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Over the past decade or so, a growing number of states have passed laws to either legalize the sale of raw milk and raw milk products or increase access to raw dairy; no year has been as productive as 2023. Resistance from the dairy industry and public health agencies is not as great as it once was, and demand for raw dairy products is increasing rapidly. Through either statute, regulation or policy, 46 states now allow the sale of raw milk for human consumption, the sale of raw milk for pet consumption, or the distribution of raw milk through herdshare agreements. The four outliers prohibiting any sale or distribution of raw milk are Hawaii, Louisiana, Nevada, and Rhode Island.
The states passing raw dairy legislation this year include:
IDAHO – Senate Bill 1036 (SB 1036) removes the limit on dairy animals that herdshare operations can have; under prior law, herds were limited to seven cows, fifteen goats, or fifteen sheep.
IOWA – Iowa became the 46th state to legalize raw milk sales or distribution when Senate File 315 (SF 315) passed into law. The bill allows the sale from producer direct to consumer on the farm or through delivery of any dairy product. There are testing, labeling and recordkeeping requirements.
NORTH DAKOTA – House Bill 1515 (HB 1515) legalized the unregulated sale of raw milk and any other raw dairy products from producer direct to consumer. Under prior law only distribution of raw milk and raw milk products through herdshare agreements was legal. HB 1515 originally allowed only Grade A dairies (who produce milk for pasteurization) to sell raw milk to the consumer, but those supporting raw milk sales by all dairies hijacked the bill, turning it into the version that passed.
UTAH – House Bill 320 (HB 320) legalizes retail sales of raw milk and any product produced from raw milk if a licensed producer has a majority ownership in the retail store. Licensees may also sell these products on-farm as well deliver and/or sell via refrigerated mobile unit. Prior law limited the raw dairy products licensees could sell to milk, butter, and cream. sell via refrigerated mobile unit. HB 320 marks the fourth raw milk bill since 2015 that the mother-daughter team of Symbria and Sara Patterson, founders of the nonprofit Red Acre Center, have been responsible for passing.
WYOMING – Senate Bill 102 (SB 102) allows the sale of any raw dairy products produced by unregulated producers in retail stores. Prior law limited transactions to direct-to-consumer. When it comes to food freedom of choice, Wyoming remains way ahead of the curve; allowing any raw dairy products produced by an unregulated farmer to be sold in a retail store would be unfathomable in any other state. How much raw dairy is sold in Wyoming retail stores will likely be determined by what stores’ requirements for a producer to obtain product liability insurance are; it is difficult enough for regulated raw milk producers to get a product liability policy.
The biggest development in 2023 was in Iowa, a state that had once jailed someone for selling raw milk. Senator Jason Schultz (R) and farmer Tom German had been trying for 17 years to legalize raw milk sales in the state. A difference maker this time around was dairy farmer Esther Arkfeld, a mother with young children, who was the face of the effort to legalize raw milk sales in Iowa. Lobbyist Tyler Raygor of Americans for Prosperity (AFP) also helped; Raygor and another member of AFP were the only ones who registered with the state to lobby for the bill; 24 people—representing government agencies, the dairy industry, and Farm Bureau among other organizations—registered to lobby against SF 315.
The national opposition to further legalization of raw milk sales in any state made Iowa a litmus test. Mary McGonigle-Martin, a board member of the national food safety group Stop Foodborne Illness said, “Public health has lost the war on raw milk“ . McGonigle-Martin had testified four different times in opposition to Iowa raw milk bills.
A trend in recent years that accelerated in 2023 was the legalization of the sale of raw dairy products other than milk. In addition to Iowa, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming, laws have also gone into effect since 2021 in Alaska, Montana, New Hampshire, and Texas, allowing the sale of numerous products made from raw milk. Value-added is where the money is at; the trend bodes well for the ability of small-scale dairy farmers to make a living. It appears that the dairy processing lobby is no longer fighting the legalization of value-added raw dairy sales like they once did.
The food safety argument–the only argument the opposition has staked its stance on–is increasingly in favor of raw milk proponents. The latest foodborne illness outbreak figures from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are that in 2020 there were five foodborne illness outbreaks resulting in 28 illnesses that were attributed to raw milk consumption. The number of raw milk consumers continues to increase considerably; hundreds of thousands of consumers go to realmilk.com each year for the first time to find a source of raw milk in their state. The number of illnesses attributed to raw milk consumption is significantly less than it was a decade ago.
Increased demand, fewer illnesses, and deteriorating quality in the conventional food supply are a formula for raw milk legalization. The next state to lift the prohibition on any raw milk sales or distribution could be Hawaii. That state has had bills for legalizing raw milk sales by micro dairies passed out of the House the last two years only to die in Senate committee. There is only one dairy producing raw milk for pasteurization in Hawaii. For reasons of food security alone, a raw milk bill there should pass into law.
Whichever of the four remaining states is next to get rid of the ban, the goal of Weston A. Price Foundation President Sally Fallon Morell to have legal raw milk distribution in every state is getting closer to realization.