Herd shares; written shared herd ownership agreements, requirements, penalty. (SB962)

Introduced By

Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg)


Passed Committee
Passed House
Passed Senate
Signed by Governor
Became Law


Herd shares; written shared herd ownership agreements; requirements; penalty. Requires a person to enter into a written agreement with the owner of a herd of milk-producing animals in order to obtain an ownership interest in the owner's milking herd and any of the milking herd's milk production equal to the percentage ownership interest, subject to certain requirements relating to provision and retention of files, packaging, acknowledging certain dangers, and prohibiting sale or resale. The bill requires the State Health Commissioner to investigate any report of illness that results from the consumption of unpasteurized milk provided pursuant to such an agreement. Any violation is a Class 1 misdemeanor, with each day of violation being counted as a separate offense. Read the Bill »


Bill Has Failed


01/19/2018Presented and ordered printed 18105531D
01/19/2018Referred to Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources
01/31/2018Impact statement from DPB (SB962)
02/01/2018Committee substitute printed to LIS only 18106566D-S1
02/01/2018Failed to report (defeated) in Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources (7-Y 8-N) (see vote tally)


Kelly Mullin writes:

I am completely disgusted that Republicans, who run campaigns on limited government and supporting small family farms would introduce such a bill. As an educated consumer I work diligently to provide fresh, healthy food for my family. Through my extensive research I have made the decision to use raw milk products that come from small family farms that run outstanding operations. The animals are treated humanely, out on pasture the way God intended them to be, and produce a superior product. Illnesses in the state of Virginia have been at an extremely low number over the past 10 years, so there is absolutely no need to make any changes. I think there are many larger issues that need to be addressed in this state besides trying to do a witch hunt for a small amount of people drinking a product that has been consumed for hundreds of years. I pray that the agricultural committee can provide some much needed common sense and stop this bill.

Kendall Sterling writes:

This is a bill worthy of big-govt. Democrats and their "progressive" (read: tyrannical) agenda. It's underlying purpose is to make real, healthy milk unavailable to consumers, as many will not want the govt. surveillance that comes along with it. It is nothing less than an attack on rural families, and most especially those who run small family farms.
Studies show that the incidence of salmonella in dairy herds is very small - about 8%, a percentage that is consistent across studies in both the U.S. and Canada. However, the incidence gets smaller as the herd gets smaller, and is quite low in herds of less than 100 cows. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC340084/ Thus there is little risk to consumers who purchase shares in these small family farms. Because these are smaller operations, the cows get much better care. One wonders why this bill is necessary when we've had no incidents here in Virginia. It does indeed seem like a witch hunt, or a sell-out to big agriculture, which perhaps is feeling the heat from consumers who desire healthier meats and milk.
I and my family have been raw (REAL) milk consumers for 6 years, with no incident of illness. In fact, raw milk may well be safer than pasteurized milk. Studies have shown that the vast majority of cases involving people getting sick from milk are from pasteurized milk, not raw milk - likely because of the increased handling and processing of pasteurized milk, providing more opportunities for the introduction of bacteria. In fact, the largest outbreak of salmonellosis ever recorded in the U.S. was due to pasteurized milk, not raw milk.

Pasteurization destroys the enzymes that occur naturally in raw milk, as well as many of the vitamins and nutrients, some of which are then added back into the milk to make it “healthy” again. But studies like this one below have also shown that pasteurization destroys the protein structures in the milk; thereby altering the way the protein is taken up and used by the human body.


You will find there are numerous medical cases where the consumption of real milk aided in the treatment of serious medical conditions. One such testimonial (and there are others, if you read the comments below it) can be found here:


Those of us who are trying to eat natural, unprocessed foods want to continue to be able to do so. I don’t believe raw milk drinkers and those who provide the milk to them should be treated as if they are common criminals. Why are you singling out this particular very small group of people? This is one more step in weaponizing the state government against its own citizens, and we don’t need this in Virginia. Virginia has larger issues to figure out - such as what to do about the rising crime in our cities, how to improve our schools, and how to go about shoring up our infrastructure. Surely you can apply the state's limited resources to better use than policing law-abiding citizens who supply and drink raw milk.

Susan Verbeeck writes:

Hello, I am on the board of VICFA, Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association, and would like to share this information that our group has written up on these proposed amendments to the Herd Share Bill. Fellow Virginians, please consider these important facts.

Alert for Virginia residents in favor of raw milk, cow herd shares, and farm and food freedom rights:

VICFA says "OPPOSE SB962 and HB 825"
Cow Shares have long been a legal way for people to obtain fresh locally produced milk directly from the farmer through a personal contractual relationship. Now our government wants to shut that down, impose shareholder tracking, and new fees and regulations that will again force the little guys (small farmers across Virginia) out of business, and leave it up to the monolithic factory farms.

