A narrative is rapidly emerging in Tennessee against Dr. Richard Briggs bill to close the cow-share loophole that makes raw milk sales legal that otherwise would be illegal. The Tennessee Senate Commerce and Labor Committee has yet to schedule a hearing on the Briggs bill, but what lawmakers are hearing is that Senate Bill (SB) 15 pits community health against civil liberties.

Briggs, is a Republican, a cardiac surgeon and a retired U.S. Army Colonel. He represents Knoxville in the Tennessee Senate, told Ohio television station WTOL Channel 11 that the controversy his bill has caused is like “kicking a hornet’s nest.” Raw milk dairy farmers are fighting for their loophole, saying civil liberties are at stake for both producers and consumers of raw milk. They are calling opposition to the Briggs bill “a liberty issue.”

Briggs decided to take on the cow-share loophole after an E. coli outbreak this past summer in Knox County sickened 10 children, some severely. Raw milk produced by French Broad Farm was the likely cause of the outbreak, according to investigators. The dairy ended its cow-share program in response to the event.

His SB 15 would end cow-share and herd-share programs statewide by making it clear that only the “sole owner” of “hoofed” mammals could use unpasteurized, raw milk for personal consumption. Partial owners would no longer have rights to raw milk and raw milk products.

Sales and distribution of raw milk by any other means are already illegal in Kentucky. Several other states either permit or look the other way when it comes to cow and herd sharing programs that offer raw milk to those willing to buy part of an animal or herd.

Briggs says he’s taking on the “myths about raw milk,” including claims that it is superior to pasteurized milk from a health perspective. He says illnesses from the Knox County outbreak were too severe to ignore. Nine out of the 10 children with E. coli infections developed the life-threatening kidney disease called hemolytic uremic syndrome or HUS. One suffered permanent brain damage. Several spent more than 50 days in the intensive care unit at Tennessee Children’s Hospital.

Briggs says all 10 children could have died.

Suzanne Morgan, who owns Echo Valley Farm, is using part of her business website to oppose SB 15. “Y’all it’s time to fight,” she says. “If you’re in Tennessee and care about the infringements of personal choice, please keep reading.”

Her Echo Valley Farm advertises itself as providing “Raw Milk Herd Shares for Eastern Tennessee.”   The website says none are currently for sale, but advises checking back. The website also puts her customers on notice about SB 15. Morgan wants customers to contact Briggs and Rep. Patsy Hazelwood, who will be handling the bill in the House.

“First, if you, your family, friends, customers have found healing with raw milk and raw milk dairy foods, please state this in your calls and communications and briefly explain, ” Morgan says on her website.

She suggests specific talking points to promote unpasteurized milk:

  • “As human beings, we have a God-given right to consume the foods we want/need to be healthy. This is self-evident and not a right bestowed by man or government. It is a natural right.”
  • “Parents have the right to raise their children without government interference.”
  • “Statistically speaking, fresh, unprocessed milk is a low-risk food. Why are we letting a highly publicized incident dictate policy?”
  • “Farmers in Tennessee are already hurting and struggling to be profitable. Why destroy the livelihood of more and continue to hurt rural Tennesseans?”
  • “There have been many other high-profile food-borne illnesses in recent months and years (ice cream, ground beef, romaine lettuce, frozen veggies, etc.) yet we are not legislating them out of distribution. Why are you attacking raw milk?”
  • “Raw Milk Herd Shares are private contracts/transactions between individual Tennesseans. They are not public commerce.”

“Please share this with everyone who enjoys their freedoms as a Tennessean and urge them to voice their opposition as well, Morgan says. “Y’all, if we don’t take a stand on every issue that challenges freedom then the precedent for some very extreme liberty infringements is set. Please act. PM me with any questions.”

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as public health officials in most states, warn against consuming unpasteurized, raw milk or any products made with it. Pasteurization kills harmful bacteria, viruses and parasites that can cause serious and sometimes fatal illnesses.

Children are particularly susceptible to illnesses from raw milk because of their immature immune systems. Pregnant women are also a high-risk group and can easily pass infections to their babies. Older adults and people with compromised immune systems, such as cancer patients, are also at a higher risk of developing serious illnesses from pathogens in unpasteurized, raw milk.

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