A subcommittee of three state legislators in Iowa voted 2-1 Tuesday to advance a bill that would allow dairy operators in the state to sell unpasteurized milk direct to consumers.
Similar bills have not survived in the Iowa Legislature in recent years. This year the effort in the Iowa House was assigned to a subcommittee of the Local Government Committee.
The subcommittee vote Tuesday was along party lines, with Republicans Greg Heartsill, the sponsor, and Bobby Kaufmann in favor of it. Democrat Art Staed voted against advancing the measure.
Supporters say it’s a matter of food freedom. They want to determine for themselves and their children whether they drink milk that has been pasteurized to kill bacteria, viruses and parasites. They contend so-called raw milk is more nutritious and safe.
Opponents — which include health care professionals and public health departments from local, state and federal levels — say it’s too dangerous, especially for children because their immune systems are not fully developed. Immature immune systems and suppressed immune systems, such as those in elderly people, cancer patients and others, cannot successfully fight the E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter and other bacteria that is often present in unpasteurized milk, health officials advise.
The debate is being played out in legislative bodies across the country. Federal law prohibits the interstate sale of unpasteurized milk, but sales within a state are up to state lawmakers.
Most states prohibit all sales of unpasteurized, raw milk. Some allow farm-to-consumer sales, which is the route the Iowa bill sponsored by Republican Greg Heartsill is taking.
A few states allow herd-share sales. In those situations, consumers must buy a “share” in a dairy herd and in return for regular payments can receive raw milk. A small minority of states allow retail sales of raw milk, which makes it available in grocery stores and other locations.
The Iowa bill, HF2055, would require special warning labels on raw milk containers that dairies sell direct to consumers. The bill provides specific language for the labels and other requirements.
“The label shall be permanently affixed to the container,” according to the bill. “The words on the label shall be printed using upper case letters in at least twelve point boldface type. If the container includes a main informational or advertising panel, the label shall be part of the panel.”
The label shall state the following, according to the current bill language:
Notice to Consumers
This container holds raw milk not subject to state inspection or other public health regulations that require pasteurization and grading.”
As of Tuesday night, the bill had not been further scheduled for consideration in the House.
Some lawmakers want it moved out of the Local Government Committee and assigned, instead, to the Agriculture Committee for the next phase. If enacted, the Iowa Department of Agriculture would have the responsibility for enforcing the new law.
As defined in the current version of the bill, violations would be misdemeanors, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and/or a fine of $65 to $650.