Raw Butter Sales Now Legal in Tennessee

On April 30 Governor Bill Lee signed into law Senate Bill 358 (SB 358); the legislation legalizes the sale of raw butter by licensed producers in Tennessee. SB 358, sponsored by Senator Frank Niceley, a long-time champion of the small farmer and local food, goes into effect immediately.

SB 358, as amended in the House and passed, provides that

    “the department [of agriculture] shall not regulate the production of unpasteurized butter provided that it is produced:

      (A) In a facility separate from production of pasteurized products;
      (B) Solely for intrastate commerce; and
      (C) By a person licensed by the department as a dairy plant. 1

On any raw butter sold, the bill also requires a warning label stating, among other things, that the product has not been inspected and that butter “may contain disease-causing micro-organisms.”1

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), between 1998 and 2016, there was not a single foodborne illness outbreak attributed to the consumption of commercially-produced raw butter2; during that time, California-based Organic Pastures Dairy Company (OPDC) sold over two million pounds of the product without incident3. The labeling requirement was a concession that had to be made if the bill was going to pass.

It’s not clear why the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA) would not regulate the production of butter from a licensed dairy plant but the answer could possibly be because of some agreement the department has with the federal government.

SB 358 allows the retail sale of raw butter; Tennessee joins Arizona, California, Idaho, and Maine as states allowing the sale of the product in retail stores. There are around a dozen states that allow the sale or distribution of raw butter for human consumption.

Niceley introduced a bill in 2018 that would have legalized raw butter sales, but that legislation didn’t make it out of House committee after passing the Senate. With the accelerating decline of the state dairy industry over the past year, SB 358 did not have any significant opposition. One point Niceley made during consideration of the bill was about the increasing competition from lab-grown dairy products to the conventional industry, saying that laboratories could produce pasteurized dairy products at a much lower price than the dairy industry could and that the industry needed to separate itself from that competition with the production and sale of raw dairy products.

It is uncertain at this time how many of the state’s licensed dairy plants are interested in selling raw butter but the potential is there. None of Tennessee’s neighbors allow raw butter sales; there could be out-of-state customers buying butter in Tennessee. Cheesemakers from other states could be moving in with an additional high-demand product to sell. If demand does take off, some of the state’s remaining dairies could obtain higher prices for their milk by selling some of their production to dairy plants instead of cooperatives where most are losing money with each load they ship.

The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) has a citizen petition4 before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to lift the interstate ban on sales and distribution of raw milk and other raw dairy products (except aged cheese). If the petition is successful, it is likely raw butter sales would be legal in all states within a few years. Until that time, there should still be a steady increase in states allowing raw butter sales or distribution.

Brentwood Chapter Leader Shawn Dady lobbied for the bill on behalf of the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF). Congratulations to her, Senator Niceley, and the other Tennesseans supporting SB 358 for legal raw butter sales5, in time for the spring flush.

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[1] House Amendment Number 1 to HB0532 (HA0116), Tenn. House § 1 (2019). Last accessed 5/7/2019 at http://www.capitol.tn.gov/Bills/111/Amend/HA0116.pdf
[2] Mark McAfee and Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, “Citizen Petition Seeking Legalization of Interstate Transport of Unpasteurized Butter”, petition, June 22, 2016; p. 10
[3] Ibid. p. 11
[4] For more details about the citizen petition, read “FTCLDF Hires Jim Turner to Litigate Raw Butter Petition” at https://www.realmilk.com/turner-litigate-raw-butter-petition/
[5] Thanks to an opinion from the Attorney General, the state has allowed the distribution of raw butter and other dairy products since 2012 through herdshare agreements.

STATE RAW MILK BILLS – 2018 UPDATE


There have been raw milk bills before the legislature in ten different states so far this current session. A bill has made it to the governor’s desk in Utah and there is legislation in at least a couple of other states that has a realistic chance of passing, including Louisiana which is one of seven states left where any raw milk sales or distribution is illegal. Bills before the legislatures include:

IOWA House File 2055 (HF 2055) would allow the unregulated sale of raw milk and raw milk products on-farm and through delivery. There is a labeling requirement that there be a statement on the container notifying consumers that the product has not been inspected and is not subject to public health regulations. Bills have also been introduced in the Iowa legislature that would legalize raw pet milk sales (HF 2057) and the distribution of raw milk through herdshares (HF 2056) but HF 2055 is the only raw milk bill the legislature has considered so far. On January 30 a subcommittee of the House Committee on Local Government recommended passage by a 2-1 vote; the bill is now before the full committee. Iowa is one of the remaining states that prohibits any raw milk distribution.

