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Raw Milk Debates Underway in Several States

The raw milk games are just getting underway in statehouses across America. Legislative sessions are annual opportunities to make changes in the crazy quilt that is raw milk regulation in this country, as the states all pursue their own unique courses when it comes to the sale of unpasteurized milk.

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On one side are those who say anyone can drink raw milk – just buy a cow – while those on the other side push for full-blown, unrestricted retail sales for unpasteurized milk.

As in past years, there is no predicting when or where raw milk wars are going to break out. Indiana’s General Assembly this year has seen one of those unexpected skirmishes, where surprise definitely has had the advantage.

Indiana Senate Bill 398 was drafted to be all about some changes in the duties and responsibilities of the state chemist. Then a 76-line amendment was proposed for SB 398.

With that language added to bill, a licensed milk producer with 20 or fewer cows would be allowed to sell raw milk without much additional regulation. The on-farm sales would have to be made under signs telling the public that “raw milk products are not pasteurized” and bottles will require “raw milk” labels.  

But that’s about it. Indiana’s current law allows raw milk only to be sold as pet food.

The amendment language was adopted and SB 398 is on the Indiana Senate’s second reading calendar, which means it could be brought to the floor for a final up or down vote whenever leaders want to bring  it forward.

On-farm sales of unpasteurized milk are currently legal in 15 states. Another 10 states allow retail sales, just like pasteurized milk.

Indiana senators who want to relax restrictions on raw milk spoke fondly of their own experiences with the beverage, mostly when they were growing up.

In New Jersey, where attempts to liberalize raw milk sales have been hung up since at least 2010, advocates are trying again.

Consumers not involved with the current underworld of raw milk are getting exposed to it through some recent media reports. The Camden Courier Post, for example, paints a picture of cash being exchanged for illicit milk in a dimly lit garage. Orders are picked up in reusable bags, and driven away quickly in the night.

The garage in question is a distribution center for raw milk produced in nearby Pennsylvania, where dairy farms have long provided the product to customers who come from the New Jersey side of the border.   

New Jersey has one of the oldest bans on the sale and distribution of raw milk.  Those prohibitions were put in place after raw milk was found responsible for massive outbreaks of foodborne illness early in the century.

The New Jersey Assembly voted 71-6 last year to allow some commercial sales of raw milk.   But the Senate Economic Growth Committee sat on the bill, waiting until December  to hold a hearing before allowing the measure to die.

The measure was quickly reintroduced in the new Assembly session and assigned to the  Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. Now A-518, the New Jersey bill was approved by the committee on Friday.

In testimony before the vote, those opposed to the bill criticized it for not requiring raw milk dairies to test for pathogens, and for potentially costing the state more to oversee the dairies and investigate outbreaks.

Sponsor of the bill, Republican John DiMaio of Hackettstown, said he wasn’t worried about health concerns, and that the measure establishes the standards a licensee must maintain in order to get a permit and protect consumers.

In Wisconsin, where only a veto by former Gov. Jim Doyle prevented the commercial sale of raw milk after a liberalization bill passed the Legislature, a big date for advocates will be Feb. 22.

That’s the day the newly formed Wisconsin Raw Milk Association is holding its lobbying day in Madison.

The group is supporting Senate Bill 108, which would end most state regulations for licensed producers  who opt to sell raw milk to the public. This bill hardly moved in 2011, but then again, not much moved in Madison last year that was not part of the budget and benefits battle between Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Democrats in the Legislature.

Spokesmen for Walker say the governor, who is currently fighting a union-backed recall, would likely sign a raw milk bill if it lands on his desk.

While Doyle set up a task force that proposed recommendations for how raw milk might be safely produced and sold in the state, that legislative sponsors of SB 108 have largely ignored that work.

In Kentucky, a bill to legitimize cow-share arrangements has been sent to the Senate floor.

Sharing ownership of a herd of cows to gain access to unpasteurized dairy products is not expressly prohibited in Kentucky, where Department of Public Health regulations ban the retail sale of milk that hasn’t been pasteurized. But the bill would clarify their legality.

The measure is opposed by the Kentucky Dairy Development Council, which fears it would be a step closer to allowing raw milk sales with no regulatory oversight. 

The dairy council acknowledges that some farmers want to sell raw milk because they can sell it at a premium, but cautions that all dairies get hurt whenever there’s an outbreak. It points to the recent outbreak of Campylobacter infection, linked to a Pennsylvania raw milk dairy, that has sickened at least 38 people in four states. 

The bill is supported by Kentucky’s Community Farm Alliance. 

Indiana, New Jersey, Wisconsin and Kentucky will not be the only states that see raw milk action during legislative sessions this year.

© Food Safety News
  • Sarah Larson

    The reason milk is pasteurized because the conditions at dairy farms in the early 20th century were filthy so instead of making these dairy operations clean up their barns they decided to just heat the milk instead destroying all the good with it. Unpasteurized should be available to everyone, it’s healthier.

  • Scott B.

    Finally actually reporting about raw milk without the end of the world slant. Well done!

  • PB

    Just a few questions for the folks wanting raw milk. How many outbreaks of food poisoning before raw milk is not ok? What is the number before we say it’s not a good idea? Where would you set the standards?

