Kimberly Primicerio photo

Connecticut dairy farmers celebrated a victory last month when a bill to ban the retail sale of raw milk died in committee.

The bill was prompted by E Coli outbreaks linked to raw milk. Concerned farmers realized that they need to implement more safety standards, and on Thursday milk producers and lawmakers announced the formation of the Connecticut Alliance for Raw and Farmstead Dairy Products.

Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, fought against the legislation, which also would have required expensive tests that would have put some farms out of business.

Urban said farmers got together and talked about their concerns, and those discussions led to the creation of the coalition.

John Pittari, owner of New Morning Store in Woodbury, explained the purpose of the coalition Thursday at a press conference.

Pittari said the coalition will promote quality and safety in the industry by establishing a Manual of Best Management Practices for licensed milk dairies in the state. The coalition also will develop relationships with regulatory agencies and provide mentoring for other farmers, Pittari said.

Chris Newton, owner of Baldwin Brook Farms in Canterbury, said he is happy coalition has been formed.

“It will allow us to streamline our efforts and work together toward a common good,” Newton said.

Urban explained that raw milk is a specialty product and it is sold in some stores for $7.

“It’s not like the consumer doesn’t understand they are buying a specialty product,” she said. Raw milk costs more than pasteurized milk to help farms stay in business. Urban stressed that these specialty products need to remain on store shelves.

Rep. Bryan Hurlburt, D-Tolland, said it would make no sense if the bill were to be reinstated. The bill asks for the discontinuation of raw milk sales in retail stores, but states that it is okay for the raw milk to be sold on farms.

“If it’s safe enough to be sold on the farm, then it’s safe enough to be sold in the store,” Hurlburt said.

“We can’t keep the food supply 100 percent safe,” Urban said when asked about a child who had received E Coli from another child who had consumed raw milk. “There are many incidents where pathogens get into the food system.”

Urban then listed recent contamination incidents involving spinach, tomatoes, and peanut butter that have made headlines across the nation.

“We are looking at testing and the best practices” Urban said.” We all feel terrible for the child, but we also feel bad for those children who ate peanut butter.”

Urban also explained that in the E Coli case, the raw milk became contaminated because of management problems at a farm.

Sister Noella Marcellino of the Abbey of Regina Laudis Dairy in Bethlehem, said both raw and pasteurized milk can be contaminated, and that this is why farms are applying for funding to get monthly pathogen tests. 

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