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Friday, May 21, 2010

Four reasons why the Legislature should override Doyle’s raw milk veto


By Joe Plasterer
The absentee governor has made his choice. He chose to cower in the face of well-funded special interest at the expense of mom & pop Wisconsin.

Never mind that his deficit-spending DATCP agents were putting profitable family farms out of business during the worst economic depression this state has seen, right before winter.

He was cozy in his taxpayer-supported mansion on the lake. He had already retired from the job but wanted to savor the perks before he went looking for his next gig. He knew he had nothing to fear from voters by going back on his word.

Members of the current Legislature running for re-election can enjoy no such comfort. Predictions are for a Democratic incumbent bloodbath. Even heir-apparent Republicans shouldn’t get too comfortable. Looking ahead to this fall election season, Wisconsin legislators should override Gov. Jim Doyle's veto. Here are four good reasons why:

-- SB 434 has popular support.

The bill passed in both the Senate (25-8) and the Assembly (60-35) with significant majorities and bi-partisan support. People showed up in large numbers at the public hearings, to an extent that many elected officials and staff have never seen, with an estimated 750 attending in Eau Claire and 150 registered to speak. People have been calling, demonstrating at the Capitol, writing articles, giving interviews and engaging their elected officials. There is popular support for this bill to protect people’s freedom to choose their food and who they buy it from. The support for this bill spans the political spectrum, from the alternative health crowd to the local food folks to the Tea Partiers. And given their collective disappointment with government, the raw milk issue is not going away.

-- This bill is a small pilot project with a sunset.

Based on the conditions set forth in this bill, this law would have a very limited initial impact. This bill would create an 18-month “test” window where registered dairy farmers can sell directly to consumers who come to their farm. It would provide a “pilot project” opportunity to see and study what impact the limited sales of raw milk have on food safety and the rural economy. Since there are an estimated 100 farms selling raw milk directly to the consumers out of Wisconsin’s 12,967 licensed milk-producing farms, very few will likely be participating. The bill provides a visible, public and low-impact way to test an idea while we measure it for food safety and viability so we can make science-driven policy decisions.

-- The bill’s critics have questionable motives.

Lawmakers may want to question the motives of the bill’s critics. There was ample time for the critics, many of them large agribusiness concerns, some with out-of-state ownership, to engage in an open debate in committee hearings with legislators and the public. Given the limited scope of the bill, it appears that Big Ag is making a “mountain out of a molehill.” Unless there are other motivations, of course.

Consider that these agribusiness concerns are more interested in protecting their iron-grip on the liquid milk supply chain and would prefer to “nip this in the bud.” Given that 28 states and many countries in western Europe allow raw milk sales, their public health fears are only a smoke-screen.

-- Showing some spine in support of the freedom to choose raw milk might save incumbent legislators from the bloodbath.

A veto override will tell voters that you are there for them FIRST, that you're not some life-long politico who has never had to make a living with his own hands, whose mortgage and health care were guaranteed, thanks to a generous public salary and benefits package. You can stand proud telling your constituents that you are not a puppet of big out-of-state agribusiness with an army of lobbyists and fear-mongering PR minions.

With your constituents you will be able to cheer as the U.S. Department of Justice's new agricultural anti-trust unit looks into the monopolistic, unfair trade practices that keep Wisconsin’s milk price the lowest in the nation.

And maybe your constituents will remember that you are just like them, trying to make it through the great recession with your family intact, helping where you can.

Many legislators from both parties (85 out of 132) get it.

The governor doesn’t. That’s why his "Clean Energy Jobs Act" didn’t pass. He didn’t understand that when you take care of people, they take care of you. When you help without asking for payback, they help without question.

-- Plasterer serves as the consumer representative on the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s Raw Milk Working Group. He and his wife, Melinda Starkweather, and their three children, Jack, Kate and Josh, have been drinking local Wisconsin raw milk for nearly seven years.

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