By Pete Kennedy, Esq.
On April 12 Arkansas Governor Mike Beebee signed into law HB 1536, a bill allowing the “incidental sale” of raw milk. Under the new law, producers can sell at the farm where produced an “average monthly number” of up to 500 gallons of either raw goat milk or raw cow’s milk or a combination of the two not exceeding that figure; prior law only allowed producers to sell an average monthly total of 100 gallons of goat milk on the producer’s premises.
The requirements for producers under the new law are few. The raw milk sold must contain at least 3.25 percent butterfat and at least 8.25 percent solids (not fat), and be “practically colostrum free.” The producer must post a sign at the point of sale containing the name and address of the farm along with the following statement: “This product, sold for personal use and not for resale is fresh whole milk that has NOT been pasteurized. Neither this farm nor the milk sold by this farm has been inspected by the State of Arkansas. The consumer assumes all liability for health issues that may result from the consumption of this product.”
HB 1536 also had a provision requiring the container of milk have a label with the name and address of the farm along with the exact same statement mandated for the sign. The only other requirement for producers was to “permit inspection of his or her cows and barns by his or her customers on request.”
The bill took an unusual route towards passage. The Arkansas Agriculture Committee voted down an earlier version of the bill on March 15; that version gave the State Board of Health power to make rules governing raw milk producers including the authority to inspect producers’ facilities. The bill’s sponsor, first term Representative Randy Alexander, stripped the Board of Health’s power from the bill and asked for and received another shot at getting the bill out of the House Ag Committee. The committee voted to send the bill to the House floor on April 5; one week later the bill was on the governor’s desk.
In discussing the bill before the House Ag Committee, Rep. Alexander stated, “Safety’s not the only question, or in my mind even the most important question that we have to consider here. In my view, diluting the God-given freedom of our people is what constitutes an unacceptable risk. That erosion of our rights is a clear and present danger to our citizens and even to our way of life.”
The legislator is far from alone in his libertarian stance. Some ten other states also allow the unlicensed sale of raw milk; those states’ overall track record for safety has been a good one.
The lobbying of award-winning Little Rock Chef Lee Richardson was a major factor in the bill’s passage. Richardson stressed to lawmakers that passage of a raw milk bill was an important step in promoting locally produced food.
FDA submitted comments in opposition to the bill but was as unsuccessful in stopping its passage as it had been a year earlier in its efforts to defeat raw milk legislation in New Hampshire. The agency remains the center of the opposition to raw milk but is losing ground in its campaign to restrict freedom of choice. More states will be joining Arkansas, if not in this legislative session, then in the near future. There were close to twenty raw milk bills up for consideration in the state houses this session, with all but two of them either legalizing its sale or expanding access to the product. It is
a trend that will likely continue.