Raw milk bill fizzles, proponent undeterred

Brad Murty drank raw milk for 10 years when he was a child. His family bought it from a neighbor who raised cattle in Toledo where he grew up. It never made him, or anyone in his family, sick.

“Our ancestors have been drinking raw milk for hundreds of years,” he said.

Technically, drinking raw milk, which is a creamier version of its pasteurized counterpart sold in grocery stores, made him an outlaw. In 1987, the Food and Drug Administration ruled that milk must be pasteurized. The process kills dangerous bacteria that can cause severe illness.

From 1998 to 2011, the consumption of raw milk led to 148 outbreaks of food-borne illness, resulting in 2,384 illnesses, 284 hospitalizations and two deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, Murty doesn’t buy what opponents of raw milk are selling. He said drinking raw milk is no more dangerous than eating a rare steak, which is not treated like a crime.

“That is such a lame argument,” he said. “The Amish drink raw milk.”

Murty, who now lives in Conrad, said it is outrageous that the dairy industry is lobbying the FDA to be able to put aspartame, an artificial sweetener, in milk without having to list it on the label, but that consumers do not have the right drink raw milk. If dairy producers begin sweetening milk, he said he will switch back to raw milk.

Rep. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, introduced a House bill that would allow raw milk drinkers to purchase the milk from independent farmers. The bill would not allow for the distribution in retail stores or farmers markets, but would provide access for those who want to buy raw milk. Shultz said he doesn’t want anyone to confuse raw milk with pasteurized milk, but has heard strong support from his constituency for access to it.

“I think that it is ridiculous that the government can stand between citizens and simple milk,” he said. “We have kind of a ridiculous situation with armed police officers raiding milk farms.”

Iowa is one of 10 states where raw milk sale is illegal, according to the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund.

A 2008 survey by the CDC showed that roughly 3 percent of Americans drink raw milk. Iowa’s population, according to the U.S Census Bureau, is just over 3 million. That means, if the CDC’s figure holds true in the state, roughly 92,000 Iowans drink raw milk.

For the fifth year in a row, the bill did not make it out of sub-committee. However, Shultz, who is also the Iowa Local House Government Committee chair, said he is going to continue to introduce bills that address the raw milk issue every year until it gets the support needed for the House to pass it into law.

“For me, this is a freedom and liberty issue,” he said. “We need to put access in the Iowa code.”