A bill to close Tennessee’s raw milk loophole is dead, killed when it was assigned to the General Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.

The Tennessee General Assembly is now just hours away from adjournment for the year. It is not doing anything about 2018’s Knox County outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 that severely sickened 15 children.

The Knox County Health Department blamed the outbreak on both consumption of raw milk and contact with farm animals. Raw milk from French Broad Farm was linked 10 of the illnesses. Goats at Kids Place Inc. in Mascot, TN, were connected to the other five cases.

While the 2018 outbreak was complicated by its dual sources and strains, it was a very severe event, according to public health officials. One victim suffered permanent brain damage.

The 2018 outbreak was similar to an outbreak in 2013 that involved nine Tennessee children who were sickened with E. coli O157:H7. Four of those victims were hospitalized and thee developed a type of kidney failure known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

The severity of the illnesses in the summer of 2018 caught the attention of State Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville. A cardiologist, Briggs was concerned because the E. coli infections resulted in lengthy hospital stays for nine of the children. Seven of the children developed HUS.

French Broad Farm’s sales and distribution of unpasteurized, raw milk are dependent on herd- or cow-sharing schemes that allow people to contract for raw milk by paying for part of an animal or herd.

Briggs, who is also a U.S. Army Reserve Colonel, sought to close the cow-share loophole with Senate Bill 15. It would have permitted raw milk for personal consumption only by sole owners, making it illegal for people with partial ownership of an animal or herd to receive unpasteurized milk from dairy operators.

The sale or distribution of raw milk that has not been pasteurized remains illegal in Tennessee. Sen. Briggs saw his bill assigned to the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, and then to a “General Subcommittee,” but it never got a public hearing or a second look.

Raw milk dairies throughout Tennessee continue to use the cow- or herd-share loophole to sell and distribution unpasteurized, raw milk. They are not the only ones willing to take a chance.

The General Assembly session is ending, likely on Thursday, after joining several other states with last-minute bills to make sports betting legal. Not closing the raw milk loophole, however, may turn out to be the Assembly’s biggest gamble.

According to the Tennessee Department of Health, the 2018 outbreak in Knox County was the third gastrointestinal disease outbreak since cow-sharing became legal in the state. Cow- or herd-share agreements were legalized in 2009.

While the 2018 outbreak was complicated by its dual sources and strains, it was a very severe event, causing permanent brain damage to one of its victims.

It was very similar to the 2013 outbreak involving nine Tennessee children who were sickened with E. coli O157:H7, including four who were hospitalized and thee who developed HUS.

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