By Pete Kennedy, Esq.
One of the more underhanded attempts to ban raw milk took place in the last session of the Illinois Legislature. In January, Rep. Daniel J. Burke introduced House Bill 4036 (HB 4036), a bogus bill to amend the “Restroom Access Act” by replacing the word “the” with the same word “the” in one line of the current statute: “This Act may be cited as the Restroom Access Act.” On March 14, Burke filed Amendment #1 to change the language of HB 4036 to ban the sale of raw milk in Illinois.
The current Illinois dairy statute states, “After the effective date of this Act, no person shall sell or distribute, offer to sell or distribute any milk or milk product for human use or consumption unless such milk or milk product has been pasteurized and has been produced and processed in accordance with rules and regulations promulgated by the Department.”
The term “sell or distribute for use or consumption” means “to sell or distribute to a person for human use or consumption and not for processing or resale in any form. The pasteurization requirement of this Section shall not be applicable to milk produced in accordance with Department rules and regulations if sold or distributed on the premises of the dairy farm.”
Burke’s amendment eliminated this last sentence, turning dozens of Illinois raw milk producers into outlaws. Amendment #1 went unnoticed by raw milk supporters until the day before a March 26 hearing on HB 4036 for the House Human Services Committee. When Wes King, executive director of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, sent out the alert on the bill, hundreds of raw milk consumers submitted “witness slips” in opposition and sent emails to committee members but the bill still passed out of committee.
The opposition to HB 4036 was so great, however, that the House leadership sent the bill back to the Human Services Committee for further amending. HB4036 eventually died in committee. Burke completely changed his position, stating, “I am convinced of the virtue of the thousands of communications I’ve received, that natural dairy should continue to be made available to our society. If people believe this product is beneficial, I am not going to interfere with that.”
According to Burke, an official from the Cook County Health Department asked him to introduce the bill. The effort was backed by an organization called the Northern Illinois Public Health Consortium (NIPHC) which consists of local health departments including Cook County. The NIPHC distributed a “fact” sheet on raw milk that reportedly convinced a majority of the House Health Services Committee to vote for HB 4036.
Since 2012 the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) has been drafting burdensome regulations to govern the production and sale of raw milk. IDPH has been claiming that it didn’t want to ban the sale of raw milk, just regulate it to protect the public health. Whether IDPH was working with NIPHC to push the bill, at a minimum IDPH knew about HB 4036 and did nothing to stop it. The HB 4036 debacle has further eroded what little trust raw milk supporters had in the department.