk in a way that minimizes the risk to their family and they are able to consume it quickly, we are certainly not against anybody’s right to do that,” he said. “But when it’s sold, then you have the whole issue of putting other people at risk.”

Wallis began his herd-share operation more than three years ago. He claims none of his customers have been sickened by raw milk.

After milking the cows, Wallis or an assistant runs the liquid through a filter. He examines the filter for dirt, hair or other matter. If anything is seen, the entire batch is thrown out.

Once a month, Wallis sends a milk sample to a Colorado lab. It is examined for salmonella, E. coli, listeria and other pathogens, he said. The lab even counts platelets to determine whether the cows are healthy.

The test results have always been clean, Wallis said.

“We’re very careful with our milk,” he said.

Health concerns persist

Murphy remains convinced that raw milk represents a public health threat. He cites a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found raw milk is 150 times as likely as processed milk to cause illness.

A testing regimen doesn’t eliminate the possibility of illness, he added. An animal may shed organisms at only certain times, raising the possibility of contamination despite testing.

“It’s just a snapshot that is really not reflective of what goes on routinely,” he said.

Those concerns haven’t thwarted the raw milk movement. Earlier this year, lawmakers stopped a bill that would have allowed sales of raw milk produced by small herds of animals. The milk study increases the likelihood that a similar bill will succeed in the future, said Sen. John Hastert, the Green River Democrat who sponsored the bill.

Hastert wrote his legislation after hearing from constituents who grew up drinking raw milk. They hold a viewpoint common in a libertarian-leaning state like Wyoming. Even if raw milk is more likely to cause illness, shouldn’t consumers decide what to put in their bodies?

“If we accept the risk and we want it, we should be able to get it,” he said, summing up their view.

Wallis is taking a wait-and-see approach to the Legislature’s study of raw milk regulation. Perhaps the Legislature will help people with raw milk herds. Perhaps it will hurt them, he said, noting that Hastert’s bill would have limited the number of cows in a herd.

Either way, Wallis doesn’t think he’d change his operation.

“I think I’d stay with the cow shares,” he said. “We have a group of 90 people who love what we do.”

Contact Joshua Wolfson at 307-266-0582 or at Visit to read his blog. Follow him on Twitter @joshwolfson.

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(7) Comments

  1. Sassy
    Report Abuse
    Sassy - April 26, 2013 11:10 am
    Agreed - Gies is very cranky and ornery
  2. lylew60
    Report Abuse
    lylew60 - April 26, 2013 7:04 am
    "Growing up in the 1930's and 1940's..." Holy cow people! Don't you think it's time to put Geis out to pasture? No wonder he keeps killing good ag bills, he's still living in the industrial age!
  3. srshipp
    Report Abuse
    srshipp - April 25, 2013 6:09 pm
    In March of 2012 the CDC released a paper published by Langer ( and it reported that there is actually no statistical difference in the rate of illness attributed to raw milk or products produced from raw milk compared to those produced from pasteurized milk. The CDC clearly documents the fact that it has no data to show a statistical increase in illnesses in those states that legalized sale according to this study. According to the Casper Star article, it makes it sound that "many" deaths could be found associated with raw milk consumption especially if it was sold in the store here in Wyoming, however States that sell Raw Milk in their local health food stores are not reporting any additional illnesses or deaths associated with Raw Milk. It is also reported by the CDC that there has been no "Deaths" associated with Raw Milk consumption in the last 20 years. However compare that to deaths reported by the CDC in 2011 associated with other Foodborne Illnesses ie, norovirus, salmonella, e coli, listeria; at 3,000 deaths and 1 in 6 people getting sick from these foodborne illnesses or 46 million people (source CDC Website). Many of these deaths are reported from eating raw leafy vegetables (lettuce, spinach, alfalfa sprouts), eggs and egg products, ground beef and deli meats, however there is ZERO Deaths reported from drinking Raw Milk. Today in our grocery stores we see many products that can cause many foodborne illnesses such as leafy vegetable, eggs, ground beef and deli meats and many of these can cause death, but they are still being permitted to be sold everyday in grocery stores around Wyoming. I found this article poorly researched as far as taking something as wholesome as milk and making it sound like Raw Milk was the cause for "many deaths" in the United States when there is not the facts to back up this claim. I also find it hard to believe that we have Legislators that serve on the Agriculture Committee (and I know was raised on Raw Milk) speak so poorly of Raw Milk sales here in Wyoming and then turn around and wonder why people are leaving farming and ranching everyday. I was just at a meeting recently where older farmers and ranchers where wondering "How to get younger people/families to want to farm and ranch in the future." This this has been an ongoing questions in our State for many years, but one way for getting/keeping younger people in farming and ranching would be to STOP regulating things like Raw Milk sales to local health food stores and farmers markets - it is another way they can make additional revenue for their farms and ranches. As far as people purchasing Raw Milk, let us as consumers make that choice on whether to purchase Raw Milk for our families or not - not some ill-informed Legislators that have limited knowledge of Raw Milk. I for one will be advocating for Raw Milk Sales in Wyoming Grocery Stores and hopefully educating people along the way.
  4. Sassy
    Report Abuse
    Sassy - April 25, 2013 3:59 pm
    Let me see here- Last name Wallis from Recluse WY sure sounds familiar...Hummmm
  5. bebeeshepherd
    Report Abuse
    bebeeshepherd - April 25, 2013 9:17 am
    Why not bring up the fact that between 1980 and 2005 there were 41 outbreaks of foodborne illness caused by pasteurized milk, sickening nearly 20,000. Yeah, buddy, that’s almost 11 times the number of outbreaks associated with raw milk during that same period. On top of that, no one can prove pasteurization would have stopped the small number of illnesses linked to raw milk in the first place.
  6. bebeeshepherd
    Report Abuse
    bebeeshepherd - April 25, 2013 9:16 am
    What makes you trust CDC findings? Why not get an independent scientific team to study the health benefits or “dangers” of raw milk? In fact, the Weston A. Price Foundation proves the agency’s findings are flawed and misleading, based not on sound science, but pseudo-science that benefits big dairy by keeping competition at bay. There have been NO deaths due to raw milk in over 50 years. In fact the last deaths were in 2007 were due to PASTEURIZED MILK.
  7. thehousemouse
    Report Abuse
    thehousemouse - April 25, 2013 7:46 am
    My 6 brothers and I grew up on raw milk and itrs good, and it don't have all the harmones and antibotics as junk milk of today has. im 50 my brothers are 60 plus and they still drink it today. they are healthy, cancer free, and have no health problems other then normal stuff. i say bees in the backyard, fresh chicken for dinner fro mthe yard" Its all good.
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