Deep-pocketed national organizations representing big dairy have thrown their political clout behind efforts to kill a bill that would legalize limited raw milk sales in Montana
Last week, the National Milk Producers Federation and the International Dairy Foods Association sent a 26-page document to members of the Senate Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation Committee urging them to kill House Bill 325 (HB325).
“Due to the significant public health risks associated with the consumption of raw milk, the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) respectfully urge that you oppose HB 325, legislation designed to allow the sale of unpasteurized milk in Montana. HB 325 would remove existing regulations prohibiting the direct sale of raw milk, consumption of which has been opposed by every major health organization in the United States, including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.”
The Arlington, Va. based National Milk Producers Federation “develops and carries out policies that advance the well-being of dairy producers and the cooperatives they own.” According to its website, the members of NMPF’s cooperatives produce the majority of the U.S. milk supply, making the organization “the voice of dairy producers on Capitol Hill and with government agencies.” The D.C. based International Dairy Foods Association represents the nation’s dairy manufacturing and marketing industries, and their suppliers – the corporate side of the dairy industry.
In other words, these two organizations exist to use government power to advance the economic interests of their members – not protect the health and welfare of Montanans.
The goal of the NMPF and IDFA is to criminalize their competition.
According to conventional wisdom, government regulations serve to protect the hapless consumer. In fact, corporate interests often use these regulations to crush competition. Big dairy does not want consumers to have access to a raw milk that competes with the pasteurized milk it sells. To stop it, the industry has set out to legislate small dairy farmers who simply want to provide raw milk many consumers want out of existence.
The battle to legalize raw milk in Montana pits these corporate Goliaths against the epitome of grassroots activism.
Chris Rosenau has been on the forefront of the raw milk legalization efforts in Montana for five years.
“I’m not even a milk drinker. The reason I’m doing this is because it’s not the government’s right to decide what’s best for me and my family,” she said.
Rosenau doesn’t have a Washington D.C. office or a big lobbying budget. She works out of her own home and attends legislative hearings on her own dime. She said NMPF and IDFA’s opposition isn’t about health and safety.
“This is nothing but fear-mongering. The milk industry is trying to protect its own turf. The truth is that more and more conventional dairies are failing. Fewer and fewer people can tolerate pasteurized milk. They want to return to food that is not processed or altered from its natural state. The industry doesn’t want to have to compete with that, so they want to use the government to shut it down.”
Sponsored by Rep. Nancy Ballance (R-Hamilton), HB325 would authorize limited sales of raw milk from producer to consumer. Under the proposed law, a “small dairy,” would not be required to obtain a license to produce dairy products. This would allow them to sell raw milk direct to the consumer. The bill defines a small dairy as a place with no more than five lactating cows, 10 lactating goats or 10 lactating sheep.
The sale of raw milk is currently banned under Montana law.
The House has already passed HB325 by a 69-30 vote.
Impact on Federal Prohibition
FDA officials insist that unpasteurized milk poses a health risk because of its susceptibility to contamination from cow manure, a source of E. coli.
“It is the FDA’s position that raw milk should never be consumed,” agency spokeswoman Tamara N. Ward said in November 2011.
The FDA’s position represents more than a matter of opinion. In 1987, the feds implemented 21 CFR 1240.61(a), providing that, “no person shall cause to be delivered into interstate commerce or shall sell, otherwise distribute, or hold for sale or other distribution after shipment in interstate commerce any milk or milk product in final package form for direct human consumption unless the product has been pasteurized.”
Not only do the feds ban the transportation of raw milk across state lines, they also claim the authority to ban unpasteurized milk within the borders of a state.
“It is within HHS’s authority…to institute an intrastate ban [on unpasteurized milk] as well,” FDA officials wrote in response to a Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund lawsuit against the agency over the interstate ban.
The FDA clearly wants complete prohibition of raw milk and some insiders say it’s only a matter of time before the feds try to institute an absolute ban. Armed raids by FDA agents on companies like Rawsome Foods back in 2011 and Amish farms over the last few years also indicate this scenario may not be too far off.
Legislation like HB325 takes a step toward nullifying this federal prohibition scheme.
As we’ve seen with marijuana and industrial hemp, an intrastate ban becomes ineffective when states ignore it and pass laws encouraging the prohibited activity anyway. The federal government lacks the enforcement power necessary to maintain its ban, and people will willingly take on the small risk of federal sanctions if they know the state will not interfere. This increases when the state actively encourages the market and nullifies federal prohibition in effect.
We’ve seen this demonstrated dramatically in states that have legalized industrial hemp. When they authorized production, farmers began growing industrial hemp, even in the face of a federal ban. Despite facing the possibility of federal prosecution, some growers were still willing to step into the void and begin cultivating the plant once the state removed its barriers.
In the same way, removing state barriers to raw milk consumption, sale and production would undoubtedly spur the creation of new markets for unpasteurized dairy products, no matter what the feds claim the power to do.
It could ultimately nullify the interstate ban as well. If all 50 states allow raw milk, markets within the states could easily grow to the point that local sales would render the federal ban on interstate commerce pointless. And history indicates the feds do not have the resources to stop people from transporting raw milk across state lines – especially if multiple states start legalizing it. Growing markets will quickly overwhelm any federal enforcement attempts.
A hearing for HB325 is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation Committee on Tuesday, March 21. With big corporate interests fighting to kill the bill, it is imperative that Montanans contact the committee members and urge them to pass this legislation. You can find contact information HERE.
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