Georgia governor has decision to make on raw milk; other states take up question

Time was when no state legislature worth its salt would convene until well after mid-January and adjourn by planting season around mid-April. Enough states still adhere to that schedule that calendar that it often prevents someone’s idea from turning into a national movement simply because the clock runs out

This year, raw milk bills in Iowa, Missouri, and Georgia show how hard it is to beat the legislative calendar. Only the Georgia Legislature, adjourned on April 4, managed to get both Houses to pass House Bill (HB) 1175 before the lights went out.

The Legislature on Monday sent the Georgia Dairy Act to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk just before adjournment on a House vote of 110-55 that adopted the final Senate version of the bill.

Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, sponsored the bill setting standards for raw milk to regulate the production, handling, transportation, and sale. The state Commissioner of Agriculture is empowered to enforce standards relating to raw milk and raw milk powers.

Iowa’s legislative session continues until April 19 and Missouri’s until May 20.

The Iowa Senate voted 32-15 on March 10 in favor of Senate File 2309, which sought to allow dairy farmers to sell raw milk directly to consumers, either on the farm through direct deliveries. But nothing much has happened since then — at least in the formal process. Since it passed the Senate, opposition to SF2309 has been lining up.

Wanting the bill killed are the Iowa Public Health Association, Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship; Iowa Institute for Cooperatives, Iowa Environmental Health Association, Iowa State Dairy Association, Iowa Veterinary Medical Association; Iowa Grocery Industry Associaton; Iowa Farm Bureau, and the Iowa Dairy Foods Association.

Coalitions representing pasteurized foods and public health have stopped many raw milk bills in the past, and, in Iowa, such joint efforts appear to be working again.

Iowa permits the sale only Grade “A” pasteurized milk and milk products to the final consumer. Selling unpasteurized, raw milk is a misdemeanor punishable by 30 days in jail, with fines ranging from $105 to $855.

In Missouri, House Bill 1977 went on the “Formal Perfection Calendar” on April 4, for five days. If there are no preliminary objections, the bill may advance to the consent calendar.

That might get HB 1977 out of the Missouri House, but its future n the Senate remains unknown.

The bill would legalize selling “Grade A” retail raw milk and raw cream products made in Missouri at grocery stores, restaurants, soda fountains, and similar establishments.

The raw milk products would be required to post and carry warning labels saying:“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.”

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

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 the 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.

The 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.

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.

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