The state House is set to consider a measure that allows the sale of raw milk. House Bill 150, which would make it legal to sell raw milk in Delaware, was released from the House Agriculture Committee June 12.
Raw milk is any milk product that has not been pasteurized. Critics of the measure say raw milk causes illness and poses a public health risk, but many families say they prefer raw milk because it preserves milk's natural bacteria.
Proponents of the legislation dispute the dangers; they say raw milk should be available to those who choose to drink it.
In a statement, Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee said, “Raw milk is unsafe and a public health risk, and Delaware dairy farmers are not asking to sell it. They understand the substantial benefits of pasteurization and the danger that raw milk holds, especially for children. We look forward to continuing this discussion and sharing our concerns, which are also held by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the American Farm Bureau Federation."
He said raw milk can contain E. coli, listeria or salmonella bacteria, which can lead to stomach distress and hospitalization. Pasteurization kills these bacteria, he said. None of the state's 50 dairies have contacted the department asking that raw milk sales be allowed, Kee said.
On its website, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention states, “Raw milk can carry harmful bacteria and other germs that can make you very sick or kill you. While it is possible to get food-borne illnesses from many different foods, raw milk is one of the riskiest of all."
Mary Ann Warren of Rustic Acres Farm Market and Rehoboth Dairy, which sells pasteurized milk to residents, said if the measure passes, she would not sell raw milk.
“We've had some people come in and ask about raw milk, but I don't know if they were residents or from the government testing me,” Warren said. “I think there is probably a market for raw milk, but because of the safety concerns, I think residents are better off with pasteurized milk.”
Warren said she was raised on raw milk and could probably drink it without getting sick, but she said others who never built up those antibodies by drinking raw milk could get sick.
“I think they are trying to bring it here because Pennsylvania sells it,” Warren said. “I don't think we have it here because of public safety. The state requires milk to be pasteurized, and now that we have our pasteurization equipment in place we will keep using it.”
Warren milks about 45 cows north of Rehoboth Beach and sells Amish cheese and butter, 24 kinds of Pocomoke City ice cream, cage-free eggs and meat products.
More than half of the states in the nation allow raw milk sales, including Pennsylvania. In Maryland, raw milk sales are illegal. In 2012, a Pennsylvania dairy was cited for selling raw milk that made 43 people ill, including four in Maryland. At the time, a federal judge forced the Pennsylvania dairy operated by Daniel Allgyer to stop selling raw milk to a buyers club in Washington, D.C., which distributed the milk.
Raw milk fans deny safety issues
Proponents for raw milk, including the Delaware Alliance for Raw Milk, say raw milk is safe to consume, citing the National Farmers Union, which recently endorsed the sale of raw milk.
Chad Snader of Harrington, a member of the alliance, supports the sale of raw milk and brought his interest in raw milk to Rep. Bobby Outten, R-Harrington, lead sponsor on the bill.
Snader, who is interested in selling raw cow's milk in Delaware, said there is a lot of misinformation about raw milk. He has consumed raw milk for years and never had a problem.
He said information that raw milk caused two deaths from 1993 to 2011 is inaccurate. He said he has documentation from the CDC stating the raw milk was not responsible for deaths.
“People can get listeria from eating spinach,” Snader said. “The incidences of listeria illness through raw milk is very low.”
Snader said a working group in Michigan, where raw milk legislation was passed this year, looked at two years of data on food-borne illnesses and found that raw milk is one of the safest things to drink. Snader also cited a June 11 Wall Street Journal article that discusses information published in the Journal of Food Protection showing that raw milk is a low-risk food.
“In my personal experience drinking raw milk helped me lower my blood pressure and lose weight,” Snader said. “I had allergy-induced asthma so I was using Allegra and an albuterol inhaler. I couldn't exercise. Now, after drinking raw milk for years, I am off the medicine and can exercise and breathe fine.”
Snader said drinking raw milk is a personal choice, just like drinking any dairy products at all. He said if the bill is passed, residents can choose to buy raw milk from an on-farm store or they can choose not to, but he said the choice should be available.
“It's just adding another option for people,” he said.
The legislation does not include any specific information about how raw milk would be permitted or enforced. If the bill is passed, the Delaware Department of Agriculture and state health officials would develop new regulations. Only those dairies with a raw milk permit would be allowed to sell raw milk products in the state.
“Unpasteurized milk is essentially a nectar from a mother to a child, designed to build the immune system,” Snader said. “The healthy bacteria and enzymes build your immune system. When you don't pasteurize, you get those benefits, just like a newborn.”
Sen. Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View, a cosponsor of the bill, did not return calls for comment at press time.
For more information on House Bill 150, click on House Ready List at legis.delaware.gov.