Raw milk distributed from French Broad Farm in East Knox County, TN, through a cow share program sickened a dozen children this past summer. After the E. coli outbreak, the farm shut down the cow-share program.

State Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville, thinks the time has come to end the cow-share loophole statewide. His Senate Bill 15, now pending before the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, is seen as a serious push-back against the sale of raw milk in Tennessee. The “sole owner” of a “hoofed mammal” could continue to use the animal’s milk for “personal consumption,” but it would be illegal for someone who is only a partial owner to do so.

The language of the bill is intended to make the sale of milk that has not been pasteurized illegal in Tennessee. Several states look the other way if someone buys so-called shares of a cow or herd in order to obtain raw milk. Tennessee already bans the sale of raw milk by any other means.

Briggs, a cardiologist, says cow-share programs are a “smoke and mirrors” way to get around existing state law. Last summer’s Knox County outbreak resulted in nine children developing hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a life-threatening kidney ailment. One child suffered permanent brain damage and several spent more than 50 days in the intensive care unit of Tennessee Children’s Hospital.

State health department records document other outbreaks in Tennessee caused by raw milk, according to Briggs. He said in 2007, the state health department had to get a court order to force a cow-share program to notify its customers about an ongoing cryptosporidium outbreak.

Briggs, a U.S. Army Reserve Colonel who was on active duty from 1978-89, says he understands people want the freedom to eat what they want. But, he says, there is still the responsibility to make sure it’s safe.

At present, 20 states ban the sale of raw milk for human consumption, while 13 allow regular retail sales. Seventeen states allow raw milk to be sold only on the farm where it is produced.

The Tennessee bill, SB 15, has yet to be scheduled for a committee hearing. Members and representatives of existing cow-share programs in the state promise to oppose the measure. Briggs says he expects the debate.

Briggs said cow-share programs have produced “terrible, devastating results” and called for the Legislature to close the loophole.

The fiscal note on the bill says the impact of jobs and commerce would not be significant. Nor would the bill impact fee revenue or enforcement costs.

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