This could be the end of cow shares in Virginia if we don’t act.

The Senate and House of Delegates will soon be voting on these bills.

Imagine that in order for you to purchase something from the grocery store, you had to fill out a form, and provide the state with your name, address, and phone number so that the state could track what you were eating, and that the state could at any time come and search your refrigerator without a warrant. Sound ludicrous? This is what your elected representatives want for you.

This new law would...

Require you, the cow shareholder, to register with the state commissioner as a raw milk user.

Require you to give the state your personal information… name, address, phone number. You will be tracked and monitored as a raw milk user.

This bill states that they will share this information with other government entities like the health department.

This bill states they can at any time search your house without a warrant.

Require the farmers, to submit to all manner of searching of our facilities and even our home by government agents.

Require the farmer, to hand over all of your personal information to the state.

Require the farmer, to pay unwarranted veterinarian bills, that greatly increase the cost of production.

Places veterinarians in the role of policing farmers.

Demands warning labels be placed on all bottles or jars.

Violations made by the farmer or the shareholder are a class 1 misdemeanor. The bill states that each day in violation represents a separate offense.

Virginia law states that class 1 misdemeanors are punishable by up to 12 months jail sentence per occurrence, and up to $2500 per occurrence.

These are only a few of the unjust and unfair regulations our elected representatives seek to impose on us. This is a direct attack on small farmers.

There are many large farm families that have built sustainable businesses serving, and building community, using herd shares as the primary income. They will be devastated if HB825 and SB962 become law.

The bill also criminalizes the act of giving a cup of milk to anyone not a written party to the agreement with a class 1 misdemeanor.

Please respond today to your local representative and also call the Senate Agriculture Committee and House Agriculture Sub Committee and ask them to oppose this bill.

Dan Sperling writes:

I urge everyone involved to vote no on these bills. They attempt to intimidate farmers and consumers from starting up or continuing herd share programs by making violations a first-degree misdemeanor with penalties of up to a year in jail and $2,500 in fines per offense.

The legislation invades the privacy rights of shareholders and herd share farmers by forcing them to turn over their contracts to the government under the threat of criminal penalties if they do not.

The bills further attempt to intimidate shareholders into not joining a herd share program by requiring that the contracts they sign with the farmer provide that shareholders assume joint liability if the herd or milk produced by the herd is responsible for any injury or illness.

The bills require costly annual testing for tuberculosis and brucellosis. The tests aren't necessary. The USDA has designated Virginia as both tuberculosis- and brucellosis-free.

Herd shares are a closed-loop arrangement with a high degree of traceability should there be any suspected illness; they should not be subject to government regulation.

The government has the authority under existing law to competently deal with any foodborne illness outbreak. The expanded powers the legislation gives to the Commonwealth are not necessary.

The bills interfere with the private property of shareholders the government should not be involved in the business of consumers obtaining a milk from animals they co-owned.

SB. 962 would give VDACS rulemaking power to further burden farmers beyond what the requirements in the bill itself does.

HB 825 would cost taxpayers nearly a quarter million dollars a year to regulate a private contractual arrangement not in the stream of public commerce.

The bills require farmers trash their own product by having a consumer advisory on milk containers warning of "the danger of consuming unpasteurized animal-derived foods." Is it necessary to have this warning on raw milk going to the co-owners of the dairy animals that produced it? Is it necessary to have any labeling requirement at all that these bills do?

Connie Monnin Webb writes:

A ridiculous measure for a product that has been safely consumed for hundreds and hundreds of years. the government does not need to dip its fingers into the private transactions between responsible parties concerning the food they eat. I do not support this bill.

Cheistina Son writes:

Why such drastic and overzealous measures against small producers ? this is a private agreement between heared sharers let them self manage. Please save our taxpayer dollars to go after real criminals.

Mark McGrath writes:

This Bill is ridiculous. There is no way the Republicans that have brought if forth can justify such a bill. It is once again an attack on small farms, freedom of choice, and Government overreach at its finest.(Yes, Kendall Sterling bill brought forth by Republicans in Senate and the house.)

Anne Buteau writes:

Bills introduced by Del Knight (HB825) and Sen Obenshain (SB962) Herdshare ownership regulations and penalties, are nothing to do with food safety, but all to do with the elimination of any competition to the dairy industry, as fluid milk sales have been in decline for years.

