A Kansas review of raw milk policies includes everything from banning sales to requiring a 37-word warning label about the health risks of consuming unpasteurized milk.

Kansas does not permit sales of raw milk in retail settings, and for years the state did not allow raw milk advertising. Last year, however, the advertising ban was struck down by a state judge.

To address the court decision, the Kansas Department of Agriculture is supporting Senate Bill 308, requiring a warning label on the product and consumer advisories on advertisements. The department is opposing SB 300, which calls for a complete and total ban on unpasteurized or “raw” milk.

Healthcare and mainstream dairy industries support SB 300. Whenever one of about four dozen Kanasa raw milk dairies sicken someone in the state, they say there is a loss of pasteurized sales and consumer trust.

Raw milk advocates, including the operators of  four dozen raw milk dairies, claim there are health benefits from raw milk and consumers should have the right to choose,

The Kansas Livestock Association offered three amendments, one defining raw milk, one creating sanitary standards for raw milk dairies, and one to create a registry of producers who sell raw milk. The amendments were offered in place of a ban on raw milk sales.

Kansas raw milk dairies see SB 308 requiring warning labels and advisory information as pushback for their industry winning the lawsuit banning advertising. Attorney Ronald Smith says the Kansas Department of Agriculture is guilty of “governmental vindictiveness.”

He said there’d been no labeling requirement for the last 20 or 30 years. “Why the change? Smith asked. “Senate Bill 308 is here because the Department of Agriculture lost a lawsuit,” he said.

Kenneth Titus, the department’s lawyer, said SB 308 is needed to help consumers make informed decisions.

The proposed 37-word warning: “This product contains ungraded raw milk that is not pasteurized and, as a result, may contain organisms that cause food-borne illness, especially in infants, young children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with weak immune systems.”

SB 308’s warning requires too many words at type sizes that are too large. Samuel MacRoberts, an attorney with the Kanas Justice Center, said Kansans “are savvy enough” to understand raw milk isn’t pasteurized. He says that’s the point.

Without pasteurization, milk is more likely  to contain salmonella, E. coli, and other harmful bacteria. Illnesses linked to raw milk are on the rise. The average number of outbreaks from 2007 to 2012 was four times higher than the average number from 1993 to 2006, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports.

The CDC also reports 976 illnesses, with 73 hospitalizations due to raw milk from 2007 to 2012.

The Kansas ban on advertising raw milk was challenged by Mark and Coraline Bunner, who operate Shepherd’s Gate Dairy near Pfeifer.   They sued the state on Oct. 28, 2019.  Attorney General Derek Schmidt shortly agreed the advertising ban was unconstitutional and entered into a settlement agreement promising not to enforce the law.

Both SB 300 (banning raw milk) and SB 308 (warning label) and other requirements, remain in the Senate Agriculture Committee after multiple hearings.  The Senate appears open to greater regulation of raw milk, but probably not a ban.

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