CASPER, Wyo. — Wyoming could legalize some raw-milk sales if proposed changes to the state’s food safety rules are approved by Gov. Matt Mead.
The changes would allow people to buy raw milk as long as they own a share of the animal that produced it. Such arrangements, called herd shares, are currently prohibited in Wyoming.
Direct sales of raw milk to consumers, either at farmers’ markets or at stores, would remain illegal.
Herd shares already exist in Wyoming in the form of under-the-table arrangements between animal owners and residents who prefer raw milk. Consumers typically pay some of the costs of caring for the animal in exchange for a regular share of its milk.
The rule change would legitimize the practice.
“Before too long, you are going to see a lot more people talking about it,” said Maureen Tescher, a Casper-area woman who owns six cows and drinks raw milk. “And a lot more people saying they do have cows that they are willing to share.”
The rule change is part of a larger update to Wyoming’s food safety rules. The Wyoming Department of Agriculture has been working on the update for more than a year.
The department had originally proposed a less sweeping change to the state’s raw-milk rules. It would have clarified that families can consume raw milk from their own cows, as well as share that milk with nonpaying guests.
That rule would have only applied to animals with a sole owner. During a series of public hearings this summer, raw-milk supporters argued the proposed change didn’t go far enough. State Rep. Sue Wallis, a vocal advocate for easing Wyoming’s food safety rules, suggested removing the “sole” ownership requirement.
After reviewing public comments, the department this month announced that it would eliminate the sole ownership requirement. That would effectively allow herd share agreements in Wyoming, said Dean Finkenbinder, consumer health services manager for the Agriculture Department.
The department is now preparing the rules to be sent to the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office, Finkenbinder said. The Legislative Service Office will have an opportunity to comment and Gov. Matt Mead’s office must give final approval before the rules go into effect, according to Mead spokesman Renny MacKay.
Critics of easing the rules say legalizing some sales of raw milk will result in more people getting sick. That is a possibility, Finkenbinder acknowledged. But he also said people who commented wanted the change, “so that’s the direction we’re going.”
If the rules are ultimately approved, the Wyoming Department of Health would want to ensure residents are aware of the possible risks associated with raw milk, said spokeswoman Kim Deti. Unpasteurized milk can carry harmful bacteria, viruses and parasites and carries an increased risk of certain diseases, she noted.
Raw milk supporters say it provides nutritional benefits they can’t get from pasteurized milk. Some dispute statistics suggesting raw milk causes more foodborne illness than the pasteurized variety.
Wallis expects the rule change will make it easier for people in Wyoming to purchase raw milk. It would also provide an economic benefit for farming communities, she said.
“You can advertise openly,” she said. “It is not something you have to be careful about anymore.”
Wallis would like Wyoming to allow raw-milk sales in stores. The Recluse-Wyo.- Republican said she’s seriously considering authoring legislation to that effect for next year’s session.
A bill that would have legalized herd shares died in a state legislative committee last year.