From the Arkansas Statehouse...

Senate Health Committee: No milk of human kindness for Rep. Martin.

In Commerce, Public Health on 4 February 2009 at 4:53 pm

Moderating its largest pitched battle of the session so far, the Senate Health Committee today declined to allow the sale of small quantities of non-pasteurized milk. Rep. Mark Martin’s bill to allow the sales was opposed by the state Department of Health and a representative from the Dairy Farmers of America. A farmer, a nutritionist and a consumer spoke in favor. Debate lasted over an hour.

Department of Health rules ban the sale of non-pasteurized cow milk. Non-pasteurized goat milk is allowed by statute. Martin’s bill would have authorized the sale of non-pasteurized cow milk in quantities of less than 100 gallons a month.

Though part of the committee’s questioning revolved around health risks non-pasteurized milk poses, it became apparent as discussion progressed that the real struggle was over regulation.

Rep. Martin told the committee that he wants to legalize non-pasteurized milk so its sale could be regulated. He argued that regulation would improve public health.

But Deputy State Health Officer Joe Bates said the Health Department, which would be responsible for supervising non-pasteurized milk sales, could not shoulder the burden of regulation. “We could monitor production, but not sales,” he said. He added that he felt the bill would decrease food safety in Arkansas.

A second representative from the Department of Health echoed Bates’s worries about oversight. “We would not be able to regulate small producers,” he told the committee.

Speakers in favor of the bill argued that the pasteurization process robs milk of essential health benefits. They said they should be able to make decisions about dairy consumption themselves, as do citizens of the 27 states that allow sales of non-pasteurized cow milk.

Though the tone of debate was often impassioned, it remained uncertain whether the bill’s defeat will have any practical impact on the state’s small milk producers.

(Read on for further analysis and for Rep. Martin’s commentary.)

Any sales of unpasteurized milk will continue to occur on an illegal market. Yet there is little indication that the Department of Health will be able to prevent the local sale of unpasteurized milk, particularly in light of the Department’s claim that it cannot regulate small producers.

In fact, the Health Department has not penalized a single producer for selling unpasteurized milk in the past year. Department spokesman Ed Barham said, “We inspect dairy farms and don’t see that happening. We would only know about it if there was a complaint made, and we haven’t had any of those in the past year.”

Rep. Martin was exercised by the outcome of the hearing and lay blame on the Health Department for what he considered unnecessary activism against the bill. He stated to reporters that Arkansas will miss out on a new segment of the economy by not allowing local, organic production. He also dismissed the notion that the Department of Health would be unable to regulate unpasteurized milk.

“This decision is detrimental from the standpoint of not letting free people make free choices,” Rep. Martin said. “This is a time to get angry.”

On the contrary, some observers in the audience were quite lighthearted about the proceeding. Claims could be heard that the committee was milking the issue and that some people were crying over spilled milk.

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  1. […] to allow small batch sales of non-pasteurized cow milk was treated rudely in committee today. John Williams has a full report. The Health Department harrumphed this one […]

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