The Idaho Senate has approved a bill lifting restrictions on some provisions in the state’s raw milk law.

In a 34-0 vote — one member was absent — the Senate approved revisions that would make legal so-called herd shares. Such arrangements allow farmers to sell a share of a herd or a share of a single animal to people who wish to receive raw, unpasteurized milk.

The legislation, Senate Bill 1036, now heads to the state’s House of Representatives. If approved by the House, the governor would have to sign the bill into law.

In approving the bill with yea votes from 7 Democrats and 27 Republicans, with one Democrat absent, the Senate approved striking the vast majority of Idaho’s raw milk legislation which currently bans raw milk except for the consumption by household members of dairy owners. 

The bill leaves intact only a few sentences in the existing legislation.

“… the acquisition of raw milk or raw milk products from cows, sheep, or goats by an owner of a cow share, sheep share, or goat share for use or consumption by the owner or members of the owner’s household shall not constitute the sale or retail sale of raw milk or raw milk products and shall not be prohibited. The owner of a cow share, sheep share, or goat share shall receive raw milk or raw milk products directly from the farm or dairy where the cow, sheep, goat, or dairy herd is located. Such farm or dairy shall be registered,” states the bill approved by the state Senate.

The bill is a step toward making farm stands, and ultimately retail sales, of raw milk legal in Idaho.

However, the bill would preserve some key elements of the existing legislation.

“No producer of raw milk products as provided in this section shall publish any statement that implies approval or endorsements by the Idaho state department of agriculture,” says the current legislation and remains intact in the proposed law.

The proposed law also says that the head of the state’s agriculture department still would have the authority to bring civil actions to enjoin violations of the state’s raw milk law. Anyone violating the law by offering the sale of raw milk to anyone other than herd share owners — including but not limited to farm stands and farmers market sales — shall be fined $200 for each infraction.

Federal law prohibits the sale of raw milk across state lines because of concerns about bacteria and viruses in unpasteurized milk. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and most state health and agriculture departments have long warned about the dangers of raw milk, especially for children whose immune systems are not fully developed. Bacteria and viruses found in raw milk include salmonella, E. coli, Listeria monocytogenes, hepatitis A, and brucella.

Some raw milk advocates say that exposure to potential pathogens in raw milk helps people develop stronger immune systems. Advocates also say that pasteurization of milk to kill pathogens reduces the health benefits of the milk in addition to changing the flavor of the milk.

In 1987, the federal government implemented 21 CFR 1240.61(a), providing that, “no person shall cause to be delivered into interstate commerce or shall sell, otherwise distribute, or hold for sale or other distribution after shipment in interstate commerce any milk or milk product in final package form for direct human consumption unless the product has been pasteurized.”

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