Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina residents might soon be able to buy part ownership of a cow – or an entire herd – to get access to raw milk for themselves and their families.
House Bill 309, which passed the House Health Committee on Monday afternoon, would allow so-called "cow shares" in the state, which was legal until 2004, said sponsor Rep. Dennis Riddell, R-Alamance. Part-owners would then be able to get around state regulations that prohibit the sale of unpasteurized milk, he said.
The end run around the raw milk ban is the point of the bill, said Riddell, who derided the concept and current efforts by people to evade it.
"Natural milk is a healthy, natural food commodity that has been around for millennia, and it is safe, when handled properly, to consume," he said.
State law allows the purchase of raw milk to feed animals, and Riddell said many people buy it under the guise of pet food so they can drink it themselves.
"There's just not that many Fluffies and Fidos out there consuming raw milk," he said.
Thirty states already allow the consumption of raw milk, he said, noting that South Carolina allows it to be sold in stores.
Joe Reardon, assistant commissioner of the Consumer Protection Division of the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, warned about the potential of disease outbreaks if raw milk is made more accessible. He cited five North Carolina women who miscarried in 2000 after contracting listeriosis from unpasteurized milk and an E.coli outbreak two years ago in Tennessee, which allows cow shares.
Bill supporter Ruth Ann Foster of Greensboro said disease outbreaks are often wrongly attributed to milk, noting the listeriosis cases in 2000 occurred at a time of a nationwide recall of contaminated hotdogs that might have sickened the women.
"Pasteurization is no guarantee," Foster said.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cataloged only 1,360 cases of illness linked to raw milk from 1998 to 2009, a period in which about 9 million annually were drinking it, Riddell said.
"Why is natural milk the only illegal food in North Carolina?" he asked.
Despite some lawmakers' concerns over legal liability if someone who could legally drink raw milk serves it to someone else who becomes sick, the committee passed the bill on a voice vote. It still must clear the House Agriculture Committee before going before the full House.