Audio: Organizer Says Legislation Would Give North Dakotans Freedom to Buy Foods Like Raw Milk

Rep. Luke Simons, a Republican from Dickinson, drinks raw milk in the floor of the North Dakota House of Representatives. Photo via Facebook

Raw milk, meaning milk that hasn’t been pasteurized, is something some people like to drink. In North Dakota the only legal way to get it is if you are an owner of the animal which produces the milk.

There are things like animal shares which are legal. They’re exactly what they sound like. You purchase a share in an animal and, in exchange, you get access to a certain amount of the milk that animal producers. But that sort of arrangement is clunky and probably not appealing to most consumers.

That’s part of the reason Leeann Harner, a food producer from Harner Farms, supports HB1143 which supporters are calling the North Dakota Food Freedom Act. It was introduced by state Rep. Luke Simons, a Republican from Dickinson currently serving in his first session, and is essentially a copy of similar legislation which has passed in Wyoming (and drawn the ire of the federal government).

“It’s a really cool bill that opens up consumer choice,” Harner told me during an interview today on my radio show (full audio below).

The bill isn’t just about raw milk. It would allow the direct sale of things like baked goods and poultry and, yes, raw milk from producers to consumers. As long as the food “isn’t regulated by the feds,” Harner told me, noting one exception is red meat products.

Not everyone likes the bill. Officials from the Department of Health say they’re worried about direct sales of raw milk:

Kenan Bullinger, director of the division of food and lodging for the North Dakota Department of Health, says the health department will be watching the bill with interest. Supporters of the bill met with representatives from the Department of Agriculture and Department of Health.

“We had a great understanding and thought we could agree to support a cottage food law,” Bullinger says.

However, he has some concerns with the bill as written. The raw milk portion of the bill worries him. Disease outbreaks from raw milk are reported monthly around the country, he said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 26 states reported 81 disease outbreaks from raw milk from 2007 to 2012, causing 979 illnesses and 73 hospitalizations. The CDC also reports the incidence of raw milk-related outbreaks has increased. The majority of outbreaks involved at least one child younger than 5.

“When they added the raw milk thing to it, that’s where we take a little bit of an exception,” Bullinger says.

“We don’t hear about raw milk illnesses in North Dakota,” Harner told me.

Maybe that’s because raw milk direct sales are currently illegal in our state?

But Harner said that “producers have to inform their consumers” that the items they’re being sold are “not inspected.” She also pointed out that thousands of North Dakotans eat foods at pot lucks and bake sales every year with few problems.

“This will shed the light so we can have an open dialogue,” she said.

As of right now the legislation hasn’t been scheduled for a committee hearing.

Our full interview is below:

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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