PIERRE | Citing inadequate data on the costs to producers, a legislative panel on Tuesday rebuffed the state Agriculture Department's plan to broaden regulations over South Dakota’s handful of dairies that generate raw milk for retail sale.
The legislative Rules Committee voted 3-2 to send the proposed rules back to the Agriculture Department because the small-business financial impact statement was not adequately researched.
The next decision — whether to gather new data and make another attempt to get the rules passed by the legislative panel — is up to the agency.
The rule-making process began in April and has already gone through two public hearings and a significant rewriting of the proposal to scale back the scope to raw milk only when it is offered for sale. Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized or homogenized; backers of the product say it is safe and healthful, while others argue it is not as safe as more processed milk.
The original proposal would have covered all raw milk including on-farm consumption.
State regulations already require labeling as raw milk. The key point in the proposed rules calls for additional labeling information such as the date of production by the dairy. Five dairies currently produce raw milk for retail sale, including some in the Black Hills region.
The two producers who testified Tuesday via videoconference from West River said they weren’t contacted by the department about the potential additional expenses for putting more information on the labels.
“I was certainly never asked how much it would cost me,” said Lila Streff, who operates the Black Hills Goat Dairy in the rural Custer area.
Dawn Habeck said the cost to her family’s dairy near Belle Fourche would be $12,000 to $15,000 to buy new glass jars, and $1 per label per jug each time one is filled, to fulfill the proposed labeling requirements.
“It will be very difficult to fit that on the jars and bottles we have,” Habeck said.
Courtney De La Rosa, a lawyer for the department, said raw-milk products were purchased and labeling methods were tested on that packaging both warm and cold.
She said the experiments were used to conclude there wouldn’t be any significant cost.
“The bottles they’re using right now would be sufficient,” De La Rosa said.
Sen. Jean Hunhoff, R-Yankton, said she wasn’t comfortable with the proposals because of the unknown costs and because she couldn’t tell from the department’s presentation which regulations would be new and which are currently in place.
Hunhoff questioned whether the additional rules would be so onerous that they would discourage agriculture and business opportunity.
Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron, spoke in favor of the rule changes.
“It’s inexpensive and it’s necessary for South Dakota citizens to maintain good health,” Gibson said. “It is my right to be able to know what I’m consuming as well.”
The state Health Department prefers that raw milk isn’t sold in South Dakota because the non-pasteurized product can more easily spread illness.
“I believe it is our responsibility to put these in place,” said Rep. Ann Hajek, R-Sioux Falls.
Rep. Timothy Johns, R-Lead, initially opposed the rules because he didn’t believe state laws gave the authority to the secretary of agriculture to regulate raw milk. He later withdrew those comments but voted against letting the rules take effect.
The split votes came down to Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, who voted against the regulations. He said costs might increase but more labeling information would be a positive development for raw-milk producers if problems need to be tracked down.
The panel then voted 3-2 to send the proposed rules back to the department for more work on the financial question.
In other newsworthy action Tuesday, the panel cleared school-sentinel training rules, grain-warehouse rule changes and most of the school-bus inspection changes.