PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Mar. 22, 2023) – Last Wednesday, a Rhode Island House Committee held a hearing on a bill that would legalize the sale of raw milk in the state. Passage into law would take an important step toward rejecting a federal prohibition scheme in practice and effect.
Rep. David Place (R) and three fellow Republicans introduced House Bill 5557 (H5557) on Feb. 15 The legislation would amend statutes governing the production and sale of milk to legalize the retail sale of raw milk. Under the proposed law, raw milk could be sold in the state subject to the same regulations and permitting requirements as pasteurized milk.
Under current law, raw milk sales are prohibited although the state allows raw milk distribution through herd-share agreements.
On Mar. 15, the House Health & Human Service Committee held a public hearing and voted to recommend H5557 be held for further study. This means the bill can be brought up for a vote in committee on a future date.
IMPACT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
FDA officials insist that unpasteurized milk poses a health risk because of its susceptibility to contamination from cow manure, a source of E. coli.
“It is the FDA’s position that raw milk should never be consumed,” agency spokeswoman Tamara N. Ward said in November 2011.
The FDA’s position represents more than a matter of opinion. In 1987, the feds implemented 21 CFR 1240.61(a), providing that, “no person shall cause to be delivered into interstate commerce or shall sell, otherwise distribute, or hold for sale or other distribution after shipment in interstate commerce any milk or milk product in final package form for direct human consumption unless the product has been pasteurized.”
Not only do the feds ban the transportation of raw milk across state lines; they also claim the authority to ban unpasteurized milk within the borders of a state.
“It is within HHS’s authority…to institute an intrastate ban [on unpasteurized milk] as well,” FDA officials wrote in response to a Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund lawsuit against the agency over the interstate ban.
The FDA clearly wants a complete prohibition of raw milk and some insiders say it’s only a matter of time before the feds try to institute an absolute ban. Armed raids by FDA agents on companies like Rawsome Foods back in 2011 and Amish farms over the last few years also indicate this scenario may not be too far off.
When states allow the sale of raw milk within their borders, it takes an important step toward nullifying this federal prohibition scheme.
As we’ve seen with marijuana and industrial hemp, an intrastate ban becomes ineffective when states ignore it and pass laws encouraging the prohibited activity anyway. The federal government lacks the enforcement power necessary to maintain its ban, and people will willingly take on the small risk of federal sanctions if they know the state will not interfere. This increases when the state actively encourages the market and nullifies federal prohibition in effect.
We’ve seen this demonstrated dramatically in states that have legalized industrial hemp. When they authorized production, farmers began growing industrial hemp, even in the face of a federal ban. Despite facing the possibility of federal prosecution, some growers were still willing to step into the void and begin cultivating the plant once the state removed its barriers.
In the same way, removing state barriers to raw milk consumption, sale and production would undoubtedly spur the creation of new markets for unpasteurized dairy products, no matter what the feds claim the power to do.
It could ultimately nullify the interstate ban as well. If all 50 states allow raw milk, markets within the states could easily grow to the point that local sales would render the federal ban on interstate commerce pointless. And history indicates the feds do not have the resources to stop people from transporting raw milk across state lines – especially if multiple states start legalizing it. Growing markets will quickly overwhelm any federal enforcement attempts.
H5557 needs to be brought up for a vote in the House Health & Human Service Committee and pass with a majority vote in order to continue on in the legislative process.