Montana State Sen. Diane Sands knows from her own studies as the retired development director of the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula that infant mortality improved and stillbirths declined after pasteurized milk became available.
That’s why the Missoula Democrat is sponsoring a labeling bill as a kind of insurance against the possibility that either of two bills to legalize raw milk sales in Montana makes it through the legislative process.
The Sands bill is pretty simple. Anyone selling raw milk or raw milk products would be required to do so under a sign that “in large clear print” says: “Research has found raw milk and raw milk products from cows, goats, and sheep can transmit life-threatening bacterial infections. Physicians advise elderly and immunocompromised individuals, pregnant women, infants and children to consume only pasteurized milk, cheese, and other products.”
Speaking at the recent public hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Senate Bill 300, Sands said the public cannot have food freedom without having sufficient information to make an informed consent. She said conditions are not the same as they were 100 years ago when pasteurized milk was first becoming available, but people like to make decisions based on evidence.
SB 300 easily passed the Montana Senate on a 29-to-21 vote, and remains in the House Judiciary Committee. House Bill 325, which would allow dairies to sell raw milk, sailed through the House on a 69-to-30 vote.
As amended, HB 325 does not require the Montana Department of Livestock (MDOL) to provide inspections or administrative review of testing. All MDOL may do is keep a registration list of small registered raw milk dairies, which would pay a $5 fee.
Sponsored by Rep. Nancy Balance, R-Hamilton, HB 325 has hit a roadblock in the Senate Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation Committee, where the bill has been tabled. It’s too early to say its dead because there is still time to remove it from the table. The Montana Legislature is scheduled to adjourn in late April.
Selling raw milk is currently illegal in Montana. Bills to legalize raw milk sales have been introduced during each of Montana biannual legislative sessions since 2012, but all previous attempts have ended in failure.
Like other states, raw milk sales are opposed by a coalition of interests that includes public health agencies, the pasteurized dairy industry, veterinarian organizations and city and county elected officials.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration both warn against drinking raw milk, as do most state health departments. The CDC just updated its warning in February.
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