Montana Legislature

Mar 27, 2013 1:08 PM by Bernie Riggs - MTN News

Montana 'raw milk' bill stirs debate

VICTOR - Would you drink milk straight from the cow?

Some diary farmers think it should be up to you, not the government. It's a debate, and it's a bill, that's moving forward in the state legislature in Helena.

Supporters of House Bill 574 say the measure would mean less government regulation and more opportunity for consumers, as well as for local farmers.

"We should be able to decide what we want to put into our own bodies, and the government doesn't really need to protect us from ourself, so I'd like to make it possible for us to be able to go down the road to somebody who has a cow and say 'Can I buy a gallon of milk?'," said Chris Rosenau who helped draft the measure.

The bill would mean that small farm owners could end up with some extra cash, but some producers are worried that the lack of regulations could end up hurting the dairy market.

"It scares me a little bit to think that a farmer could milk 15 cows, produce 75 to 80 gallons of milk a day, sell that to 75 to 80 families a day, which in essence feeds 200 to 300 people, everyday, and have no inspections. If one farmer makes a mistake it gives milk a bad rap," said David Lewis, the owner of Big Creek Dairy.

Lewis says as a Grade A dairy, he pays about $12,000 a year in inspection fees for his 270 head of dairy cows. As HB 574 stands currently, no testing is required for producers with 15 head or less, only a warning label is required.

"The warning labels to me are great because it lets people know this is a raw product and you need to handle it properly and to me that's all you need is for people to be aware and be able to buy what they want to buy," Rosenau stated.

"If the milk's really clean, I don't have a problem with it. Do you know if the milk's really clean? That's probably my concern with raw milk. Know your source, and I guess let your conscience be your guide," Lewis said.

Montana law currently allows anyone to consume raw milk. However when cash exchanges hands, that's when it becomes illegal.

There's more debate scheduled for House Bill 574 in the Senate Agricultural Committee.

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