ND bill would allow raw milk sales despite ‘inherent risks’

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A North Dakota bill that would allow producers to sell unpasteurized, raw milk direct to consumers says dairies won’t have to do anything to control “the inherent risks” and that people who buy the milk “assume the inherent risks,” including death.

Sponsored by nine state representatives and two state senators — all Republicans — House Bill 1433 is pending before the state Legislative Assembly’s Joint Agriculture Committee. It approved by a majority of the committee members, the measure will begin moving through the lawmaking process.

Currently the direct sale of raw milk in North Dakota is not allowed. However, since 2013, people who make payments for a share in a cow or a herd can receive raw milk for their personal consumption.

Federal law prohibits the sale of unpasteurized, raw milk across state lines. The reason, supported by data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, is the “inherent risk” referenced in the North Dakota bill — also known as bacteria.

The North Dakota Department of Health has a standing public warning about the documented dangers of drinking unpasteurized raw milk, which is particularly hazardous for young children, pregnant or nursing women, the elderly and anyone with a suppressed immune system.

“Drinking raw milk means taking a real risk of getting very sick,” according to the North Dakota health warning.

“The number of disease-causing germs in the raw milk to be too low to make a person sick for a long time, and later high enough to make the same person seriously ill.

“While it is possible to get foodborne illnesses from many different foods, raw milk is one of the riskiest of all. Getting sick from raw milk can cause diarrhea, stomach cramping and vomiting. Less commonly, it can lead to kidney failure, paralysis, chronic disorders and even death.”

From 2009-2012, the state documented 15 cases of bacterial infections among people who reported drinking raw milk before becoming ill. Twelve were Campylobacter, two were E. coli and one was Salmonella.

Nationwide, statistics from the CDC show at least 148 foodborne illness outbreaks traced to unpasteurized raw milk from 1998-2011. The outbreaks caused 2,384 confirmed illnesses, 284 hospitalizations and two deaths, the CDC reports.

Although North Dakota’s HB 1433 does not specify what the “inherent risks” of raw milk are, it does require producers to tell people buying raw milk that it hasn’t been inspected.

“The producer shall inform the end consumer that any food product or food sold under this section is not certified, labeled, licensed, packaged, regulated, or inspected,” HB 1433 states.

The bill also specifically bans any attempts by state agencies or local government to require warning labels for unpasteurized milk.

“… a state agency or political subdivision may not require licensure, permitting, certification, inspection, packaging, or labeling that pertains to the preparation, serving, use, consumption, or storage of foods or food products under this section.”

Some proponents of unpasteurized, raw milk believe the heat used to pasteurize milk and kill bacteria decreases the nutritional value. Others don’t have strong opinions about the nutritional value, but rather see the issue as one of individual freedom.

Both North Dakota’s public health officials and those at the federal level in the FDA and CDC are firmly on record regarding the impact of pasteurization on the nutritional value of milk.

“There are no health benefits from drinking raw milk that cannot be obtained from drinking pasteurized milk that is free of disease-causing bacteria. The process of pasteurization of milk has never been found to be the cause of chronic diseases, allergies, or developmental or behavioral problems,” according to the North Dakota health department website, which echoes statements from the FDA and CDC.

Sponsors of the North Dakota bill to legalize direct-to-consumer sales of unpasteurized, raw milk are: Reps. Luke Simmons, Rick C. Becker, Daniel Johnston, Dwight Kiefert, Kim Koppelman, Jeffery Magrum, Christopher Olson, Mike Schatz and Nathan Toman; and Sens. Oley Larsen and Jordan Kannianen.

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