April 2, 2006
Knoxnews News Sentinel (TN)
The Associated Press
FRANKLIN, Tenn. – A proposal to allow raw milk sales in Tennessee could put dairy consumers at risk, opponents of a measure moving through the Legislature said Friday.
Supporters say pasteurization’s scalding heat destroys the taste and nutrients. But Bill Mason, executive director of consumer watchdog group Tennessee Citizen Action, calls those claims “anecdotal.”
“There’s just no scientific connection between drinking raw milk and any benefits,” said Mason.
Yet interest in raw, unpasteurized milk has been on the rise nationwide, part of a growing natural foods movement. And similar measures have been approved in more than 20 other states, said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Glen Casada.
The Franklin Republican’s bill would require producers to take a state-approved raw milk safety course. The raw milk also would have to be collected in a sanitary manner, filtered and chilled to below 40 degrees within an hour.
The measure would require warning labels that the raw milk can contain disease-causing microorganisms.
Mason responded that a warning label isn’t good enough to keep consumers from drinking milk potentially laced with Listeria, E. coli or Salmonella.
“There are health problems associated with unpasteurized milk; that’s why we’ve had laws about it for the last half-century,” he said.
Casada said the bill would be “buyer beware” for consumers of raw milk.
“You’re going to know it’s unpasteurized,” he said. “Like all foods, you have the chance to get sick.”
Casada also has written a provision into the bill to prohibit the state from suing farmers who are found to have sold tainted milk.
Citizen Action also takes issue with a provision that would exempt farmers producing less than 100 gallons of milk a year from inspections and other regulations.
“That can certainly be manipulated and certainly isn’t in the best interest of public health,” Mason said.
The measure would also forbid state officials from discussing with the public any farm suspected of causing a regional outbreak.
Casada said that aspect of the bill is to prevent unproven allegations from being spread in the media. Once two independent labs “incontrovertibly” link a farm to the outbreak, the farm could be identified.
“If it’s confirmed, we want the public to know which farmer it was,” he said.
The agriculture committees of both the House and Senate are scheduled to hear the bill Tuesday.