Montana House committee OKs raw milk bill by 12-11 vote

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A bill that would allow the sale of unpasteurized raw milk in Montana is scheduled for a second reading before the state’s full House of Representatives today after earning committee approval by a one-vote margin.

The House has until March 30 to advance Rep. Nancy Ballance’s House Bill 325 to the Montana Senate for consideration. Balance, a Republican, enjoyed strong partisan support in the Agriculture Committee, which voted 12-11 on Thursday to advance her bill to the full House.

Of the 23 committee members — 13 Republicans and 10 Democrats — only three crossed the aisle on the bill, which would allow herd-share and direct-to-consumer sales of unpasteurized raw milk, despite strong opposition from public health officials.

Rep. Gordon Pierson, one of two vice chairmen of the committee, was the only Democrat to vote in favor of the bill. Reps. Wendy Mckamey and Walt Sales, both Republicans, broke ranks and voted against the bill.

The bill, similar to ones filed in 2013 an 2015 by Ballance, 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.

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 Department of Public Health and Human Services website also flatly states “Montana should continue to prohibit the sale of non-pasteurized milk products.”

CDC-raw-milk-outbreak-mapAs 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.”

The House committee members voted on the raw milk bill as follows:

Voting yes:

  • Rep. Fred Anderson (R)
  • Rep. Becky Beard (R)
  • Rep. Bill Harris (R)
  • Rep. Dennis Lenz (R)
  • Rep. Dale Mortensen (R)
  • Rep. James O’hara (R)
  • Rep. Gordon Pierson (D) — vice chairman
  • Rep. Alan Redfield (R) — chairman
  • Rep. Vince Ricci (R)
  • Rep. Lola Sheldon-Galloway (R)
  • Rep. Scott Staffanson (R) — vice chairman
  • Rep. Peggy Webb (R)

Voting no:

  • Rep. Jacob Bachmeier (D)
  • Rep. Bryce Bennett (D)
  • Rep. Willis Curdy (D)
  • Rep. John L Fleming (D)
  • Rep. Moffie Funk (D)
  • Rep. Jim Hamilton (D)
  • Rep. Wendy Mckamey (R)
  • Rep. Andrea Olsen (D)
  • Rep. Zac Perry (D)
  • Rep. Walt Sales (R)
  • Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy (D)

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