Owning a cow is not possible for most people who want really fresh milk, so they buy a share in a cow and pay board to the person who looks after it, so then they can go and pick up THEIR milk. There are no sales of milk, and milk is not available to the general public so herd share arrangements are not a public health risk.

A person who owns a share in a cow has made a concious decision to do so, and are taking personal responsibility for their food choices. This freedom should not be taken away. Please ask your delegate and senator to vote against these harsh and unwarranted bills.

Go to www.VICFA.org and see what we have done over the years. (Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association is a state wide group that monitors bills, and encourage citizens to become engaged and take appropriate action on legislation that will harm food freedom in Virginia. We also introduce bills to increase local food choices. Please join us!)

Tom Grigsby writes:

I oppose this bill as unnecessary and a an additional taxpayer burden.
It is designed to intimidate small family dairy farm families and Virginia citizens who only want to provide wholesome dairy products to their families.
This bill is a product of the large dairy cartels which do not provide a sufficiently wholesome product to the public, and is designed to reduce their competition.
The Virginia legislature could concern itself more with the many serious issues facing the state rather than attempting to squash the rights of its citizens to decide what they should feed themselves and their families.
Thank you for your attention.

Waldo Jaquith writes:

A ridiculous measure for a product that has been safely consumed for hundreds and hundreds of years.

I'm not opposing this bill, but I'm stunned that somebody would advocate for raw milk by saying that it's "been safely consumed for hundreds and hundreds of years." You damage your cause irreparably by making such an breathtakingly ignorant claim.

I'd like to draw your attention to the existence of Louis Pasteur and the tens of thousands of people who died annually, for decades, because of pathogenic bacteria in raw milk. For example 1891, 24% of babies in New York City died before they turned 1 years old; that was reduced to 0% among a group of 20,000 given pasteurized milk. Just one philanthropist, Nathan Straus, prevented the deaths of an estimated 445,800 children in 36 cities over 25 years by ensuring that they had pasteurized milk.

Say that raw milk isn't nearly as dangerous anymore, say that dairy regulations reduce disease instance, say that grownups can make their own decisions about what to drink, but don't say that cow's milk has historically been safe to drink. Exactly the opposite is the case.

Dorie Gamble writes:

I DO NOT support this bill!! Fresh milk has been consumed for 100's of years. I and my family have consumed this milk for a over a decade. No one has suffered any ill effects. In fact my husbands allergies have gone away since we have had access to fresh, grass fed raw milk. Let us make our own decisions what, how, where our food comes from. This bill and is companion serve no purpose but to bow down to the powerful milk mafia!

Carol Lee Bell writes:

I DO NOT SUPPORT THIS BILL! This bill would end milk shares. My family accepts the risk and fully recognizes the possibility of illness. This risk is with anything we ingest including organic veggies or fast-food burgers. I can buy those but not raw milk. It is a very important part of my family's health and wellness. PLEASE VOTE NO!

Samuel Matich writes:

Oppose Herd Share Bill SB 962
by Samuel Matich

Herd Share programs are the only way people can get Raw Milk in Virginia. People, especially those with cancer or lactose intolerance choose it for its health and nutrition. Recently, bills to regulate herd share programs have been introduced in the 2018 Virginia legislative session in both the House and Senate. These bills jeopardize the existence of herd shares and the ability of individuals to obtain raw milk as freely as they currently do. Both bills are currently in Committee. I oppose these proposed legislations for the following reasons:

• Virginia has long had a history of food freedom.
• Herd share farmers have sanitary practices because they drink their own milk. Thus, we don't need increased regulations that that cannot be enforced, and which bear a class 1 Misdemeanor penalty.
• Don't grow the government and increase taxes and regulations, putting the farmers out of business.
• Why create a database of customers when that isn't done when you purchase at the grocery store?
• Where did this originate? The answer is Big Ag. I understand the Virginia AgriBusiness Council pushed this legislation through their lobbyist. Why should lobbyist control legislation? Shouldn't the will of the people prevail.
• The herd share owners, whom this is designed to protect, are not asking for it.
• So for these reasons, We the People do not want these bills passed.

Catherine Kauffman writes:

Raw milk, via a herd share agreement, is the only legal way to ensure my body receives the unaltered milk products my gut needs. I am opposed to this unnecessary interference in what is already an expensive proposition. Cow shares are simply a way for me to hire a person (the farmer) to care for my portion of MY cow. If I choose to take this alleged risk of drinking unpasteurized milk products, that is MY right. This bill would interfere with my right to make decisions about my own health.

