Raw milk sales given hearing

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Before an overflowing hearing room, the House Agriculture and Rural Development Policy and Finance Committee listened to testimony from those who have been drinking raw milk with no ill effects for years, including Rep. Sarah Anderson (R-Plymouth), sponsor of HF1511.

The bill would allow dairy producers to sell unpasteurized milk directly to consumers through farmer’s markets, private buying clubs and home delivery. It also would require raw milk products to contain a consumer product safety label, which would include the name of the producer, product contents and ingredients, a statement that the product is unpasteurized and that pasteurization is not required for direct farm-to-consumer sales. The committee took no action on the bill. Sen. Sean Nienow (R-Cambridge) sponsors SF1111, a companion that awaits action by the Senate Agriculture and Rural Economies Committee.

Current law allows for raw milk consumption for personal use by farm families where the milk is produced. Committee Chairman Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake) said most dairy farmers are careful about allowing others to roam their farms because of the risk of introducing diseases to the herd. Anderson said that is why there needs to be an allowance for home delivery and other points of purchase.

Supporters said consuming raw milk from grass-fed dairy cows offers health benefits, including as a cancer preventative and easing pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis.

But Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson opposed the bill, saying the department’s main goal is to uphold the integrity of the food supply. Department scientists believe pasteurization is a vital public health measure and that drinking raw milk presents a serious public health risk, especially to children, he added.

Anderson said 10 states allow for the retail sale of raw milk. Growing up, her family “drank the milk straight from the tank” and no one ever got sick from drinking it.

Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger said he’s treated children who have drank raw milk that contained pathogens that caused hemolytic-uremic syndrome, a disorder that can occur when an infection in the digestive system produces toxic substances, causing kidney failure. Last year, there were 17 cases in Minnesota; three directly attributed to raw milk consumption. “Labeling does nothing to help,” Ehlinger said.

Increased availability of raw milk could lead to increased risk of tainted milk consumption, which would have negative impacts on consumer buying habits, resulting in financial losses for the industry, said David Ward, a lobbyist for Cooperative Network, an industry association.