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Raw milk still looking for wins as legislative season nears end

Legislatures in almost a dozen states this year are considering whether to permit sales in one form or another of raw milk, which public health officials say is dangerous because it has not been pasteurized to remove harmful pathogens. But as many of those sessions wind down, it doesn’t look like there will be many raw milk bill signings this spring.

Raw milk efforts this legislative season have mostly gone sour, politically speaking. One possibility for why state politicians are stepping away from these bills is the timing of the deadly and ongoing Listeria outbreak linked to Vulto Creamery’s raw milk cheese. At least six people have been sickened and two are dead from that raw experience, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A state-by-state analysis, however, shows lawmakers are usually mostly moved by their own legislative processes, which often turn on testimony by public health officials and the mainstream dairy industry. Both of those groups want to restrict access to unpasteurized milk.

Here’s a rundown of the raw action across the country:

ALASKA — Raw milk was dropped from House Bill 46 when a substitute was inserted in the place of the original language. HB 46 is now about state and municipal procurement of agricultural products, including fish, sold under the “Alaska Grown” trademark.

406x250Raw-Milk1HAWAII — House Bill 257 to permit the retail sale of unpasteurized milk was killed in the Hawaii House on Jan. 27 by a committee vote that the measure be deferred.

ILLINOIS — The General Assembly is considered three bills addressing the cottage food industry and farmer’s markets. Two are House bills, HBs 2820 and 3063, and there is one in Senate, SB1469. They were earlier seen as possible vehicles for changing  the state’s recently adopted raw milk regulations, but that has not happened.

IOWA — While the Iowa General Assembly does not adjourn for another month, the two raw milk bills that were introduced in January appear to be dead if for no other reason that they’ve missed deadlines for advancement. Technically both are assigned to subcommittees of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

MONTANA The life or death of House Bill 325 now awaits a vote of the Senate Agriculture, Livestock & Irrigation Committee after a lively public hearing on Tuesday in Helena. The raw milk bill passed the House on a 69-30 vote. Sponsored by Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton, the Montana bill would create a new category of “small dairies,” meaning those with no more than five milk-producing cows or ten goats or sheep. It would exempt those small dairies from a requirement that all milk must be pasteurized before being sold.

During the public hearing one Montana resident asked why he cannot purchase raw milk at a local dairy when “most dairy people that I know drink their own raw.” Under current law, drinking raw milk in Montana is perfectly legal, you just cannot sell it.

Joseph Russell, public health officer for the Flathead City-County Health Department, called raw milk “an inherently high-risk food.” He said there should be more labeling on it, so health officials could investigate if a disease outbreak did occur.

“We need to know where this milk is from, when it was produced and how to get it out of market,” he said.

MASSACHUSETTS — In January, Food Safety News reported on a rambling 7,300 word bill about promoting agriculture in the Commonwealth because it contained 780 words to permit raw milk sales.  It’s been assigned to the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight, which has no meetings scheduled.

NORTH DAKOTA — The North Dakota Senate held a March 17 hearing on House Bill 1433, a bill that would allow producers to sell unpasteurized, raw milk directly to consumers who will “assume the risks.” The committee has yet to make its recommendation on the measure. It has already passed the House 69-21. Testimony in North Dakota tracks almost identically with Montana’s debate.

VIRGINIA — As previously reported by Food Safety News, House Bill 2030 to permit the sale of raw milk was killed in the Committee for Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources by a two-to-one, bipartisan margin. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Virginia Health Department both played prominent roles in helping defeat the raw milk bill.

RHODE ISLAND — Senate Bill 247 to permit the sale and handling of raw milk in Rhode Island was assigned to the Senate Environment and Agriculture Committee on Feb. 22nd. Since then, it does not appear to have seen any action. Food Safety News previously reported that the bill will be dead without committee action by April 13.

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