A bill to legalize the retail sale of unpasteurized raw milk in Rhode Island remains in a Senate committee, which must act on it by April 13 or see it die.
Senate Bill 247 specifies only raw cow’s milk and raw goat’s milk for legalization. It would require warning labels on products and in retail locations that sell unpasteurized milk. Currently Rhode Island law prohibits all sales of raw milk.
Only 10 states allow retail sales of unpasteurized raw milk. Federal law prohibits the interstate sale of raw milk. Local, state and federal public health officials advise against drinking unpasteurized milk because of the high risk of it being contaminated with bacterial pathogens including E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes and Campylobacter.
Republican Sen. Nicholas Kettle introduced the Rhode Island bill one day before the Feb. 16 filing deadline. It is pending before the Senate Environment and Agriculture Committee.
“(The bill) establishes procedures and standards promulgated by the milk commission for the handling and sale of raw milk in the state and would provide civil fines for violations,” according to the so-called plain language version of the two-page bill. Rhode Island law requires all bills include “plain language.”
The bill leaves the mechanics of permits and establishing rules and regulations to the state’s milk commission, but specifically addresses two details — the exact wording for public warnings and a fine structure for people found to be selling raw milk in violation of the new law.
The fines would be a maximum of $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second and $500 for the third. Most raw milk sells for $12 or more per gallon in states where retail sales are allowed.
Producers would be required to include their names, addresses and zip codes on their raw milk labels. They would also have to include the final sell-by date on labels, which could not be more than five days after the retail milk containers were filled.
“All retail containers of raw cow’s or goat’s milk shall be conspicuously labeled with the following statement: ‘Raw milk is not pasteurized. Pasteurization destroys organisms that may be harmful to human health.’ The minimum size of the printed words shall not be less than one-eighth inch in height or twice the height of any other lettering in the label, whichever is greater,” the bill states.
“A sign must be posted in the area where the raw milk is sold and placed in a location where it can be easily observed by anyone entering therein. Such sign shall not be less than 8 inches-by-11 inches in total dimension and shall display the following statement: ‘Raw milk is not pasteurized. Pasteurization destroys organisms that may be harmful to human health.’ The minimum size of the printed words shall not be less than one-half inch in height, with the words ‘not pasteurized’ being not less than one inch in height.”
The Rhode Island Department of Health warns against consuming unpasteurized raw milk because of the risk of bacterial infections. Pasteurizing milk, which involves heating it to a temperature of about 161 degrees for 15 seconds, kills bacteria that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections.
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