After the battles of Lexington and Concord, the patriot colonials adopted unconventional tactics to frontal attacks on the British Army regulars in and about Boston. Massachusetts raw milk advocates appear to be taking some lessons from those colonial days as they approach the current legislature meeting on Boston’s Beacon Hill. They’ve used a bill to promote agriculture to slip in provisions to allow raw milk dairies to make home deliveries. The Massachusetts Senate has already passed the farm bill (S. 2258) including the provision for expanded raw milk sales, and the House is expected to take up the measure before summer. Retail sales of raw milk are banned in Massachusetts, which historically has allowed only on-the-farm purchases of milk that is not pasteurized. Numerous head-on attempts to liberalize raw milk regulation in the Bay State have met with failure in recent years. However, the state farm bill opening the way to home deliveries easily passed the Senate. Home delivery would make obtaining raw milk easier for consumers, but involved transportation time is also seen as an added risk. In the past, the strong public health ethic in the state, due in part to its history, has worked against wider raw milk sales. “One of the greatest advances in human history was pasteurization,” says Dr. Alfred DeMaria Jr., director of the Bureau of Infectious Disease Prevention for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Raw milk killed 48 Massachusetts residents in 1911 during a Streptococcus outbreak in the Boston area. The raw milk responsible for the outbreak came from a Boston-area dairy known for maintaining sanitary conditions. To “promote farm viability,” the state farm bill calls out “inappropriate” Board of Health (BOH) regulations that are “a major impediment to growth and sustainability of agriculture in the Commonwealth.” It calls for “checks and balances” on the BOH’s “broad authority.” When “venturing into agriculture,” the farm bills says BOHs “often create untenable requirements.” To fix that problem, the bill requires health regulations in the future to be approved by local agriculture commissions. It says that the farm bill is not intended to preempt decisions made by health boards, but that it is meant to “ensure that municipal health regulations governing agriculture are written with a sound understanding of agriculture.” Language to allow farmers to deliver raw milk to consumers was then melded into the farm bill. Supporters say there is a growing demand for raw milk and that it is a burden on consumers to make them go after it on often hard-to-find dairy farms. As it left the Senate, the bill requires raw milk to be purchased before delivery, and the Department of Agricultural Resources is empowered to regulate deliveries. Raw milk sales would also be allowed at farmer’s markets under the legislation’s current form. According to the most recent summary by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, there were 81 outbreaks of illnesses related to raw milk between the years 2007 and 2012. About 1,000 people were sickened, with 73 hospitalized from those raw milk-related outbreaks.
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