By Eve Pearce (Guest Author), March 13th 2013
Regulation on the sale of raw milk differs in the US from state to state; some states enjoy healthy sales, while others have imposed laws that require all farmers to pasteurize milk before sale. One state that has a law preventing the sale of raw milk is Montana. One of America’s most northerly state, Montana passed a law in 1998 that required all commercial farmers and dairies to pasteurize their milk before selling it to members of the public.
This week, many Montana farmers, dairy owners and consumers alike gathered to try to overturn this regulation, which has cost many businesses thousands of dollars in new equipment and processing activity since its inception. In place of the current law, a new bill is proposed that would allow small scale farmers to sell raw milk to consumers. The bill, which will lay out specific guidelines and standards for raw milk, is to be heard before the House Agricultural Committee. If passed, it would mean that farmers with up to 15 cows and 30 goats or sheep would be exempt from the current mandatory pasteurization law.
Freedom to drink raw milk
Critics of the current law banning the sale of raw milk in states such as Montana say that it is a breach of consumers’ food freedom. Jennifer Holmes, who owns a small farm and dairy in Montana, agrees. “This is a really important bill for food freedom,” she said. “We are fighting for the right to have whatever in our fridge that we want in our fridge.” Like many campaigners, Jennifer is a firm believer in the benefits of consuming raw milk. The farm owner, who from a young age was raised on a healthy diet that included raw milk, says that raw milk is better for both the body and the mind and people should be aware of this and make their own choices in terms of what types of milk they drink. Jennifer says that many of today’s adults were introduced to raw milk when they were young children; they enjoyed wholesome foods and a diet rich in unprocessed milk while growing up. She says that youngsters of today should not be denied the same food freedom.
At the court hearing last Thursday, judges heard from a large group of consumers, farmers and health professionals who said raw milk was a healthy alternative to pasteurized milk. Among the benefits stated by the group were better brain development and the prevention of many common digestive disorders. “The pasteurization kills off a lot of the beneficial bacteria which I think leads to lactose intolerance and digestive problems,” said Jennifer. “It’s all tied to the highly processed foods we eat. We should have the choice to get food in a more basic form… It’s all directly related – you are what you eat.”
Money making scheme
Milk farmers have long stated their opinions that the state’s compulsory pasteurization laws have not been imposed for safety reasons, but rather because large corporate firms stand to make large sums of money from milk pasteurization. When the 1998 law was passed, all milk farmers were required to either buy expensive processing equipment or outsource the work to large-scale processors. As a result, much of the money that would otherwise be income for farmers instead goes into the pockets of processing companies.
The court heard from 12-year-old Riley Sabo from Harrison who said that if it was legal to sell raw milk, he would have enough money to attend a college. Arguing that unpasteurized milk should not be seen as a health hazard, Riley told the court how he had been drinking raw milk since he was a toddler. “I usually get a stomachache and feel bad when I drink [pasteurized milk]” he said.
Raw milk sales already happening
If introduced, a bill allowing small scale farmers to sell raw milk would also enable authorities to regulate the process that is, at the moment, going on regardless and unregulated. “It’s a huge step towards food security,” Jennifer Holmes said of the bill.
The supporters of the bill put forward a strong and compelling case for the sale of raw milk in Montana. However, it is likely to be a while before any decision is made on the matter; Rep. Lee Randall, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said that he expects there to be several amendments that will be proposed in relation to the bill.
Time will tell whether Montana becomes a pro-raw milk state, but it is clear that the demand is there from many farmers and residents.