Christy Rees writes:

I strongly oppose this bill. My family makes educated decisions regarding our food and it should be our choice to consume raw milk. This bill will make it very difficult for farmers to continue to provide raw milk to families. It creates an unnecessary burden on the farmers and will ultimately lead to less availability of raw milk for consumers. Please STOP this bill!

Pam P Marraccini writes:

The health benefits of raw milk far outweigh any so-called risks. Raw milk is digestible real food.

Linda Hosay writes:

Raw milk HAS been safely consumed for thousands of years That does not have to mean that there has never been an incident of contaminated milk causing illness; or contaminated beef, or chicken, or salad greens, or eggs or mayonnaise, or olive oil...; it's a long list. It is definitely worth mentioning that many of the food caused illnesses of many types have been from pasteurized or inspected/licensed processors. In my seventy plus years, I've seen many food caused illness outbreaks. However you don't have to have a contract to buy from those major industrial guilty parties. You don't have to be placed on a list with the health department, and and if you sicken from the additives allowed in a lot of processed food or from the way the food was grown, you have to get a lawyer and be the one to seek redress.

There is no defense of the quality of milk that came from the swill dairies; except, perhaps, that so many people of the time were ignorant. Pasteurization certainly made that awful milk safer, but it was still awful, unnutritious milk. That issue is still somewhat relevant today. Commercial milk lacks nutrition, ultra pasteurization is for shelf life; not for health.

I cannot freely go to the farms where commercial milk comes from. I can't talk to the farmer. I would be hard put to even find out who he/she is, since the milk from many farms is commingled. On the other hand, the reverse of that is true with a herd share. Also, my agister is not going to be using rbgh on the herd. The herd is not going to spend its time in industrial barns, I have the right to know the type of pasturage and and hay the herd feeds on. AND, what is really important to me...I can digest raw milk.

Please see my other comments on the House Bill page.

Mary-Ellen Garner writes:

This bill is an over site of government and should not be passed. It is unfair to small farmers and taxpayers alike. Please vote no on this bill.

Deverell Pedersen writes:

As a resident of Sen. Obenshain's district and a devoted consumer of small farm produced food, including raw milk via a local herdshare program, I must express my disappointment - maybe FURY is a better word, over this bill. I recently visited Sen. Obenshain's website and read a blog all about his commitment to support agriculture in VA. The hyprocrisy is astounding.

First of all, herdshares are already regulated adequately. Milk is not being sold to the public, only to those who elect to join a herdshare program. Nobody goes to the effort to do that without full awareness of the risk they are taking. Stop treating us like children. The Commonwealth is NOT MY MOTHER! Who exactly is getting sick? Nobody. I run a much higher risk ingesting almost anything a conventional supermarket carries,l but I don't need a contract to do that. Do you know why the bulk of the milk in a supermarket is ultra-pasteurized? It is because the milk is so unclean that big producers feel they cannot risk NOT sterilizing it. Since it has no nutritional value, it is merely one more belly filler. American diets already have enough belly fillers and far too little true nutrition. Do you know how much milk is thrown away in my daughter's school every day? Each school lunch automatically includes a carton of commercially produced ultra-pasteurized milk. All of it ends up in the trash because it is notoriously horrid and the children will not drink it. Raw milk, by contrast, is as delicious as it is nutritious. It carries a wide array of beneficial enzymes which help to digest the milk and the fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E & K) are easily absorbed because the cream has not been destroyed or skimmed off. It is very hard work to maintain a simple, clean diet in a processed world, and this bill is only going to make it harder.

My herd share is with a small local farm. I can talk to my farmer and see what her cows are fed. She has a vested interest in maintaining the quality of her milk because she knows the neighbors who will consume it. Who has such incentive in a faceless, corporate farm? Requiring my modest farm to slap a warning label on every bottle of milk they provide to those of us who own the cows is ludicrous. The labels must then be scraped off in order to keep the bottles clean in the sterilizer. Labels are sticky and the glue is tenacious. This will add another 2 hours of labor for my farm every day. They don't have that kind of time and are certainly not in the position to hire a part time worker just to deal with printing, labelling and scraping the jars. The requirement is burdensome and jeopardizes my farm, and therefore my milk access.

Existing regulations already provide for the state's ability to obtain a warrant to inspect a farm WITH CAUSE. VDACS is a big enough bully as it is. How can you justify giving them another big stick? This bill seems designed to intimidate both farmers and herd share owners and provides far too much latitude to the state intruding on a PRIVATE CONTRACT.

On face, this bill appears to be nothing more than a transparent attempt to wrest control from individual consumers and force us to live and eat at the mercy of big business. Shame on you, Sen. Obenshain for sponsoring it (and shame on Del. Barry White for sponsoring the house version).