Missouri becomes third state thinking about making retail raw milk sales legal

Missouri becomes third state thinking about making retail raw milk sales legal

by Sue Jones
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Another state is thinking about opening the spigots on wide-open retail sales of unpasteurized, raw milk and cream.

The Missouri General Assembly has yet to schedule any floor votes, and no additional hearings are on tap, but two  House committees support House Bill 1977.

And the Assembly is expected to remain in session until mid-May, so there is plenty of time left on the clock.

Missouri joins Alaska and Georgia in raw milk legalization efforts. Alaska is using rulemaking, while Georgia is also going with legislation.  

Georgia’s HB1175, to authorize and regulate the production, handling, transporting, and sale of raw milk and raw milk products for human consumption, passed the House on March 3 on a 100-62 vote. It has moved to the Senate.

As for Missouri, HB1977 first was referred to the”Downsizing State Government Committee,” where it got a hearing, and it received a “do pass” recommendation on a 10-2 vote on January 20.  Then the bill went to House Committee on Rules and Administrative Oversight, which also reported it out with a “do pass” recommendation on an 8-to 1 vote on March 2.

Rep. Ann Kelly is the bill’s sponsor. Rep. Kelly is a Republican who serves in the House Majority’s leadership.

Her bill would legalize selling “Grade A” retail raw milk and cream produced in Missouri at grocery stores, restaurants, soda fountains, or any similar establishments as long as the milk carries a specific warning label.

Raw milk does not go through pasteurization, which is the process of quickly heating milk to a high enough temperature for a short time to kill illness-causing germs. Pasteurized milk is milk that has gone through this process

For the past 100 years, almost all milk in the United States has been subject to pasteurization. The process ended the era when millions of people became sick and died of tuberculosis, scarlet fever, typhoid fever, and other diseases that were transmitted through raw milk.

Pasteurization has prevented millions of people from becoming ill. Most public health professionals and health care providers consider pasteurization one of public health’s most effective food safety interventions ever.

For unpasteurized milk, the Missouri bill offers this warning: “WARNING: This product has not been pasteurized and, therefore, may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness in children, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems.”

Current Missouri law permits farm-to-consumer sales and delivery of raw milk but prohibits retail sales as envisioned by HB1977. “Grade A” retail raw milk, and raw cream would include products produced on farms conforming to sanitation and bacteriological standards that purport to meet or exceed those of “Grade A” pasteurized milk,

The state’s traditional dairy industry opposes the Missouri raw milk bill.

“Missouri Dairy, an organization, representing Grade A dairy farmers throughout Missouri, is in opposition to HB1977, said Gene Wiseman, the group’s legislative director. “Our farmer membership works in cooperation with state and federal regulators and processors to produce wholesome and healthy milk and milk products.

 “Grade A pasteurized milk meets regulatory health standards consumers have come to rely upon. Missouri consumers can already purchase raw milk or cream for their use. Raw milk producers/processors can be permitted and inspected to further validate the raw product they sell to consumers. Therefore, we believe no changes are needed in Missouri law and oppose HB1977,” he added.

The bill also specifies that no bottler or distributor of Grade A retail raw milk can sell, transport, or deliver milk unless it has been inspected by the State Milk Board at least quarterly.

Also, any dairy farm producing Grade A retail raw milk must have its herd accredited or certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as tuberculosis-free and brucellosis-free.

No fiscal impacts for state or local governments are expected if the bill becomes law.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), raw milk and raw milk products are health risks for consumers.

From 1993 through 2012, 127 outbreaks reported to CDC were linked to raw milk. These outbreaks included 1,909 illnesses and 144 hospitalizations. Most of the outbreaks were caused by Campylobacter, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, or Salmonella

A large number of raw milk outbreaks involve children. At least one child younger than five was involved in 59 percent of the raw milk outbreaks reported to CDC from 2007 through 2012. Children aged 1 to 4 years accounted for 38 percent of Salmonella illnesses in these outbreaks and 28 percent of illnesses caused by Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, which can cause kidney failure and death.

CDC finds that reported outbreaks represent the tip of the iceberg. Most illnesses are not a part of a recognized outbreak, and many others occur for every outbreak and every illness reported.

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