Bipartisan vote crushes Virginia bill to legalize raw milk sales

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Republicans and Democrats joined forces in a committee of the Virginia House of Delegates to defeat an attempt to legalize the sale of raw, unpasteurized milk by a vote of more than two to one.

The 6-15 vote against House Bill 2030 saw all six votes in favor cast by Republican members of the Committee for Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources. One committee member, Republican James Morefield, did not vote on the bill.

Republicans Nicholas Freitas, Robert Marshall sponsored the bill, which would have allowed direct-to-consumer sales of raw milk and other uninspected, uncertified and unregulated foods at farmers markets, on farms or at producers’ homes.

Of those voting against the bill, eight were Republicans and seven were Democrats. Those 15 delegates came down on the same side of the issue as their state’s public health and agriculture departments.

Virginia’s Department of Health and Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services are both on record warning the public against consuming unpasteurized, raw milk. That’s also the view of the federal Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Among the frequently asked raw milk questions addressed on the Virginia health department website is the most basic of queries: “It is safe for me and my family to begin consuming raw milk?” The health department does not quibble in answering — “No.”

“Realize that the risk of drinking raw milk far outweighs any reward you could obtain from consuming it,” according to the Virginia Department of Health. “There are a plethora of bacteria that could cause harm to you and your family to include: Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli, Campylobacter, Salmonella or Listeria.

“Young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems have a greater chance of getting ill from drinking raw milk. This doesn’t mean that anyone else is not any less susceptible to the dangers of raw milk but it certainly means to steer clear of serving it to your children, as kids are naturally the most common consumers of milk products.

“The dangers of raw milk range from gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps to more serious problems to include kidney failure, chronic illnesses, paralysis and possibly death. We will say it again: THE RISK IS NOT WORTH THE ‘REWARD’.”

A spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services told ConnectionNewspapers.com that statistics from outbreaks show the dangers to public health that raw milk presents.

Elaine Lidholm cited a March 2016 outbreak of E. coli infections that sickened 14 people, including 12 children. The outbreak was traced to unpasteurized milk distributed through a cow-share program in Virginia. Cow- and herd-share programs allow people to pay a dairy and receive unpasteurized milk direct from the producer.

“Seven of these persons were hospitalized; three of whom were diagnosed with hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can lead to life-threatening kidney failure,” Lidholm told ConnectionNewspapers.com. “One of those diagnosed patients required dialysis.”

The Virginia health department also cites outbreak statistics on its raw milk information page. From 2006-2013, according to the department, there were:

  • 99 outbreaks from unpasteurized milk products;
  • 995 people were sickened;
  • 77 people required hospitalization;
  • 79 percent of the outbreaks were from states that allow the sale of raw milk;
  • 69 outbreaks were in states with some form of legal raw milk sales; and
  • 14 outbreaks were in states where it is against the law to sell raw milk.

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