State senators Sean Nienow, Gary Dahms, and Claire Robling are pushing legislation to make raw milk more widely available in Minnesota, even though the state health department says drinking it poses a serious health risk.
The bill would allow raw milk sales at farmer's markets and directly to homes. Currently, state law mandates that raw milk--which is unpasteurized--be sold only on the farm where it is produced. So raw milk lovers from the Twin Cities now have to drive hours to pick up their dairy beverage of choice.
"Raw milk is a legal product," Nienow says. "The product itself is legal--it's just the accessibility."[jump]
Last year, the state health department cracked down on illegal raw milk deliveries to Twin Cities drop-off sites last year because the product caused 15 people to fall ill with E-coli and other afflictions.
The state Agriculture Department traced last year's problematic raw milk to Michael Hartmann's farm just south of Gibbons, Minnesota. Eight people who drank Hartmann's raw milk contracted E-coli; seven others suffered diarreah and stomach pain.Inspectors visited Hartmann's farm, declared his production methods unsanitary, and ordered him to stop pumping out his milk and cheese.
Hartmann refused. He is currently in the midst of an ongoing legal battle over the milk.
"Milk and manure are produced at the same end of the cow, so there's always risk of contamination of the milk with pathogens that are found in manure, even under the best of circumstances," says Kirk Smith, supervisor of the Food-Borne Disease Unit at the Minnesota Department of Health. "And really, there are no scientifically documented benefits of drinking raw milk versus pasteurized milk."
The bill has already found an enemy in the Minnesota Milk Producers Association, a trade group for farmers who make traditional pasteurized milk.
Though the bill was just introduced yesterday, it has already lost one of it's original supporters. Sen. Gary Dahms plans to remove his name from the bill on Monday, a staffer in his office said. She said she did not know why.
"My guess would be because there are those who have concerns with the bill," Nienow says. "We'll work with those to address them."
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