By Ruth Ann Foster
In January 2006, rumors began spreading that the North Carolina Department of Agriculture (NCDA) had plans to require dye in all raw milk sold for animal consumption. Commonly referred to as pet milk, it is presently the only legal means to purchase raw milk in North Carolina. Cow shares had been legal until 2004, when a law that banned them was surreptitiously slid into place at the end of the legislative session. While the dye rumor lurked, we began working with state legislators to reverse the cow share ban. Legislators were equally unaware of the NCDA’s ability to enact a “law” without due process. After countless Internet searches, I stumbled upon the web site of the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearing (NCOAH) where I learned about the rule making process.
Each state has an Administrative Procedures Act, which grants state agencies like the NCDA, the authority to make rules. Completing the rule making process, rules become “law,” often without public knowledge. In North Carolina, ten letters of objection to a rule sent to the NCOAH during the process, will delay the rule and force it to the state legislature for review at their next session. A legislator must then introduce a bill to reverse the rule, which is known as a disapproval bill, or the rule will become effective at the end of session.
The first step to defeat this rule was to get our letters of objection to the Rule Review Commission at the NCOAH. The RRC staff and attorneys were a valuable source of information and helped guide us through the process. We learned that the Commission would review the rule to determine that NCDA had the authority to create the rule and followed the established guidelines. If these criteria were met, the Commission would vote to adopt the rule. Although the Commission voted in favor, our letters of objection successfully delayed the rule.
The next hurdle was to find a legislative sponsor for the disapproval bill. Representative Pricey Harrison was immediately supportive and introduced HB 2524 on May 26, 2008. She enlisted several co-sponsors who were equally supportive and vocal.
With HB 2524 in place, we began our lobbying campaign. Following the advice of WAPF attorney Pete Kennedy, we strictly maintained that HB 2524 was raw milk for animal consumption and did not confuse the issue with human consumption. Thanks to WAPF for sending out our Action Alerts to all North Carolina members. Advocates across the state were provided concise talking points, used when visiting or contacting their legislators. Action Alerts allowed us to carefully orchestrate which legislators to target and when.
The first hearing in the House Agriculture Committee was the most difficult. Thankfully, we had a large enthusiastic group of advocates in attendance. After the state epidemiologist, the NCDA director for food safety, and the dairy industry lobbyist presented arguments against raw milk for human consumption, Representative Harrison intervened by stating that HB 2524 was not intended for human consumption. HB 2524 passed out of the committee 16 to 3.
Recognizing the support the bill was gaining, the NCDA offered a compromise, which Representative Harrison skillfully negotiated. In exchange for labeling all pet milk containers, we were able to get unpasteurized milk exempted from the definition of commercial feed. This released pet milk producers from having to be licensed as commercial feed manufacturers under the NCDA.
Once the compromise was reached, the NCDA enlisted support of the state health officials. With full support, HB 2524 quickly passed through the House and then unanimously through the Senate. During our campaign, many legislators expressed interest in making raw milk available for human consumption, which is our goal for the next session.
This article appeared in the Fall 2008 edition of Wise Traditions, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation.
Ruth Ann Foster is the Weston A. Price Foundation local chapter leader for Greensboro, North Carolina.