  • Megan

    The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend drinking only pasteurized milk, because raw milk may contain harmful bacteria such as E. coli O157:H7, Listeria and Salmonella that can cause life-threatening illnesses. This recommendation has been affirmed by the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, among others.
    Pasteurization is a simple, effective method that kills the harmful pathogens found in raw milk. Since its introduction more than a century ago, pasteurization has been recognized around the world as an essential tool for ensuring that milk and dairy foods are safe.
    While pasteurization has helped provide safe, nutrient-rich milk and cheese for over 100 years, some people continue to believe that pasteurization harms milk and that raw milk is a safe, healthier alternative. Here are some proven facts about milk and pasteurization:
    • Pasteurization DOES kill harmful bacteria.
    • Pasteurization DOES save lives.
    • Raw milk DOES NOT kill dangerous pathogens by itself.
    • Pasteurizing milk DOES NOT cause lactose intolerance and allergic reactions.
    • Both raw milk and pasteurized milk can cause allergic reactions in people sensitive to milk proteins.
    • Pasteurization DOES NOT reduce milk’s nutritional value

  • http://www.EcoReality.org Jan Steinman

    PB asks: “How many outbreaks of food poisoning before raw milk is not ok? What is the number before we say it’s not a good idea? Where would you set the standards?”
    I get so tired of absolutist arguments. Let’s turn this around on PB. About 33,000 people died in traffic accidents in the US last year. How many deaths will it take before driving is not ok? What is the number before we say driving is not a good idea? Where would you set the standards?
    33,000 dead from cars — not one person dead from raw milk. Yes indeed, where would you set the standards?

  • http://www.EcoReality.org Jan Steinman

    Megan is quick to parrot the FDA line on raw milk, citing the infamous language “may contain pathogens.”
    Pasteurized milk “may contain pathogens,” as well — as may many other foods intended to be eaten raw, from shellfish to cantaloupe, all of which sicken more people per consumer than raw milk does.
    I could let Megan off with here own opinions, if she had stopped there, but she cannot get away with her own “facts.”
    First off, studies show that raw milk DOES “kill dangerous pathogens all by itself.” It has a built-in immune system that includes lactic acid and enzymes that (for example) destroy Campylobacter jejuni and other pathogens.
    Pasteurizing milk DOES destroy the naturally-occurring enzyme lactase, which DOES reduce lactose intolerance. And a recent Swiss study shows that raw milk DOES reduce both asthma and allergies in children, at least.
    Raw milk has significantly less impact on people who claim allergies to milk.
    Pasteurization absolutely DOES “reduce milk’s nutritional value,” although the FDA calls blasting away 50% of Vitamin C (as just one example) “insignificant, because milk is not considered a source of Vitamin C.” Well, let’s just say that any of the dozen or so nutrients that ARE reduced by pasteurization are “insignificant,” and Megan can have her point.
    Problem is, not everyone trusts the FDA to make their food decisions for them, and not everyone thinks that older studies (such as those done by Price and Pottinger early in the 20th century) should be discounted. Why are there no new studies? Ask the dairy industry, who has all the research money tied up. Or ask the Swiss, who recently HAVE found health benefits in raw milk.
    It’s okay to ignore the other side of an argument when you’re stating something as your opinion. But if you’re going to claim “fact” on us, shouldn’t you at least acknowledge that there is considerable controversy and dissent among food scientists on these so-called “facts?”

  • Jill C

    @ PB – Judgeing by the government’s reaction to raw milk sales, considerably fewer than the thousands of deaths EVERY YEAR from “safely” processed foods not to mention FDA approved drugs!
    When you hear about food-borne illnesses these days, it is far, far more likely to be bulk-processed, imported vegetables, ground beef and what not than raw dairy products.
    Deaths from raw milk in the last decade? One, and that is still up for debate. Not to mention the milk in question was “bulk-tank milk”, not real milk from a healthy, grass-fed cow.
    Deaths from supposedly safely processed foods in the same time period? Thousands.
    Deaths from FDA approved medications? Hundreds of thousands.
    If you think the FDA has your interests at heart, you got another think coming.

  • Margaret Franich

    I can understand why people who have never been around raw milk would be leary. But, I am not sure all of the illnesses that have been attributed to raw milk were really from raw milk. There are three cases here in Washington that are being attributed to the milk, even though they tested the milk and never did find the ecoli directly in the milk. But if all three had raw milk and got sick the desease is linked to the raw milk. They did find ecoli in the dairy, but not in the milk. In California, they made that poor mother who shared her story on a video feel like a terrible parent for feeding her child raw milk, and when they tested the DNA of the ecoli it did not even match. There were 5 illnesses linked to that milk and there were many many gallons of milk that were consumed with no problems. I beleive I read they also did not find the ecoli directly in the milk. I find it interesting that the cases in California were at the same time as the cases in Washington. Have they compared those two DNA tests to see if they are a match. Possibly there is a larger picture. There was a spinach or salad recall at the same time. I know someone who has a milk cow. He let his kids drink the milk. He drank raw milk his whole life and still does. The kids that came to his house drank the milk. No one ever got sick. Another local family said their family has been drinking it for years from several different sources and always seemed healthier when they had the raw milk. The perception of healthier is subjective I guess, but they never got sick from the milk. One lady told me that they had to feed her sister raw goats milk because she could not drink formula or even breast milk, but thrived on goats milk. That girl is now a mother and her baby is being raised on goat milk. There are tons of recalls all the time. Are we to cook all our vegtables so we do not get sick…when raw foods are the heathiest thing you can eat? I say Give People a choice. I drink raw cream. I work in a public place and I have not had even a cold for a year. It is not the raw cream. But the raw cream has not hurt me one bit.

  • SAO

    I seems to me that the logical thing to do is to allow raw milk sales, but require dairies selling raw milk to higher standards, corresponding to the higher risk. Probably needs shorter use-by dates, too.

  • Cassandra

    Having higher standards should be consistent for all dairies, not just raw milk. Why is it that raw dairies are held to a much higher standard? The public receives warnings for healthy life giving foods yet processed and heat-treated foods which are categorized as “safe” generate countless recalls each year. I would trust a natural organic raw product over a processed product any day of the week.