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Rhode Island lawmakers delay decision on raw milk until 2018

It’s now looking like Rhode Island’s legislature is going to put off any votes on legalizing sales of raw milk until next year.

State flag of Rhode Island

State flag of Rhode Island

A nine-member special legislative study commission —to be known as the Commission to Study Raw Milk Regulations— has been recommended by the Senate Committee on Environment & Agriculture. It would make a report to the Senate President no later than Jan. 2, 2018.

The study commission would include representatives of the state’s Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Management along with representatives of the Farm Bureau, two dairy farmers, a licensed medical doctor with expertise in foodborne infectious diseases, and a representative of organic food consumers.

The purpose of the commission would be to “update and strengthen the governance of the availability and consumption of raw milk in Rhode Island.” All Rhode Island departments and agencies would be directed to provide the commission with advice and information.

Earlier this week, it appeared Senate Bill 247, legalizing the sale of raw milk in Rhode Island, would get an up or down vote before the General Assembly adjourned for the year.   However, when the committee met on the issue on June 26, it recommended the study commission be set up instead with instructions to turn in a report for the Assembly’s next session.

The Senate Resolution establishing the commission says milk “is one of the most perfect foods afforded by nature,” and recognizes “a growing demand from organic food consumers for raw or unpasteurized milk as a result of claims that it is more nutritious and healthful than pasteurized milk.”

It also says Rhode Island dairy farmers and consumers could benefit if demand for raw milk could be met, while preserving public health.   The study resolution was added to the Senate consent calendar Thursday as an “indefinite postponement of the original bill.

Rhode Island lawmakers hope to finish their legislative work and adjourn by Saturday.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and most state health departments warn against drinking unpasteurized milk because of the dangers of bacteria that the pasteurization process kills.

Federal law prohibits the sale of raw, unpasteurized milk across state lines. Some states allow sales of raw milk within their borders and under specific circumstances. Rhode Island currently allows consumers to pay for a share in a dairy herd to receive raw milk directly from farmers.

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