With strong support from Republican members, the Montana House of Representatives approved a bill to allow the sale of unpasteurized raw milk by more than a two-to-one margin this week.
Rep. Nancy Ballance’s House Bill 325 now goes to the Montana Senate for consideration. Balance, a Republican, joined with 55 other members of the GOP and 13 Democrats to approve the legislation with a 69-30 vote. One Republican member was absent. Only two Republicans, Reps. Walt Sales and Ross Fitzgerald voted against the bill, as did 28 Democrats.
The bill, which would allow herd-share and direct-to-consumer sales of unpasteurized raw milk, is generating stiff opposition from public health officials.
A standing warning on the Montana health department’s website uses a food safety spin on a well-known milk marketing phrase: “Milk does not do a body good.” The state’s Department of Public Health and Human Services website also flatly states “Montana should continue to prohibit the sale of non-pasteurized milk products.”
As with standing warnings from the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Montana health department warning about raw milk cites the benefits of pasteurization and the disproportionate threat it is to children because of their immature immune systems.
“Milk from healthy cows, goats, and sheep can contain organisms capable of causing human illness. Pasteurization is the only practical method for reducing pathogenic contamination of milk,” according to the Montana health department warning.
“Consumption of non-pasteurized milk products increases the risk for enteric illnesses and hospitalization; the health risks of non-pasteurized milk products outweigh the theoretical and unproven benefits often attributed to their consumption.”
Similar to bills filed in 2013 and 2015 by Ballance, HB325 specifically covers milk from cows, goats and sheep. It includes a requirement that unpasteurized raw milk carry warning labels.
The labels would be required to state: “This product, which is sold for personal use and not for resale, is fresh whole milk that has not been pasteurized. Neither this farm nor the milk sold by this farm has been inspected by the state of Montana.”
Federal law prohibits the interstate sale of raw milk, but some states have enacted laws allowing for in-state sales under certain conditions. Some require warning labels, others do not.
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