Iowa legislature considers legalizing raw milk


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Milk may soon be on the list of raw products Iowans may purchase.

A few weeks ago, a bill was introduced into committee that, if passed, would make it legal for farmers to sell raw milk on their farms. Since then, debate has followed, and the committee heard voices from both sides at a committee meeting Wednesday morning.

“The reason this bill is important is we have a growing constituency in Iowa who wants access to this product,” Rep. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, said.

Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized. In 1987, the Food and Drug Administration mandated that all milk must be pasteurized.

Since then, several states have found ways to make it available to consumers, such as through herd sharing. In herd sharing, a consumer owns a cow and therefore has access to the unpasteurized milk produced from that cow. Iowa currently does not allow consumers any access to raw milk.

Schultz, the committee chairman, said he supports the bill because if consumers can buy raw meat and raw eggs, there is no reason they shouldn’t be able to buy raw milk. 

“It is assumed that it is the final customer’s responsibility to prepare that food,” Schultz said.

Those in opposition to raw milk say the risks are simply too high. The purpose of pasteurization is to kill off dangerous bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli that can be found in raw milk. Without pasteurization, some fear the health risks.

“Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, you’re probably OK,” local farmer Jim Dane said. “I grew up on raw milk. My whole family drank raw milk, and we were fine. What makes me very nervous is it doesn’t take but only one time for the milk to be bad, and that impacts the people who are least able to ward it off.”

Dane said children and the elderly are the ones who are most susceptible to the risks associated with drinking raw milk.

From 1998 through 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saw 148 outbreaks due to consumption of raw milk or raw milk products. These outbreaks resulted in 2,384 illnesses, 284 hospitalizations, and two deaths.

Dane said he fears that if raw milk were legalized in Iowa and sickness were to occur, it would be damaging for the entire dairy industry.

“People are not going to remember the raw part,” he said. “They’ll remember the milk.”

Rachel Moss, a clerk in the University of Iowa Office of Student Financial Aid, said she grew up on raw milk and that when her family’s raw milk was tested, it always contained less bacteria than what was legally allowed after pasteurization.

“I definitely do think that it is a good and helpful product as long as it handled properly,” she said. “The heating for proteins in milk actually makes it less digestible.”

Dairy farmer Jay Hansen said that while some people do have trouble consuming milk, it is not the pasteurization designed to kill bacteria that makes it difficult, but rather the homogenization process. If raw milk is left on its own in a refrigerator the cream and the milk will naturally separate. After pasteurizing, milk is often homogenized to combine the cream and milk elements in a way that can be hard for some to digest.

“We have people who come to us in our retail stores begging us to sell them raw milk,” he said. “We can usually convince them that pasteurized yet un-homogenized milk is probably just as good as raw milk.”

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