Want Local Beef? Raw Milk? Check Wyoming’s Rules


Just how much State Regulation is appropriate for locally-produced food?  Some in Wyoming feel strongly that state government is too restrictive in telling us what we can and can’t eat. (See Comments Section below, and related story on ths website titled:  “Pasturized Milk: A Right or A Requirement? FDA controls what is sold for consumption taking away our rights”.)

The State Department of Agriculture has some disagreement with that notion.  Dean Finkenbinder, the department’s Consumer Health Services Manager provides the following Guest Editorial:

“The Wyoming Department of Agriculture is dedicated to the promotion and enhancement of Wyoming’s agriculture, natural resources and contribution to the Wyoming quality of life. This is the mission of the WDA and we take it very seriously. Through all WDA divisions, we focus on the support and promotion of Wyoming agriculture, including the protection of the state food supply. To accomplish this, the Consumer Health Services division of the WDA follows the Wyoming Food Safety Rule, which is intended to ensure the safety of Wyoming citizens and producers from food borne illness and its effects.

In 2000, the Wyoming Legislature took several food safety regulations and combined all of them into one statue designed to clarify and consolidate existing laws and regulations. The current Wyoming Food Rule, much like the statutes before it, strives to protect citizens and producers through regulation and inspections. Most of these rules and regulations are not new. In fact, selling raw milk and uninspected/unregulated meat have both been illegal in Wyoming for more than 30 years.

There are some important points that need to be clarified regarding the Wyoming Food Rule. First, all Wyoming producers can sell produce to restaurants, grocery stores, the public and others. Not potentially hazardous food can be produced in home kitchens and sold at farmers’ markets, roadside stands and at functions. Second, Wyoming producers can sell potentially hazardous foods to the public if they take the designated steps to ensure the safety of those products as long as those foods are prepared in a licensed and inspected establishment. Current regulation and licensing does not prevent producers from selling products to consumers of the state, it just requires producers to make sure their products meet food safety standards before selling to an unsuspecting public. In fact, many producers from around the state comply with these regulations and sell their local products in both Wyoming and around the nation. 

Another area that needs clarification is the Wyoming rules and regulations for meat. If Wyoming producers would like to sell meat, they can if they have the animals slaughtered in one of the 12 state inspected meat plants around Wyoming. During inspections at state meat plants, WDA inspectors review the slaughter process of all animals from the time they are received at the plant to the time the carcass is placed in the cooler. Meat samples are then sent to the Wyoming Analytical Services Lab to test for bacteria and other contaminants. This comprehensive review and inspection provides a level of safety for Wyoming meat that is better than federal standards. Along with this, there are 30 custom exempt meat plants where consumers can buy an animal from a producer and have it processed for their own use.

As for raw milk, the dangers of raw milk to consumers are real. In April, Whole Foods Grocery Stores discontinued the sale of raw milk in all stores due to safety and liability concerns. In the last few months, raw milk has been at the center of several foodborne outbreaks across the country, including states where it is legal and regulated. In Colorado, legislation passed that allows an animal share program for raw milk. In the short time this relatively small program has been around, there have been two outbreaks directly linked to raw milk.

Another state where raw milk is legal and outbreaks are occurring is Pennsylvania. One couple there consumed raw milk contaminated with Campylobacter, became seriously ill and are now suing the creamery who supplied the product and the store where they bought it. The woman recovered but man’s infection developed into Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which put him in a paralyzed state and he now requires a machine to breathe. Scenarios like this are all too real when dealing with high risk food like raw milk, even with permits and regulation.

Pasteurization of milk is required in Wyoming. It kills off bacteria like campylobacter and E. coli while maintaining ALL scientifically proven health benefits of milk products. Along with this, every tanker coming into a dairy plant has to be tested for antibiotics, bacteria limits, somatic (white blood) cell counts, added water and general inhibitors. These safeguards are in place to help protect producers and consumers who rely on regulations for safety. Consumers can travel to states where raw milk is legal, but they do so at the risk of their own health.

Rules and regulations are a necessity in many areas of life. Building and fire codes help ensure safety by making sure buildings are structurally sound and won’t go up in flames around you. The Food Safety Rule in Wyoming is no different. It helps ensure potentially hazardous foods like meat and raw milk don’t harm consumers and helps prevent outbreaks. Food safety is our top priority, and we will continue to do what it takes to keep consumers safe while providing opportunities for farmers and ranchers around the state to supply consumers with local, safe food products.”

Provided by:  Dean Finkenbinder, Consumer Health Services Manager for the Wyoming Department of Agriculture

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