Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina residents would be able to buy raw, unpasteurized milk under a bill filed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers.
The measure was filed by Reps. Dennis Riddell, R-Alamance, Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, Edgar Starnes, R-Caldwell, and Jo Sam Queen, D-Haywood. It would allow residents to buy shares in a lactating animal in order to obtain its unpasteurized milk.
Pasteurization is a process through which heat is applied to milk in order to kill bacteria and other contaminants. According to the U.S.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, unpasteurized raw milk can spread salmonella, Campylobacter and other diseases. Raw milk can be sold in North Carolina but only for animal feed and only if marked and dyed in order to discourage human consumption.
However, some natural food advocates extol what they see as the health benefits of not subjecting milk to pasteurization. They have pushed for a number of raw milk legalization measures over the past decade, none of which have passed.
"It became an interest to me when a Christian ministry I represent in Alamance County asked me about it," Riddle said. The ministry wanted to train missionaries to keep live animals and use their milk. Health officials, he said, told them they could not.
That initial spark lead to more research he said.
"It's about the only food I can think of that's illegal," Riddle said. Some people grew up drinking raw milk and like it, he said. Other simply like it better or think it's healthier. His bill, Riddle said, would simply give them to choice of what to consume.
Health and agriculture officials warn that choice is risky.
"There's a lot of evidence that raw milk can be dangerous," said Brian Long, a spokesman for the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. He said the department has not seen the bill filed Wednesday but said generally the department has supported the existing ban on the consumption of raw milk.
"I'm not choosing a fight with the Department of Agriculture," Riddle said. But he pointed out that farmers are allowed to consume raw milk collected on their farms. "If we're concerned about health, aren't we concerned about the farmers' health?"
State Health and Human Services officials have also warned that consuming raw milk can be dangerous.
A 2012 CDC study found 121 disease outbreaks caused by dairy products between 1993 and 2006. "The researchers found that 60 percent of the outbreaks were caused by raw milk products, which also include cheese and yogurt. Also, nearly all the hospitalizations (200 of 239) were in those sickened by raw milk," according to CBS news.