In a place where drive-thru daiquiris are legal and guns are loosely regulated, it seems silly that buying and selling something as natural as raw milk is criminal. But purchasing and vending non-pasteurized milk — pasteurization is the heating process that kills pathogens — is against the law in Louisiana and has been for decades. The product is legal or unregulated in some form or fashion in 41 of 50 states and wholly prohibited in Washington., D.C., Hawaii, Nevada, Montana, Iowa, Maryland, West Virginia, New Jersey, Delaware and Louisiana.
States such as Arizona, South Carolina and Maine allow for retail sales — for example, you can go to your local grocer and pick up a gallon from the dairy section — while other states like Tennessee, Colorado and Arkansas allow raw milk sales via farm shares (e.g. a consumer subscribes to the farmer’s products and gets the goods straight from the farmer). Other states have quirkier laws but do not outright ban the product; for instance, Rhode Island and Kentucky allow raw goat milk sales, but only to those with a doctor’s prescription (farmtoconsumer.org). With the local, unprocessed foods movement rapidly growing throughout the United States, raw milk, which contains more healthy bacteria and enzymes than its processed counterpart, will likely become more widely available for retail sale in the coming years.
In Louisiana, two local foods leaders have teamed up (for the second year in a row) with hopes that Louisiana will be the next state to legalize the sale of goat and whole raw milk from a farmer to a consumer. Daphne Olivier, owner/dietician at My Food Coach, and Sierra Majors, a sustainable, grass-fed cattle farmer, are working with Sen. Eric LaFleur of Ville Platte on a 2015 bill that will legalize farmer-to-consumer sales of unpasteurized milk produced in a hygienic, sustainable way.
“I didn’t know that raw milk was illegal here until I went to buy it,” says Majors, a mother of two who began acquiring cows as a way to provide raw milk for her family. “I couldn’t buy milk for my own family! I got into this initiative and starting milking and raising my own cows because I believe having nutrient-dense, conscientiously raised, raw milk should be a basic right. I was fortunate that I wanted to have [raw] milk and I had this land. But I have plenty of girlfriends who live in a subdivision, and their families should have the same rights that my family has.”
Olivier and Majors met through their involvement with the Lafayette chapter of the nutrition education non-profit organization, Weston A. Price Foundation, and first began their efforts in legalizing raw milk last year when they worked as unpaid lobbyists with State Reps. Stephen Ortego of Carencro and Mike Danahay of Sulphur (authors of the 2014 bill). The 2014 raw milk bill successfully passed through the House of Representatives, but died in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. Because of the support from the House, Olivier and Majors will first introduce the bill in the Senate this year.
Opponents of the raw milk initiative most commonly cite health concerns associated with the product, though there have been no deaths associated with liquid raw milk in a decade or more (up to three decades, according to some sources). Milk pasteurization began in the early 1900s when diseases like tuberculosis, typhoid fever and diphtheria were abundant as a result of poor hygiene in food production and when processed foods and mass food production were becoming more common yet still lacked regulation. Publications like Upton Sinclaire’s The Jungle made consumers and lawmakers aware of the unhealthy conditions surrounding industrialized food production. As a result, the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act was introduced and became a catalyst for government regulation of our foods. Despite government oversight, listeria and other food-borne illnesses continue to affect consumers, even in legal foods.
“Sanitation practices need to be employed in all raw and processed foods, and we think raw milk is no different,” says Olivier.
There is no doubt to anyone on either side of the raw milk debate that unpasteurized milk can be harmful to health; hence the raw milk bill. The bill regulates raw milk processing procedures (chemical, biological and temperature standards), extraction methodologies (e.g. equipment sanitation) and milking environment (e.g. specifications for the environment in which the livestock is milked) to ensure healthy production practices. The bill also mandates annual and/or semi-annual testing of the livestock for E. coli, salmonella, campylobacter and listeria monocytogenes pathogens, and it prohibits the feeding of animals or animal by-products to the lactating livestock. The proposed legislation requires somatic cell testing and sets overall limits on bacterial and coliform counts, among other molecular and cellular standards. And to ensure production is manageable and affordable to a small farmer, the bill caps the amount of raw milk produced.
For proponents of the bill, the availability of raw milk means a tastier, healthier and humanely made product.
“On a personal level, I like the availability of farm fresh products, milk included,” says Grant Cannatella, owner/chef at Cannatella’s grocery and restaurant in Mellville. “I like it not so much for use in the business, but at home, for cheese and cream sauces. In making cheese, you have a much better end result. It’s the cheese I remember as a kid that my grandmother and great-aunts make — far superior in texture and taste. It’s wholesome, especially the way that [Sierra] raises her small herd of cattle. She takes great care of the animals, they live a good life. It’s organic and healthy the way our ancestors used to use the product. There are health hazards with every food product, but you need to know your farmer and know where your food is coming from.”
Interested in voicing your opinion or learning more about the 2015 Louisiana raw milk bill, contact your legislators, both senators and representatives, and ask them to support the bill.