States Propose Raw Milk Legislation to Prevent Milk Borne Disease

April 17, 2019|6:06 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria and can carry dangerous germs, such as E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella. Raw milk and raw (unpasteurized) dairy products such as soft cheese, ice cream, and yogurt cause serious foodborne illnesses. From 2007 to 2012, 26 states reported 81 outbreaks linked to raw milk, which resulted in 979 illnesses and 73 hospitalizations. Infants, young children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems are at a greater risk of getting sick from drinking raw milk. Fifty-nine percent of outbreaks involved at least one child younger than five years.

To prevent milk borne disease, 46 states have adopted all or portions of the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO), a model regulation which contains provisions governing the production, processing, packaging, and sale of Grade “A” milk and milk products. Those states that did not adopt the PMO have passed similar laws. Section 9 of the PMO states that, “only Grade ‘A’ pasteurized, ultra-pasteurized or aseptically processed milk and milk products shall be sold to the final consumer, to restaurants, soda fountains, grocery stores, or similar establishments.”

A growing number of states have legalized raw milk for human consumption via farm-gate sales (where consumers purchase products directly from farms), farmers market sales, retail sales, cow-share programs (where consumers combine resources to purchase dairy cows), or licensed pet food sales. The number of jurisdictions providing consumers with legal access to raw milk increased from 32 in 2004 to 43 in 2017. States legalizing the sale of raw milk have done so by not adopting Section 9 of the PMO, enacting statutes that conflict with Section 9 (therefore overriding the PMO), promulgating administrative rules or regulations conflicting with Section 9, or through other policy interventions. Even where the sale of raw milk is permitted, states are taking legislative action to ensure that raw milk and raw milk products are safe and that consumers have access to information about potential health impacts. Below is an overview of state legislative activity from the current legislative session related to the sale and labeling of raw milk and raw milk products.

The Texas legislature introduced companion bills (SB80 and HB503) prohibiting the sale of raw milk or raw milk products to or on the premises of a grocery store, supermarket, or similar retail market. The bills also set out the locations where raw milk may be sold by a permit holder, handling and transport requirements, as well as labeling requirements, including a statement that consuming raw foods, including raw dairy products, may increase the risk of food-borne illness. Texas also introduced a bill allowing the sale of raw milk and milk products at retail in the same manner as pasteurized milk or milk products only if the raw milk or milk products are produced in the state. The bill would require the producer to maintain a liability insurance policy that would cover damages arising from the consumption of raw milk or raw milk products sold.

A New Jersey bill would allow for the sale of unpasteurized milk or cream by a person who holds a valid raw milk permit, but only at the farm or property where the raw milk or cream is produced. The bill would also require raw milk containers to have a label stating that raw milk is not pasteurized and may contain organisms that cause human disease. Hawaii introduced a bill that would allow a producer to sell raw milk and raw milk products directly to consumers subject to certain rules and provided that the farm or facility from which the raw milk or milk products originated contains no more than two milk-bearing cows. The established rules must ensure the non-contamination of raw milk in its production and sale and require that the product be clearly labeled and include a precautionary statement that the product contains pathogens that may be unsafe to consume.

Massachusetts introduced legislation allowing licensed raw milk farmers to deliver raw milk directly to the consumer, off-site from the farm, provided that the farmer has a direct, contractual relationship with the consumer. Raw milk farmers would also be permitted to sell raw milk from their farm stands even if not contiguous to their raw milk dairy. The bill also requires the department of agricultural resources and the department of public health to promulgate rules governing the handling, packaging, storage, testing, and transportation of raw milk. A Nevada bill would require the director of the department of agriculture to adopt regulations governing the production, distribution, and sale of certified raw milk. The bill also provides that raw milk meeting temperature requirements and certified by the director may be sold anywhere in the state.

While the sale of raw milk is authorized from specific outlets in more than half of the states, it is important for the public to understand the benefits, risks, and economic impacts associated with raw milk consumption. Legislators are tasked with weighing consumer demand against the risk of illness. State and territorial health agencies play an important role in protecting the public’s health by informing decisionmakers and advocating for effective, evidence-based food safety policies and regulations. There is also an opportunity to partner with state agricultural agencies to regulate sales and educate consumers about the potential harms of consuming raw milk to aid them in making informed decisions about consumption. ASTHO will continue to track this important public health issue throughout the year.

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