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On Thursday, June 27th, Senate Bill 273 (SB273), the legalization of raw milk bill, passed in the Delaware Senate with a vote of 39-2. The bill now awaits the Governor’s signature to become law. Stephanie Knutsen from G&S Dairy in Harrington, DE played a crucial role in advancing Senator Eric Buckson’s consumer-driven legislation.

The initiative began when Senator Buckson received several requests from constituents to legalize raw milk in Delaware. To learn more from a local dairy farmer, he reached out to Knutsen, whose family had grown up drinking raw milk from their dairy farm.

Knutsen, aware of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s historical stance against raw milk sales, conducted extensive research on current safety standards and raw milk data. She looked at data from the past 15 to 20 years, and found low rates of illness and death, which reassured her about the feasibility of SB237.

Knutsen then dove into research on the potential economic and health benefits, and estimated an annual economic opportunity of $15.6 million statewide, benefiting Delaware’s remaining 13 dairy farms. For her own farm, transitioning 10% of their herd to raw milk production could nearly double their income. She believes this bill had the potential to revitalize the struggling dairy industry.

To learn more and gain confidence in her knowledge, Knutsen engaged with experts nationwide, including medical microbiologists, epidemiologists, and the Raw Milk Institute (RAWMI). The RAWMI is an organization dedicated to the education of low-risk raw milk production both in the U.S. and internationally. It was through them that she learned about on-farm testing protocols to monitor bacterial levels.

Recognizing opposition to the past attempt to legalize raw milk in the early 2010’s from various sectors including the Delaware Farm Bureau, Department of Agriculture (DDA), and Delaware Department of Health (DHSS), Knutsen focused on addressing concerns through direct engagement. She and her husband Gregg started by presenting their research and data to every Delaware dairy farmer and gained overwhelming support.

They then reached out to the Delaware Farm Bureau (DEFB), where she was able to gain support at each County Farm Bureau as well as DEFB through sharing her story at meetings. She also met with Delaware’s Secretary of Agriculture, Michael Scuse, who decided to support the bill with the incorporation of on-farm testing as well as monthly third-party testing ensuring a safe product. Through the testing, raw milk can be required to meet the bacteria count of post-pasteurized milk.

Once DDA showed support, Knutsen met with DHSS and presented them with her research. With an agreement that DDA write the regulations with consultation of DHSS, they agreed to become neutral on the bill.

Knutsen shared that it takes a one on one in person conversation to be able to share her story. She was able to listen to their concerns and share what she had found. Many of the concerns she had had herself, but they were diminished through her research. However, she faced an issue in being able to speak with the legislators in person.

It was through the County Farm Bureau legislative breakfasts that Knutsen was able to share her research with legislators. Knutsen said “I feel that the power of the Farm Bureau in those breakfasts are what made the difference in this bill. We were able to generate six of the nine democratic co-sponsors on the bill” She added that six of the nine Democratic co-sponsors of the bill came from the legislative breakfasts.

Knutsen praised DEFB for their presence in Legislative Hall. They maintain a working relationship with so many of the legislators, which was so helpful in sharing the information on SB273. Knutsen said “I can’t thank Farm Bureau enough for being open to the idea, offering their support, and hosting those breakfasts so our voices could be heard.”

Knutsen was ecstatic at the passing of SB273 in the House and Senate and is eager for the Governor’s signature. By allowing Delaware dairy farmers to tap into niche markets, she believes the Delaware dairy industry could be revitalized.

Post Author: Jaiden Cain

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