Many times during the past two decades, it looked like Iowa consumers were going to lose their protection from the hazards of raw milk. But, the Iowa Legislature has always come through by continuing the state’s ban on the sale of unpasteurized milk.

This year could be different. The Iowa Senate on March 10 voted 32-to-15 in favor of Senate File 2309. It would open a giant loophole by allowing dairy farms to sell raw milk directly to consumers, either by on-farm sales or by direct deliveries.

No resales or retail sales to restaurants, grocery, or convenience stores would be permitted. Still, SF2309 gives raw milk dairies market entry that does not exist today, beyond their own families. The same loophole will open for raw milk products, including cheese, yogurt, and ice cream produced with unpasteurized milk.

The Iowa House has just started its review of the proposed legislation.

“The raw milk shall only be used for consumption by the individual, members of the individual’s household, and the individual’s nonpaying guests or nonpaying employees. The raw milk producer shall distribute the raw milk directly to the individual at the raw milk dairy or to a location specified by the individual,” the bill says.

“However, a person shall not deliver the raw milk to a place of business where food items are distributed on a retail basis, including but not limited to a home bakery regulated under chapter 137D or a food establishment or farmers market regulated under chapter 137F.”

The bill’s language adds this: “A raw milk producer shall only take an order for the distribution of a raw milk product or raw milk dairy product at the raw milk producer’s raw milk dairy where the raw milk product or raw milk dairy product is manufactured. The raw milk producer shall only distribute the raw milk product or raw milk dairy product to an individual placing the order. The raw milk producer may distribute the raw milk product or raw milk dairy product to the individual without charge or on a retail basis.”

Raw milk producers will be required to post their coliform counts and dairy animals’ tests for their customers’ review. And, there is a 3-year records retention requirement.

State Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, told Iowa media that SF2309 makes something legal that is going on already.  “I don’t think in this state people ought to be criminalized for things that they choose to do that don’t harm someone else,” Bisignano said.

State Sen Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, said the raw milk bill is about access, and most states provide some access to raw milk.

Farm sales and cow-share schemes are common routes to consumers’ raw milk access.

Iowa’s retail grocers and the mainstream dairy industry, along with the Farm Bureau, oppose SF2309, but opponents were unsuccessful in getting a consumer warning label included in the version of the bill that was approved by the Senate.

Raw milk does not go through pasteurization, which is the process of quickly heating milk to a high enough temperature for a short time to kill illness-causing germs. Pasteurized milk is milk that has gone through this process

For the past 100 years, almost all milk in the United States has been subject to pasteurization. The process ended the era when millions of people became sick and died of tuberculosis, scarlet fever, typhoid fever, and other diseases that were transmitted through raw milk.

Pasteurization has prevented millions of people from becoming ill, according to public health officials. Most public health professionals and health care providers consider pasteurization one of public health’s most effective food safety interventions ever.

The distribution of more raw milk in a state like Iowa is all but certain to lead to more outbreaks of disease, such as E. coli infections and Salmonella.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), raw milk and raw milk products are health risks for consumers.

From 1993 through 2012, there were 127 outbreaks reported to CDC that were linked to raw milk. These outbreaks included 1,909 illnesses and 144 hospitalizations. Most of the outbreaks were caused by Campylobacter, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, or Salmonella

A large number of raw milk outbreaks involve children. At least one child younger than five was involved in 59 percent of the raw milk outbreaks reported to CDC from 2007 through 2012. Children aged 1 to 4 years accounted for 38 percent of Salmonella illnesses in these outbreaks and 28 percent of illnesses caused by Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, which can cause kidney failure and death.

The CDC finds that reported outbreaks represent the tip of the iceberg. Most illnesses are not a part of a recognized outbreak, and many others occur for every outbreak and every illness reported.

In addition to Iowa, Alaska Missouri and Georgia are also considering wider raw milk distribution.

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