Raw milk bills get another push in Mid-Atlantic

Senior Editor

(Feb. 23, 2016) “Explosive growth:” That’s how the Agriculture Department in the state of Washington describes what’s been happening in Washington in the raw-milk industry over the past 10 years.
The numbers say it all. There were only six raw-milk dairies in the state in 2006. There are now 39 — more than double the number in 2013 when there were 18. All are Grade A licensed dairies, which means their milk must meet the same food-safety standards as milk from conventional dairies.
State officials expect the number of raw milk dairies will likely continue to climb.
Is that same enthusiasm for the raw milk market evident in the Mid-Atlantic?
No, but it could be. Maryland has a bill in the legislature. So do New Jersey and West Virginia.
Currently, about half of the states in the nation allow raw milk sales. Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania are among them.
Curiously, even though the states give raw milk the green light, the federal government outlawed the sale and distribution of unpasteurized milk nearly 30 years ago.
In 1987, the Federal Drug Administration mandated pasteurization of all milk and milk products for human consumption, effectively banning the shipment of raw milk in interstate commerce — with the exception of cheese made from raw milk, provided the cheese has been aged a minimum of 60 days and is clearly labeled as unpasteurized.
“It is the FDA’s position that raw milk should never be consumed,” an agency official said.
However, the states for the most part have shrugged their shoulders when reminded of the federal ban, knowing, according to state officials, that the feds seldom can mount law enforcement sufficient to halt raw milk sales.
In Annapolis, Delegate Nic Kipke of Anne Arundel County, joined by Delegate Dan Morheim of Baltimore County, introduced House Bill 79.
The bill, would exempt “from certain regulation the distribution of raw milk and raw milk products from certain producers directly to the final consumer if the consumer has a certain ownership interest in certain animals; requiring a certain consumer and a certain producer to enter into a written contract of agistment relating to a certain ownership interest; establishing that the exemption does not apply to certain sales of milk and milk products; providing that the prohibition on the sale of raw milk for human consumption is subject to the exemption; and generally relating to the regulation of the sale of milk and milk products for human consumption.”
In other words, the bill would allow consumers to strike a deal — for example, buy a share of the cow or the herd — from the owner of a certified dairy and drink that milk.
Previous similar legislation has stalled in committee, and it traditionally has drawn the opposition of the Maryland Farm Bureau.
Delegate Kipke is not optimistic but remains hopeful that the bill will pass in the cxurrent session.
In Trenton, New Jersey lawmakers are considering a bill which would legalize limited raw milk sales in the state, taking what was called “an important step toward effectively nullifying a federal prohibition scheme in effect.”
Assemblymen John DiMiao (R-Dist. 23) introduced Assembly Bill 696 on Jan. 27.
The legislation would allow holders of a raw milk permit “to sell, offer for sale or otherwise make available raw milk directly to consumers but only at the farm or property where the raw milk is produced.”
Current New Jersey law imposes a complete ban on the sale, transport and importation of raw milk or raw milk products.
A 696 creates a licensing program, sets sanitation standards for raw milk sellers, and establishes labeling and signage regulations.
After a veto last year, the push to let West Virginians drink raw milk through animal-sharing agreements is regaining steam. Earlier this month,, the state Senate voted 22-12 on the raw milk bill, sending the proposal to the House of Delegates.
The bill (SB 387) would allow people to strike “agreements” to share milk-producing animals and allow people to buy a share in a cow whose milk would then be theirs, but would maintain a ban on selling or distributing raw milk.
People would also have to sign a document acknowledging the health risks.
Animals would need to have passed health tests within the last year.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed a similar bill last year, citing its risk to public health.