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Montana Passes Raw Milk Bill With “Big Sky” Size Loophole

When it comes to dairy production, Montana is not even among the top 30 states, but it may soon be selling the most dangerous raw milk in America.  Only four people in the vast state will be responsible for regulating the raw milk supply there, and there won’t be much in the way of rules.

Missoula Republican Champ Edmunds, who is exploring a run for the U.S. Senate in 2014 against Democrat Max Baucus, has succeeded in getting his “small herd exemption” bill through the Montana House of Representatives on a stunning 96-to-3 vote.

State Rep. Edmunds may be taking a page from Montana’s other U.S. Senator, Democrat Jon Tester, who made advocacy for small farms his hallmark.

As the primary sponsor of House Bill 574, Edmunds may be trumping Tester by creating a “Big Sky” size loophole in Montana’s dairy laws.

Here’s just some of what the 16-page bill includes:

  • A “small herd” exemption for dairy herds of fewer than 15 lactating cows, 30 lactating goats, or 30 lactating sheep.
  • It allows these “small herd” dairies to sell unpasteurized or raw milk directly to the public.
  • The “small herd” exemption not only covers licensing, but also sanitation, quality and labeling. (There is a permit for the exemption that in turn allows the sale of raw milk and raw milk products for human consumption.)
  • Testing is limited and the standard set is “wholesomeness.” As originally drafted, the bill included testing for bacteria, coliform and somatic cells, and set numerical standards that had to be met. Those specific requirements were axed before final passage.
  • The powers of the Montana Department of Livestock to supervise sanitary conditions and to write rules and collect fees were also all eliminated. Later the bill allow the department to do some sampling and testing routinely done at other dairy production facilities. It does allow the department to require “small herd” record keeping.
  • Liability for all illnesses and deaths caused by raw milk or raw milk products in Montana is transferred to the consumer, who under the bill “assumes inherent risks in consuming milk or milk products that are not pasteurized, whether those risks are known or unknown, and is legally responsible for all injury or death to the person and for all damages to the person’s property that result from the inherent risks in the consumption of raw milk or milk products.”
  • The bill also says it is NOT the duty of Montana state government to see that raw milk is free from the inherent risks so long as it comes from a “small herd” permit holder.
  • Facilities operating under a “small herd” permit are not to be considered a “manufactured dairy products” plant or factory.

Raw milk or raw milk products sold under the bill would require a warning label. The required language is: “Warning—This product contains unpasteurized milk, also known as raw milk.” Edmunds was not available for comment on the bill, which has now gone over to the Montana Senate, which continues in session until April 27.

Safe raw milk sales are difficult because time and distance increase the risks. States like Wisconsin and Indiana that have looked at how unpasteurized milk might be sold more safely have concluded that hefty regulatory schemes would be required.

With HB 574, Montana will be taking a very different route that disregards findings by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta that say raw milk is 150 times more likely to cause an outbreak of disease than pasteurized milk or that it is the most likely food to put someone in the hospital.

While not in the top 30, Montana’s dairy industry is concerned about the Edmunds bill.

“We have a dairy industry in the state of Montana, and it’s something that we all bust our butts to make a living at,” dairy farmer Jeff Lewis told the Missoulian newspaper. “The biggest issue I see with the bill is it would completely undermine the dairy industry. It doesn’t put us on an even playing field.”

A “fiscal note” on the bill by the Governor’s Office of Budget and Program Planning says the exemption will cost Montana almost $300,000 a year. It says there will be four sanitarians statewide to check on exempted producers.

Edmunds is a veteran of the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Service who moved to Montana in 1997. He then earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration, accounting and finance from the University of Montana. He is ciurrently a mortgage banker in Missoula.

© Food Safety News
  • http://twitter.com/RustyBrown47 Russell La Claire

    Stupidity is its own reward. Unfortunately, in this case children are involved. Wonder who will face the music when the first child dies?

    • http://www.facebook.com/roger.bird.710 Roger Bird

      This assumes that the we can’t do things ourselves and that we have to depend upon the government to do everything for us. We are just so stupid that we need government to hold our hands

      • http://www.facebook.com/missy.bems Missy Bems

        Oh really. You can tell that the raw milk you are about to give you child contains pathogenic bacteria? If so, you should definitely hire yourself out as a psychic. Because it’s impossible to tell. Assuming that people know when a food is safe or isn’t is the height of stupidity and arrogance.

        • http://www.facebook.com/roger.bird.710 Roger Bird

          I can tell that the dairy is doing it right. After that, I will take my chances. If there are 4 state monitors who are checking dairies with a microscope, so much the better. Your telling us that we can’t tell when we have had a definite up-tick in our health and the health of our children by drinking raw milk is an even higher height of stupidity and arrogance. Just stay the ph*ck out of our freedom and we will promise to stay out of your freedom.

  • mjv64

    Why even bother to have sanitarians checking the small herd if ” it is NOT the duty of Montana state government to see that raw milk is free from the inherent risks so long as it comes from a “small herd” permit holder.”? Buyers beware. If the buyers are truly aware of the risks of raw milk, then they should be responsible for their own actions. Now it’s up to the public health professions to educate the buyers of those risks. On the other hand, will the buyers be truly responsible for their own action? What if they do get sick from those raw milk, who is responsible for the medical cost? Tax payers? insurance companies?

  • Amorette

    I live in Montana. Our legislature is famous for it’s bat-sh*t crazy. This isn’t even close to the most ridiculous bill we have passed this year.

  • Doc

    Way to go Montana- thank you for acknowledging that your citizens have at least half a brain and are capable of making an informed choice assuming there is full disclosure of the risks. If only North Dakota were so lucky. If the alternative to informed “stupidity” is the nanny state expanding it’s control, I’ll take the burden of personal responsibility every time.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joanne.karohl Joanne Karohl

    This is the way it works in NH, ME and other states…works fine.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1119786124 Kim Snyder

    Glad to see Montana allows its citizens the freedom to make its own choices. We have been drinking raw milk for years, making ALL of our own dairy and have found it to be beneficial to my Ra. If I go for 1 week without it ( as I must do from time to time) I notice my pain levels rising significantly.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/rbasu Ramanuj Basu

    Thanks for this analysis. The bill “has now gone over to the Montana Senate, which continues in session until April 27.” So it’s not law yet. Do we know when the Senate might consider it?

  • jeff1776

    sounds like dan flynn should probably move to a blue state where he can have all the government regulation and intrusion he wants. or he could just choose not to consume what scares him and let other make their own choice.

  • sick-of-the-bullshit

    It cracks me up that this article has such a negative tone-because this is music to my ears as a resident of Montana! God forbid we let consumers decide something for themselves. How is selling raw milk illegal, but putting ingredients like aspartame in our milk without putting it on the label is fine? Stop over regulating and squashing wholesome foods and small business owners! What a triumph, way to go Montana, and way to go Champ Edmunds! I’ll remember this when I go to vote next cycle.