Mary McGonigle-Martin, a board member of the national food safety group STOP Foodborne Illness whose son became critically ill after drinking raw milk contaminated with E. coli in 2006, says public health has lost the war on raw milk.

McGonigle-Martin has opposed unpasteurized, raw milk in one state action after another, but the trend is clear.

State legislative actions over the past decade have retail sales of raw milk legal in the West, on-farm sales permitted in the Midwest states from Canada through Texas, and an eastern assortment but with only Rhode Island, Washington D.C., and Louisiana making raw milk illegal.

A basic coalition has often been successful in beating raw milk back in legislative chambers, but bills to loosen raw milk regulation are often repeated in the next legislative session. That’s what happened in Iowa, where raw milk was kept more illegal than legal for years.

Iowa’s push-back in 2023 to allow up to ten animals for raw milk production is typical of how little openings are made for raw milk producers.

Most states make some opening for unpasteurized raw milk, be it on-farm sales or herd share agreements, and incremental additions to the sales of unpasteurized milk are easier than worrying about public health warnings.

Public health often joined by major medical groups and the mainstream major dairy industry usually have joined to oppose raw milk with its dangers for spreading dangerous bacteria including E. coli, Salmonella and listeria.

Eric Heinen, a public health officer for Iowa’s Black Hawk County, says he was discouraged but but not shocked by this year’s Iowa Legislature. He blames Iowa being in a different atmosphere for its flipping raw milk over to legal.

Heinen says he could have accepted making raw milk legal for adults, but not children who sometimes cannot survive the complications.

The new raw milk law took effect in Iowa July 1. It opens the door on direct sale of raw milk to consumers, but still not in retail stores.

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