An In-Depth Look into the Raw Milk Legislation

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(Read Virginia Free Citizen’s original article here)

Congressman Thomas Massie, R-KY, has introduced two milk freedom bills that have received bipartisan support in the U.S. House of Representatives. The two bills, dubbed the “Milk Freedom Act of 2014” and the “Interstate Milk Freedom Act of 2014” protect the sale and distribution of raw milk, which is said to contain more nutrients than pasteurized milk.

A handful of House Democrats, such as Chellie Pingree, representing Maine’s First Congressional District, have co-sponsored these bills, making a bipartisan coalition of 18 legislators total.

* This image provided by Farm-to-Consumer-Legal-Defense-Fund shows the type of regulatory restrictions placed on raw milk, state-by-state and visit their interactive version of this map :

raw milk map 2013

The bills are meant to promote consumer food choices and protect small farmers from government interference.

Although unpasteurized milk itself is not illegal, raw milk products for human consumption have been forbidden from interstate commerce since 1987. However, certain cheeses aged 60 days or more are an exception.

The “Milk Freedom Act of 2014,” or HR 4307, provides relief to local farmers who have been harassed, fined or prohibited from producing and selling raw milk. The legislation states that any “prohibition, interference, regulation or restriction” of unpasteurized milk, natural milk or milk products from a federal department, agency or court is a violation of federal law.

HR 4308, called the “Interstate Milk Freedom Act of 2014,” authorizes the trade, or interstate traffic, of raw milk and milk products that are packaged for human consumption and prevents the federal government from any interference.

Provisions of either bill would not interfere with state law, according to a press release by Congressman Massie.

From Virginia, Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Second District, is a co-sponsor of both bills and Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Ninth District, is a co-sponsor of HR 4308.

In addition to Rep. Pingree, Rep. Jared Polis, representing Colorado’s Second District, is also a Democratic co-sponsor of HR 4307. Rep. Pingree and Rep. Polis are also co-sponsors of HR 4308, as well as Democrat Rep. Zoe Lofgren, representing California’s Nineteenth District.

Both bills have been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee and are awaiting a vote.

According to govtrack.us, both pieces of legislation only have a two percent chance of being enacted. The website says that only 11 percent of bills made it past this committee and only three percent were enacted from 2011 to 2013.

However, milk freedom legislation is not new to Congress. In 2011, Rep. Ron Paul introduced a bill, HR 1830, which would have authorized the interstate traffic of unpasteurized milk and milk products for human consumption, but the bill died in committee.

The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have both spoken out against the human consumption of raw milk, citing that it poses a serious health risk. The FDA says the consumption of raw milk can be potentially harmful because it may contain bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella and Listeria.

A study by the CDC says that more than 1,500 people in the U.S. became sick from drinking raw milk or eating cheese made from unpasteurized milk from 1993 to 2006. The CDC also reported that raw milk is 150 times more likely to cause foodborne illness and has resulted in 13 times more hospitalizations than illnesses associated with pasteurized milk and dairy products. The CDC found that 73 out of the 121 (60 percent) dairy-related outbreaks between 1993 and 2006 were linked to raw milk.

More recently, the CDC said that there were 148 outbreaks due to the consumption of unpasteurized milk or raw milk products between 1998 and 2011, which resulted in 2,348 illnesses, 284 hospitalizations and two deaths.

The Weston A. Price Foundation claims the CDC has cherry picked this data to make raw milk look dangerous and to dismiss the same dangers associated with pasteurized milk, read their press release here.

Raw milk consumers and advocates argue that unpasteurized milk contains beneficial nutrients that are killed during pasteurization and that the dangers of raw milk are exaggerated.

According to a press release by the Weston A. Price Foundation, the CDC’s data from the FoodNet Safety survey in 2007 revealed that only 3.04 percent of the population, or about 9.4 million people, consumes raw milk, based on the 2010 Census. The press release claims that the sale of raw milk in California increased 25 percent while the sale of pasteurized milk decreased three percent in 2010.

The FDA has cracked down on raw milk producers over the years. For example, in 2012, a federal court granted the FDA a permanent injunction to prevent Daniel L. Allgyer’s Rainbow Acres Farm in Pennsylvania from interstate distribution of raw milk and raw milk products.

Allgyer had a “private buying club,” which created cow-sharing agreements with members. Allgyer allegedly thought he could avoid federal oversight by creating a private organization where he could lease his cows and ship his raw milk products to customers who lived out of state. Raw milk sales are legal within Pennsylvania, but illegal to distribute across state lines. The FDA also accused Allgyer of violating federal law because the raw milk containers he sold were not labeled.

According to NBC News, FDA agents found Allgyer’s group of raw milk customers located outside of Washington D.C., called Grassfed On The Hill, and posed as customers and ordered shipments across state lines. The FDA then raided Allgyer’s farm in April 2010.

The FDA claims they sent Allgyer a warning letter in April 2010 to inform him of his violations against federal law and the FDA said Allgyer ignored the warning and continued his operations.

The permanent injunction meant Allgyer was required to provide a statement on all of his products, invoices and website that he was no longer able to distribute raw milk products across state lines. The court also ordered that Allgyer must keep full records of each sale, including the name and address of each buyer, the date of the sale and the amount and type of products sold. Allgyer was also required to provide a copy of the court’s order to all employees and persons who worked with him.

The Amish farmer decided to shut down his farm soon after.

If HR 4307 and 4308 are enacted, the FDA and any other governmental department or agency will not be able to take raw milk farmers like Allgyer to court for distributing across state lines.

Shelby Mertens

About Shelby Mertens

Shelby Mertens is a recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in Mass Communications - Journalism. She was the arts and culture editor of The Commonwealth Times, VCU's independent student press. Shelby was a blogging and social media intern for Gandzee, an online retail startup in Richmond. She covered the General Assembly session last spring for Capital News Service on behalf of over 70 news publications across the state. She has also published work on WTVR-CBS 6's website, a part of the iPadJournos project at VCU.