Herd Share Agreements
The direct sale of goat milk is illegal in West Virginia and violations carry significant fines. State officials in West Virginia object to the sale and distribution of “raw” (unpasteurized) milk based on fears that consumers will contract certain infections from consumption, including listeria and salmonella. A counter-argument posed by milk producers is that the act of pasteurization can destroy good bacteria in the milk along with the bad. Furthermore, although it is true that unprocessed (unpasteurized) milk may contain bacteria that can cause serious illness, the threat can be minimized by proper sanitary precautions during milking (which should be practiced by all dairy operations) and proper storage and handling of the milk by the consumer. If properly managed and maintained, fresh, unprocessed goat milk is a healthy product that can be safely consumed–even by people who suffer from lactose intolerance. As a child, David Umling and his family were all raised on fresh, unprocessed cow milk from the family’s dairy farm without any milk-induced illnesses.
In essence, West Virginia (like many other states) still regards unprocessed milk as a potential elixir of death even though many other processed, packaged, and inspected foods have caused similar illnesses (as has periodically occurred regionally and nationally with spinach, ice cream, meat, and other food products). As a compromise in this seven-year legislative debate, West Virginia adopted new legislation in 2016 that allows milk producers to execute special agreements with consumers wishing to acquire “raw” (unprocessed or unpasteurized) milk. These agreements allow the consumer to effectively purchase a share of a dairy goat or cow herd in a manner similar to Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA) agreements. As a part “investor” in the animals producing the milk, it is not considered by the state to be an illegal “sale or distribution” of unprocessed milk, since the part-owner of an animal is entitled to a share of the fresh milk it produces. It is a way to allow a farmer to share unprocessed fresh milk within interested off-farm consumers. The complex nature of arranging these special agreements and establishing a fair price for each “share” of the herd, in addition to specific testing requirements and notification requirements in the event of any potential customer illness or infection, effectively assures unsupportive State officials that the distribution of so-called “raw milk” to interested consumers will be tightly controlled and limited. Even the exclusive use of the term “raw milk” in the law instead of “unprocessed” or “fresh” milk reflects the reluctance of state officials and the Legislature to embrace direct farm to consumer milk sales as a valid and potentially healthy alternative to processed milk. What professional marketing agent would ever recommend the use of the term “raw milk” to promote sales of farm-fresh, unprocessed milk?
We believe that the new law should be revised to simplify unprocessed fresh milk transactions (as other states allow) and to better ensure that milk producers are not subject to improper notification requirements when the source of a customer’s illness has not be definitively determined. The current wording of the law requires a farmer (and the Department of Agriculture) to notify all herd share customers and cease all milk distribution immediately after being notified that a customer has suffered a food poisoning illness without ensuring that the source of the illness has been established. Since listeria and salmonella infections can be caused by other foods (as has been documented), why should the law be worded in a way that presumes unprocessed milk consumption must be the cause? That false presumption was initially made by state officials on the day the herd shares agreement bill was passed–when illnesses occurred after celebrants consumed unprocessed milk–only to discover later that the milk was not the cause. We further contend that the law should encourage the creation of a meaningful competitive price market to ensure that commercial dairy processors will pay farmers a fair and more sustainable wholesale price for the milk they produce. Such a balanced and competitive unprocessed milk market would only support, promote, and perhaps revive commercial dairy farming in West Virginia.
Since Peeper Pond Farm does not intend to become a commercial dairy producer and we are not satisfied with the current law, we are not prepared to offer “herd share agreements” with consumers at this time. However, circumstances may arise in the future when our herd becomes large enough or productive enough to justify one or more herd share agreements. If and when that time occurs, we will evaluate this option further and post an agreement on this page. In the meantime, it is our hope that state and elected officials will reconsider their distaste for fresh, unprocessed milk and agree to a better, more supportive legal process for its distribution. We also hope that future improvements in the law will be made that will allow us to reconsider our current position on so-called “raw milk” agreements.