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Rhode Island Bill would Legalize Raw Milk; Take Step Toward Nullifying Federal Prohibition

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Jan. 27, 2016) – A Rhode Island bill would legalize raw milk sales in the state, taking an important step toward effectively nullifying a federal prohibition scheme in effect.

A bipartisan coalition of five senators introduced Senate Bill 2092 (S2092) on Jan. 21. The bill would legalize the sale of unpasteurized cow and goat milk. Under the proposed law, dealers or producers selling not more than 20 quarts of raw milk per day directly to consumers would be allowed to operate without a license. Producers and dealers selling higher volumes would be required to obtain a state license.

Under current law, it is illegal to sell raw milk in Rhode Island.

S2092 would also establish sanitary, signage and labeling requirements for raw milk sellers.

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 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.

Legislation like S2092 takes a step toward nullifying this federal prohibition scheme.