Under the Dome

NC House panel votes to legalize raw milk through ‘cow shares’

Portia McKnight connects the milking apparatus to one of the cows at the Chapel Hill Creamery Farm. The N.C. House is looking to legalize raw, unpasteurized milk for human consumption.
Portia McKnight connects the milking apparatus to one of the cows at the Chapel Hill Creamery Farm. The N.C. House is looking to legalize raw, unpasteurized milk for human consumption. Staff photo by Chris Seward

The N.C. House Health Committee voted Monday to legalize raw, unpasteurized milk despite safety concerns from the N.C. Department of Agriculture.

If House Bill 309 becomes law, raw milk wouldn’t be available on grocery store shelves. Instead, consumers could purchase “cow shares” allowing them to obtain raw milk directly from dairy farms.

“Natural milk is a healthy, natural food commodity that has been around for millennia, and it is safe when handled properly to consume,” said the bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Dennis Riddell of Alamance County.

Riddell stressed that his bill wouldn’t allow for the sale of raw milk. “If you want to purchase and consume natural milk without being a criminal, you can purchase a share in a cow or a herd,” he said. “You’d be consuming it from your own animal.”

The raw milk bill cleared the Health Committee on a split voice vote after opponents said raw milk would likely make people sick.

Joe Reardon, the state’s assistant agriculture commissioner for consumer protection, said unpasteurized milk has caused pregnant women to have miscarriages, and it also can make kids sick.

“This is a very, very important bill around public health,” Reardon said. “The impact to expectant mothers and small children is very significant.”

The N.C. Dairy Producers Association is also opposing the bill. “Health records indicate higher outbreaks of illnesses in states allowing raw milk dispersal,” said Malarie Robins, a spokeswoman for the group. “Pasteurized milk has been mandated to protect the public health.”

But Riddell said raw milk is legal in 30 states “without any problems.” He pointed out that North Carolina already allows raw milk sales for consumption by pets.

“It’s human beings that are consuming it,” he said. “There’s not that many Fluffies and Fidos out there consuming it.”

Other House members also dismissed the safety concerns. “My Grandma Pendleton gave me whole milk, taught me how to milk, and I’m still alive,” said Rep. Gary Pendleton, a Raleigh Republican.

The raw milk bill must also get a favorable vote from the House Agriculture Committee before it heads to the floor.

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