Debate on a Louisiana bill to allow on-the-farm raw milk sales by dairy farmers directly to consumers took a strange twist down the “what if” road last week. Under the bill, consumers would replace state inspectors for making sure the raw milk is safe for human consumption. That provision led to an eye-opening exchange between Louisiana State Rep. Robert Johnson (R-Marksville) and raw milk advocate Audry Salvador. As captured by Michelle Southern, Baton Rouge reporter for WWL-AM radio, Johnson started out by saying that his problem with the bill was not that it allows people to milk their own cows and give the raw milk to children. “My problem is that you don’t want DHH (Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals) to do any kind of inspection, any kind of permitting process,” said Johnson. “And then you want to exempt yourself from any kind of liability just in case somebody messes up. And when you say ‘child’ … ‘death of a child’ … that’s a very serious thing to me.” Salvador then volunteered to Johnson that it would be the responsibility of the consumer to make sure they are purchasing from a reputable farmer. “I can watch everything they do if I want,” said Salvador. Johnson said, “What about those who don’t?” “That is their fault.” “What about the child that dies that has no one to protect him?,” Johnson asked. “Well, before the age of reason they can go to Heaven,” said Salvador. “That’s your answer?! Mr. Chairman, I move that we voluntarily defer this bill,” Johnson said, and he also demanded that farmers not be exempted from liability if someone gets sick from raw milk. That exchange aside, the House Committee on Agriculture, Forestry, Aquaculture, and Rural Development narrowly recommended passage of House Bill 247 on a 9-6 vote. It was a victory for two rural Democratic legislators who brought the bill forward. Commercial sale of raw milk is now illegal in Louisiana, and the Agriculture Committee gave the issue its first real legislative attention in a decade. State Reps. Stephen J. Ortego (D-Carencro) and Michael E. Danahay (D-Sulphur) are the sponsors of HB 247, which was introduced on Feb. 20. As drafted, HB 247 would:
- Open up an exemption for raw milk from state food safety statutes.
- Allow “incidental sales” of raw goat milk and unpasteurized whole milk, which is defined as average monthly sales not exceeding 500 gallons per month.
- Limit sale to the farm where the raw milk is produced.
- Permit advertising of the location of the farm where the raw milk is sold.
- Require on-the-farm warning signs and on-the-bottle labels.
- Outline how seller contact information must be listed on the product label.
- Open farms to inspection by consumers.
Here is an example of the warning that HB 247 would require on the farm signs and bottles: “This product sold for personal use and not for resale, is fresh whole milk that has NOT been pasteurized. Neither this farm nor the milk sold by this farm has been inspected by the state of Louisiana. The consumer assumes all liability for health issues that may result from consumption of this product.” Further action on the bill by the Louisiana House has not been scheduled. Lawmakers in Baton Rouge go home on June 2.