Update: Senate Bill 574 failed to achieve the required two-thirds vote in the Montana Senate on April 17 and is probably dead for this session. The super majority was required to limit governmental liability under Montana’s Constitution.
Montana’s plan to permit certain small farms and ranches to produce and sell raw milk directly to the public is moving forward, but the Senate has made some major changes to be bill, which appears to be on the verge of final passage or maybe not.
The so-called “small herd exemption bill” cleared the Senate’s second reading calendar on Monday by a 39-10 vote, meaning that final vote could occur at any moment. The Montana House earlier gave its approval to the original version House Bill (HB) 574 on a 96-to-3 vote a month ago.
Changes to the bill in the Senate mean it will have to go back to the House for concurrence before it goes to Democrat Governor Steve Bullock’s desk. And because it puts a limit on governmental liability, the bill will need to achieve a two-thirds majority in both houses to meet Montana’s constitutional requirements.
HB 574 is the work of State Rep. Champ Edmunds (R- Missoula), who is already an announced candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2014. Edmunds has managed to steer the bill through the upper chamber by accepting changes.
The proposed new law would grant raw milk permits for farmers with small herds under rules to be adopted by the Montana Department of Livestock. With a raw milk permit, production of raw milk for human consumption would be permitted.
Under the Senate amendments, the Department of Livestock is charged with drafting regulations for labeling and placards, best management practices, and testing standards for raw milk. It also provides for so-called “herd shares,” so long as a written contact with a bill of sale or other evidence of bona fide ownership exists.
The department gets six months to adopt rules pursuant to the new law.
The raw milk permit will allow on-farm sales directly to consumers, but not resale or sale to retail outlets. Warning labels and signs will be required.
As it passed the House, the bill continues to put the liability for any injury or death resulting from drinking raw milk squarely on the consumer. It says it is not the duty of the department “to ensure that a person is free from inherent risks associated with the consumption of raw milk that is not pasteurized, including consumption of raw milk produced pursuant to a raw milk permit produced under (Section 1).”
And it flatly states that the State of Montana “is immune from any suit for injury to a person who consumes raw milk.”
Power to regulate and establish sanitation standards are granted to the department, including the authority to take samples of milk and milk products for testing. The bill gives the department the power to inspect facilities operating under a raw milk permit just as it may with other dairy facilities.
The bill makes it unlawful to sell raw milk in any container or package marked as pasteurized. Raw milk and raw milk products are required to “conform to the standards of purity, quality, and wholesomeness.”© Food Safety News