From yogurt to cheese, the raw dairy products allowed for distribution under a bill before the Alaska legislature would be expanded to include more than milk.
Alaska does not allow the sale of unpasteurized milk directly to retail customers by state law. But Alaskan farmers can participate in a herd-sharing program – which allows them to own shares in a dairy herd to obtain raw milk.
Bill 22 – âa law relating to the shared ownership of animals; on the sharing and sale of raw milk and raw dairy products â- was heard Tuesday in the House Committee on Community and Regional Affairs.
Alaska now allows the distribution of raw milk through herd sharing agreements. The proposed change would allow herd sharing programs to also offer cheese, yogurt, butter, ice cream and other products.
Raw milk is milk that is not pasteurized. Proponents point out that the nutrients in raw milk products are beneficial.
Supporters of the bill explained that House Bill 22 would allow the state to be more self-reliant in agriculture. The state has two category A dairies, compared to only one a few years ago.
But Alaska also has dozens of small farms supported in part by herd-sharing agreements with members. These farms include dairy cattle, sheep and goats.
Alaskan farmers have been estimated to produce 3.3 million pounds of milk over 90 days, while the state needs 28 million pounds to support its people over 90 days.
The specter of empty store shelves, which was a reality in some communities during the pandemic, has been raised as an argument to enshrine regulations that support raw milk production and are in favor of herd-sharing agreements into law.
Suzy Crosby of Cottonwood Creek Farm in Wasilla testified in support of the bill. Crosby said his farm has around 25 to 30 goats, with an average of around 16 producing milk at any given time.
âWe have been raising goats since 2000,â she said after the hearing. âRaw milk has often been called nature’s perfect food. It contains enzymes, vitamins and other nutrients which are destroyed by heat during the pasteurization process.
She told the committee that raw dairy products are severely restricted, hampering the growth of this micro-industry.
Ninety-five percent of food in Alaska comes from out of state, noted Rep. Geran Tarr, the bill’s sponsor.
Tarr and other supporters have said herd shares allow smallholders to gain a foothold and expand their operations, thereby supporting agriculture in Alaska.
From 2012 to 2017, the number of all types of farms in Alaska increased by 30%, according to Amy Petit, executive director of the Alaska Farmland Trust. She noted that almost half of the small farms in Alaska are owned by women.
Art Griswold, owner of Golden Heart Dairies in Delta Junction, told the committee that his cattle produce for more than 60 customers using herd share. âWe are growing faster than we can produce,â he said of the family farm, which he runs with his sons.
“I want to be able [distribute] my milk without government problems. The share of the herd is cleaner than “the milk you buy in the store,” he said. “And, that’s 100 percent Alaska.”
After the committee heard testimony from several people in favor of raw milk products, members agreed to delay action to allow changes. The committee will come back to the bill on Tuesday.
âThis idea came from Alaskans, farmers and consumers alike, who want healthier choices grown in Alaska and are interested in these products,â said Tarr, whose experience spans two decades of working in the ‘Agriculture.
âWe can safely expand the herd-sharing program to add value-added products and at the same time provide new business opportunities for our farmers,â she said.
Contact political reporter Linda F. Hersey at 459-7575 or follow her at twitter.com/FDNMpolitics.