Oregon prides itself on being a state with happy cows, lots of cheese and a national presence in the dairy industry. In reality our state has been losing dairy farms by the dozens in the last few decades because of the pressure to “get big, or get out” in the Grade A dairy industry. Because of this pressure, created by the low prices for milk and high cost of processing in the centralized food system and other market factors, many small farmers choose to produce raw milk for their immediate community. Here in Oregon, raw milk producers have existed in a legal limbo for too long and their liminal status keeps them from thriving. FoFF is bringing forward a proposal in 2023 to expand opportunities and provide a pathway to farm viability for raw milk producers.
Current Oregon Raw Milk Law
Oregon has the most restrictive laws on raw milk of any states in the west, including WA, CA, ID and NV. Currently it is impossible to obtain a license to sell raw cow’s milk in Oregon. There is a license exemption for sale of raw milk in Oregon laid out in exemption status laid out in ORS 621.012. Dairy licenses are not required for anyone with less than 3 producing cows and less than 4 dairy cows total; anyone with less than 10 sheep that have lactated at least once; or anyone with less than 10 goats that have lactated at least one. The fluid milk from licensed-exempt dairy farms can be sold for human consumption only if the milk is sold directly to the consumer, at the production site. This applies to cows, goats and sheep.
ORS 621.116 sanctions an existing, albeit limited raw milk licensing program in Oregon for goat and sheep milk. Cow milk was intentionally excluded from this licensing program when it was passed because of industry pressure. These licenses make it possible for farmers to increase production, sell in more outlets, and build a viable livelihood based on supplying raw milk to their community.
Because of the exclusion from the sanctioned licensing program, raw cow milk producers, who are following the letter of the law with the license exemption, are being dropped from their farm insurance policies. Since sales of raw milk are commonly only a portion of current farm businesses, this has led to existing producers abandoning raw milk production and leaning into other products. This contributes to the hegemony of industrial mega-dairies in milk production and removes choices from consumers who would otherwise seek out raw milk. In general, these policies have disincentivized raw milk and contributed to the demise of small dairies in Oregon.
FoFF’s Proposal does a few things. Our goal here has always been to create more opportunity for small farmers to diversify their offerings, a pathway to licensing for farmers who want to grow their raw milk business, and ensure that raw milk is safe and accessible to Oregonians. Here are the basics of the concept we have put forward:
- Off-Premise Sales – Permitting off-premises sales (such as in farmers markets) and including delivery options of raw milk for licensed-exempt dairies.
- Removing Cow Prohibition – Repealing the raw cow’s milk prohibition in ORS 621.116 to help remove barriers to accessing insurance for small dairy farms.
- Training Access – Establishing a platform to report on raw milk safety training, risk analysis and testing standards for licensed dairies engaging in raw milk sales.
These changes to the law would allow raw milk dairies operating under the license exemption to remain the same if they wish. It would add an option for folks to sell directly to their consumers at other farm direct sales outlets like farmers markets or allow these dairies to deliver to their customers away from the farm. The addition of a licensing option for raw cow milk dairies would allow folks to access the insurance options they need by repealing the prohibition on raw cow milk in Oregon law and allow farms to explore scaling their operations if they wish.
Some producers have found success in a live animal, herdshare model where customers can purchase a share of a dairy cow, pay for its upkeep and receive milk on a regular basis. Our proposal does not change or address this model in any way, herdshares in Oregon will remain the same. Our goal is to find a safe way to encourage farm viability for raw milk producers, and provide all of Oregon with greater access to dairy products that align with their values and support their community.
Are you ready for more raw milk access in Oregon? Join in and help us make this campaign a success. The best ways to get involved are to:
- Donate to the raw milk campaign
- Sign Up to receive campaign updates – make sure to include your address so we can connect you with your legislator on this issue!
- Contact our Community Engagement Manager to tell your story – email email@example.com