(Host) The Vermont House debated food safety and consumer choice today as it advanced a bill that would greatly expand sales of raw milk.
Opponents charge that the un-pasteurized product can cause disease. But supporters say the legislation adds new safety regulations and gives a needed boost to local agriculture.
VPR’s John Dillon has more:
(Dillon) The bill allows farmers to sell about 40 gallons of raw milk a day. That’s roughly the output from 10 Jersey cows, and it’s about three times the limit in current law.
New Haven Democrat Christopher Bray said raw milk offers farmers another way to make money. He said farmers now earn about $1.00 a gallon for conventional milk sold to co-ops or milk processors.
(Bray) In contrast, raw milk sells for $6-$10 a gallon. It’s a more limited marketplace but it’s a very positive economic opportunity for Vermont farmers who want to produce it.
(Dillon) But opposition to the bill came from several Franklin County lawmakers. Republican Carolyn Branagan said that un-pasteurized milk poses an unacceptable health risk.
(Branagan) Pasteurization made milk a healthy product. The ingestion of raw milk has the strong possibility of infecting people with life-threatening pathogens like TB, salmonella, listeria and pathogenic E. coli. These are common pathogens in the cattle’s environment, in the barn in the barnyard.
(Dillon) Branagan was concerned that if someone got sick from raw milk, the entire Vermont dairy industry would suffer.
But supporters pointed out the legislation increases state oversight of raw milk through testing and reporting requirements. The product would have to carry a warning label, and only direct sales from farmer to consumer are allowed.
Lyndon Republican Richard Lawrence said the bill was a compromise, reached with the help of the state Agriculture Agency.
(Lawrence) The Agriculture Agency has now become a supporter of this particular bill. Originally it had no interest in it but as we continued to develop criteria to make it what we consider raw milk as a safer product theyt came on board as a partner. We think that is a huge step. I would compare that to the present system, no controls whatsoever.
(Dillon) There’s a growing niche market for raw milk, spurred by consumers who believe it tastes better and that there are health benefits from the un-pasteurized product.
The farm advocacy group Rural Vermont was the prime advocate for the legislation. Director Amy Shollenberger said the legislation should help small-scale farmers.
(Shollenberger) It’s certainly not going to bring a billion dollars into the economy but it might mean that in our communities there are more small farms, and there is more money circulating in the community, and there’s more money going into the farmers’ pockets.
(Dillon) The bill cleared the House on a 96 to 40 vote. It comes up for a final vote Friday. The Senate has not yet acted on the legislation.
For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.