Straight from the udder: North Dakota House passes bill to allow raw milk sales
State health and agriculture officials opposed the bill, noting that unpasteurized milk can carry bacteria, like E. coli and salmonella, that cause serious illnesses.
BISMARCK — A debate over whether dairy farms should be able to sell unpasteurized milk pitted proponents of consumer freedom against advocates for public health.
In the end, the House of Representatives voted 83-10 on Monday, Feb. 20, to approve House Bill 1515, which would allow dairy farms to sell raw milk at their farms. The proposal sponsored by Rep. Dawson Holle, R-Mandan, would prohibit farms from selling the controversial product to grocery stores or wholesalers.
Holle, who works on a family dairy farm, told his colleagues Monday that allowing sales of raw milk could provide a revitalizing boost to a struggling segment of the local agriculture sector. The lawmaker noted that North Dakota dairy farms have been in decline for decades, and producers would fare better with a new source of income.
State health and agriculture officials opposed the bill, saying that unpasteurized milk can carry bacteria, like E. coli and salmonella, that cause serious illnesses. The sale of raw milk is illegal in North Dakota and 22 other states. Minnesota and South Dakota allow farms to sell the product directly to consumers.
Rep. Eric Murphy, R-Grand Forks, sided with public health experts, noting that the consequences of legalizing raw milk "would be an extended bacterial infection, especially in young children, which are difficult to fight."
“The risk is potential death and potential infection that could cause disability or hospitalization,” Murphy said. “There’s virtually zero benefit to raw milk versus drinking pasteurized milk.”
Bill supporter Rep. Jay Fisher, R-Minot, said the legislation "connects a willing buyer with a willing seller," adding that North Dakotans should be trusted to make their own decisions about raw milk.
Rep. Craig Headland, R-Montpelier, said legislators shouldn't be trying to run a "nanny state" where laws are designed to protect residents from themselves.
"Let’s give the people what they’re asking for, and if they don’t want it, they don’t have to buy it," Headland said.
North Dakota lawmakers struck a provision to legalize raw milk from a 2017 bill that expanded the legal sale of home-cooked goods. Holle previously told Forum News Service his bill is a more conservative approach to legalizing the sale of unpasteurized milk since it would only allow purchases on dairy farms.
In a shot at plant-based beverage makers, the House passed legislation earlier this month to define milk as a mammal-derived product. Both milk-related bills will move onto the Senate next month.