Perhaps no other organization in the country is better positioned to know the best time for drawing a new map of current state raw milk laws and policies than the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). The bipartisan group, based in Denver, closely tracks state and territorial legislative sessions, and it has chosen this moment as they are adjourning to report on what it simply calls “State Milk Laws.” The 2015 legislative season is over in most Midwestern, Western, and border states, and others are rapidly reaching their adjournment dates. This was a busy state legislative season for raw milk. Doug Farquhar, the lawyer who follows raw milk action at the state legislative level for NCSL, says there were at least 29 raw milk bills in 19 states this time, and eight of those sought to make retail sales legal. Raw milk bills in 2015 either have not gotten that far, or don’t really do that much. One that did get to the governor’s desk was West Virginia Senate Bill 30, but Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed it April 2 because he said it “would pose a serious risk to public health.” Utah Gov. Gary Herbert did sign House Bill 104 into law, allowing access to raw milk through ownership of so-called cow shares. Meanwhile, South Dakota Gov. Dennis M. Daugaard signed Senate Bill 45 prohibiting raw milk sales at farmer’s markets or farm-owned stores. Raw milk sales on SD dairy farms remain legal. Oregon adopted HB 2446, which merely repealed a ban on raw milk advertising that had already been struck down by federal courts as a First Amendment violation. In a handful of states, 2015 raw milk legislation remains alive or will hold over to next year. Des Moines lawyer Justin E. LaVan was warning the public health community just last Friday about the introduction of House File 668 on the very day the Iowa Legislature was adjourning. He said HF 668 was “just read in, so it is ready for process first thing at the next session in January and will need to be addressed.” At the moment, NCSL finds that 19 states ban raw milk entirely, while 12 permit it to be sold at retail. Another 19 states fall in the middle, permitting some limited sales of raw milk. Most often, those are on the farm. Here’s how NCSL breaks down the five exceptions to banning sales:
- States that permit the sale of raw milk in retail stores.
- States that allow the sale of raw milk at farmer’s markets.
- States that allow the sale of raw milk on the farm.
- States that permit cow-share programs.
- States that only allow the sale of raw goat milk.
Most Western states allow retail sales, while most Midwestern states permit on-farm or farmer’s market sales. Raw milk is more likely to be banned in Southern and border states. The NCSL report on state milk laws notes that 46 states have adopted all or much of the federal Pasteurized Milk Ordinance, or the PMO. The federal guidelines are intended to prevent any major outbreaks of milk-borne illnesses. “This ordinance guides the state programs to ensure that no major milk-borne disease outbreaks occur,” Farquhar writes in the report. “The PMO provides for national standards regarding the production, processing, packaging and sale of Grade ‘A’ milk and milk products, a program in which every state and the District of Columbia participate.” Milk product sales are under state jurisdiction, but they are subject to federal oversight. State adoption of the PMO, or equivalent safety measures, are part of that oversight program. Raw, or unpasteurized, milk for human consumption cannot be sold across state lines, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) goes so far as to forbid the states from permitting the sale of products made from raw milk such as yogurt, cottage cheese, butter and ice cream. (Some hard cheeses such as cheddar and swiss can be made from raw milk.) Through FDA, the federal government permits only Grade A pasteurized milk to be sold to consumers, a policy that many say delivers one of the greatest public health benefits of all time. Farquhar’s report finds that states are legalizing raw milk distribution through statutes, administrative rules and regulation, and policies. Cow-share policies sometimes conflict with state statutes, he notes. Only Michigan specifically prohibits the sale of raw milk for animal consumption. Farquhar says commercial feed licensing laws would apply.