Vow to revive raw milk efforts
Dairy group says current rules meet needs of consumers and producers
By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- The author of a defeated bill that would have provided farmers and consumers more freedom to buy and sell raw milk has vowed to bring it back.
"Assuming I'm re-elected, I will bring it back next year," said Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens.
Barbieri's proposed bill would have made it easier for Idaho dairy producers to sell raw milk directly to consumers at the retail level, but it died early in the legislative process when the House Agricultural Affairs Committee rejected it Feb. 6.
However, Barbieri said his proposal was driven by consumer demand and consumers will keep demanding more choice on the issue.
"The general trend, which is being driven by consumer demand, is toward deregulating the retail sale of raw milk," he said. "The informed consumer wants more choice."
Idaho's current raw milk rules were approved by the Idaho Legislature last year following a two-year negotiation process involving parties on both sides of the issue. The rules grant a small-herd exemption that allows the production and sale of raw milk products by operations with no more than three lactating cows, seven lactating goats or seven lactating sheep.
It also contains a cow-share provision that allows for the consumption of raw milk by members of co-ops consisting of no more than seven cows, 15 sheep or 15 goats.
The rules require testing for brucellosis and tuberculosis on an annual basis and monthly tests for antibiotics, coliform and other bacteria.
Barbieri said the current regulations are too restrictive and his bill essentially eliminates a layer of regulations "to allow consumers more choice. It's freeing it up so they don't have to have actual ownership in cattle (or) go to a special place to get raw milk."
He said his proposal retains current inspection requirements.
The bill was opposed by the Idaho Dairymen's Association, which presented lawmakers with a letter saying Idaho's current rules were proactive in allowing the direct sale of raw milk, a practice which it notes is illegal in 20 states.
The letter said the current rules provide adequate protection for consumers, the Idaho dairy industry and raw milk producers.
It also points out that three operations were actively seeking a raw milk permit prior to the new rule while 80 have a permit now, which it claims is proof the new rule is working.
The House committee killed the bill after voicing safety concerns.
"Milk is dangerous if it's not handled properly," said Rep. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, who made the motion that killed the bill in its infancy.
Barbieri said that's a misstatement of the facts.
Pathogens can be introduced to any type of milk, he said, but "raw milk is no more susceptible to bacteria than any other milk product. It's a very safe product."