A bill to make raw milk sales legal has already passed the New Jersey Assembly by a veto proof 71-to-6 vote and is sitting in the Senate Economic Growth Committee.  So, the pasteurized dairy industry has gone to the “big man” himself, Gov. Chris Christie, looking for help.

A743 sailed through NJ’s lower house in mid-March with a little tinkering from Assemblyman John Dimaio, R- Hackettstown, the bill’s primary sponsor. The main change from his original proposal was the elimination of retail stores as places to sell raw milk.

The bill now before the senate committee would put the Department of Agriculture in charge of a permitting program, giving New Jersey’s Department of Health and Senior Services only an advisory role.  Inspections of raw milk would occur at the same time as other dairy farm investigations.

No vote has yet been scheduled in the New Jersey senate committee for A743.

Two dairy giants, the Arlington, VA-based National Milk Producers Federation and the Washington D.C.-based International Dairy Food Association checked into the New Jersey raw milk battle Monday with a letter to both Gov. Christie and State Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney.

Both organizations are involved in the pasteurized dairy industry, representing more than 99 percent of the milk and dairy products sold in the United States.  In their letter, they charged that the food safety risks inherent in raw milk would increase the incidence of foodborne illnesses and reverse public health improvements in New Jersey.

“The link between raw milk and foodborne illness has been well-documented in the scientific literature, with evidence spanning nearly 100 years,” they wrote.  “Raw milk is a key vehicle in the transmission of pathogens, including E. coli O1576:H7, Campylobacter, Listeria monocytogenes, and Salmonella.”

They pointed out that 90 percent of the outbreaks involving raw milk have occurred in states where sales are legal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“America’s dairy farmers and processors have worked hard to ensure that they produce a safe, wholesome product, and a key pillar in the steps the industry takes is pasteurization,” Connie Tipton, president and CEO of IDFA said.

Pasteurization is the heat treatment used to eliminate pathogens from the dairy supply.

Federal law prohibits the interstate sale of raw milk, but states are empowered to regulate it within their own borders.

Almost half the states allow the sale of raw milk to the public in some fashion, ranging from on-farm sales to full-blown retail distribution. Bills to make raw milk sales legal in other states have been advanced this year, often on an economic development basis.

New Jersey’s Senate Economic Growth Committee is reviewing more than 20 Assembly bills, in addition to A743, that attempt to revive the state’s troubled economy by doing everything from promoting a “Jersey Fresh” label to suspending non-residential development fees.