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Votes in Second House Near for Raw Milk Bills in 2 States

Raw milk bills have already passed in the lower houses of the Montana and Arkansas legislatures, and now appear to be headed for up-or-down votes on final passage in the Senate of each of those states.   Overall, though, legislative attempts to loosen raw milk regulation are not getting far this legislative season.

In Montana, the Senate Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation Committee is hearing a pair of House-passed bills today that if enacted would make folks who don’t much like regulating food very happy.  One of those bills involves raw milk.

The first is Missoula Republican Champ Edmunds’ bill to permit a so-called “small herd exemption” that would let dairy farms with fewer than 15 lactating cows, 30 lactating goats or 30 lactating sheep sell their unpasteurized products directly to the public.

With a “small herd exemption,” the dairy would be exempt from the pasteurization requirements for larger dairies, including sanitation, quality and labeling. Testing would be for “wholesomeness,” with any numerical standards for bacteria, coliform and somatic cells.

Edmunds, an announced Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, got the bill through the Montana House, where he currently serves, on a final 96-to-3 vote.

The Senate committee is also hearing a bill calling for a “Montana food policy modernization project,” to try to take some of the complexity out of the state’s food code.

Sponsored by Bozeman Democrat Kathleen Williams, the bill has also already passed the House on a final 54-to-45 vote. Rep. Williams’ bill would fund an interim study to look at potential changes in Montana law to allow home and community-based kitchens, and to improve and streamline inconsistencies and inefficiencies in Montana food laws.

The Montana Legislature is scheduled to adjourn in just a little over two weeks on April 27. It’s possible that both bills could get the committee’s “do pass” recommendation after today’s hearing. That would set both bills up for a floor vote.

If approved on final passage, they will end up on the desk of Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat. The small herd exemption bill is House Bill 574, while the food modernization study is HB 630.

Meanwhile in Little Rock, the Arkansas House brought back a raw milk bill previously killed by committee, and passed it 60-to-19.  HB 1536 would permit the sale of raw milk from cows and goats on the farm where it’s produced as long as the amount sold does not exceed 500 gallons per month.

The Arkansas bill originally called for the state Department of Health to adopt regulatory standards for the unpasteurized milk, but those provisions were taken out after some lawmakers found them too vague.

“It’s a buyer beware kind of thing,” explained sponsor Randy Alexander, a Republican state representative.

As many as 18 states saw raw milk bills introduced during the current legislative season. About half of those bills died in committee, while the others do not appear to be going anywhere. However, as Arkansas demonstrated, until adjournment any bill can be brought back to life.

© Food Safety News