SCOTT BAUER

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Cheesemakers, doctors, veterinarians and other opponents of legalizing raw milk sales in Wisconsin urged Gov. Jim Doyle on Friday to veto the bill, citing safety risks.

Doyle last month indicated he was likely to sign it into law, but this week began to back off those statements after being barraged with opposition to the plan. Doyle now says he needs more time to study the issue and he hasn't decided what to do.

He has until Thursday to act on it or allow it to become law without his signature.

Opposition has been increasing as the deadline for Doyle to act approaches. Supporters hope that legalization of unpasteurized milk sales in "America's Dairyland" will lead other states to follow suit.

Backers of the plan, including small farmers who want to sell the product and the Wisconsin Farmers Union, say pasteurization destroys beneficial nutrients and enzymes. Public health officials and epidemiologists say unpasteurized milk can contain bacteria, including E. coli and salmonella, that causes sickness and even death.

While supporters say they should have the right to buy raw milk, opponents say the threat of a food-borne illness like E. coli or salmonella from the unpasteurized product should take precedent.

"The thought of even broaching backing raw milk brings me shivers sometimes because of what it may do to the industry," said Bob Topel, a dairy farmer from Waterloo who attended the Friday news conference.

A disease outbreak traced to raw milk could devastate the state's $26 billion dairy industry, Topel said.

There were 1,614 reported illnesses, 187 hospitalizations and two deaths from the consumption of raw milk between 1998 and 2008, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Dr. Paul Wertsch, the past president of the Wisconsin Medical Society, said he was "flabbergasted" that the Legislature would even consider the bill.

"This is sort of a unique opportunity the governor has to improve public health by vetoing a bill," Wertsch said.

Two large national groups representing the American dairy industry -- the National Milk Producers Federation and the International Dairy Foods Association -- on Tuesday criticized Wisconsin lawmakers for downplaying the food safety risks with raw milk and urged the federal government to restrict sales.

The federal government doesn't allow sales of raw milk because of concerns about food-borne illness, but states can allow them as long as the milk doesn't cross state lines.

Wisconsin would become the 20th state to allow direct sales of raw milk from dairy farmers to individuals if Doyle signs the bill. Another nine states allow retail sales.

The bill would allow farmers to sell raw milk directly to consumers through 2011 while a study of how to deal with the issue permanently is done. Retail sales would remain illegal and farmers would have to undergo additional tests and agree to limits on advertising.

The coalition of groups that called for the veto Friday included the state's Dairy Business Association, Cheese Makers Association, Farm Bureau and Medical Society.

Raw milk supporter Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, circulated another packet of letters from those who want the bill signed.

"I plan on drinking nothing but raw milk for a year after this bill passes," Grothman said. "I want to see how much healthier I can get."

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On the Net:

Raw milk supporters: http://www.westonaprice.org/

Raw milk opponents: http://www.realrawmilkfacts.com/

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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