LOUISIANA companion bills, Senate Bill 188 (SB 188) and House Bill 437 (HB 437), have been introduced that would allow the on-farm sale of either cow milk or goat milk of an average of 500 gallons per month. No permit is required but producers are subject to inspection and must comply with milk testing, herd health, and sanitary standards as well as a labeling requirement that there be a warning that the raw milk may contain harmful bacteria. The bills are a reintroduction of Senate Bill 29 (SB 29) that nearly passed in 2016. SB 29 passed out of the Senate and was defeated in the House committee by one vote.

MASSACHUSETTS Senate Bill 442 (S.442) and House Bill 2938 (H.2938) are companion agricultural omnibus bills that include provisions which would officially legalize herdshare agreements and would allow the off-farm delivery of raw milk by licensed dairies. Under the bill, farmers with no more than twelve lactating cows, goats or combination of cows and goats can enter into herdshare agreements with those wanting to obtain raw milk. There must be a written contract that includes a statement that the raw milk is not pasteurized nor subject to inspection by the state Department of Health nor the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR). MDAR has power to issue rules on testing but cannot require testing more frequently than once every two months. The bills allow from a licensed raw milk farmer to deliver raw milk to a consumer with whom the farmer has a contractual relationship, including through the farmer’s agent and through a community supported agriculture (CSA) delivery system. The bill gives MDAR power to issue regulations governing delivery; the regulations must allow for non-mechanical refrigeration. The bills have passed out of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture and will likely next be assigned to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

NEW JERSEY Assembly Bill 502 (A502) is the same bill that has been introduced the prior three legislative sessions, A502 allows for the on-farm sale of raw milk and raw milk products by a licensed dairy. Producers must comply with labeling, signage, herd health, and milk testing requirements. The bill also legalizes herdshare agreements and states that no permit is required for the distribution of milk through a herdshare contract. New Jersey is one of the remaining seven states that prohibits any raw milk distribution. A502 has been referred to the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

TENNESSEE House Bill 2229 (HB 2229) and Senate Bill 2104 (SB 2104) would have allowed the unregulated direct sale from producer to consumers of all foods except meat, on the farm, at farmers markets and other venues. There were labeling and signage requirements but no licensing or inspection under the bills. The bills were both defeated in committee; under current law, the distribution of raw milk and raw milk products is legal through herdshare agreements. Herdshare programs have been thriving in the state.

UTAH Senate Bill 108 (SB 108) has passed through both the Senate and House and are on the desk of Governor Gary Herbet. SB 108 allows the delivery and sale of raw milk through a mechanically refrigerated mobile unit by licensed dairies. Currently only the on-farm sale of raw milk by license holders is legal unless the producer has a majority ownership interest in a retail store (only one of the state’s ten licensed dairies meets this qualification). SB 108 also allows for the unlicensed on-farm sale of up to 120 gallons per month by unlicensed dairies if the producer is in compliance with labeling, recordkeeping, milk testing, and milk cooling requirements. Producers wanting to sell under this exemption must notify the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF) that they are doing so. UDAF has power under the bill to order a producer to stop selling raw milk if the producer’s dairy is linked to a foodborne illness. The department has the power to levy administrative fines against producers who have been linked to a foodborne illness outbreak.

VIRGINIA Senate Bill 962 (SB 962) and House Bill 825 (HB 825) would have officially legalized and regulated herdshare operations. State policy in Virginia has long been to leave the many herdshare programs existing in the state alone. The original versions of both bills would have criminalized the refusal of either farmers or consumers to turn over copies of their contracts to government agencies. Both bills stated it was illegal for anyone besides the party to the contract to receive raw milk; in other words, giving raw milk to family or guests would have been a crime. Criminal penalties for violations of the bill’s requirements were up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine; every day the violation continued would be a separate offense. The bills also required that the herdshare contracts contain a clause that shareholders assumed joint liability if the herd or any milk produced by the heard was responsible for any injury or illness. SB 962 was in Senate committee and shortly afterwards was stricken in the House committee.

For further updates on the progress of raw milk legislation, go to the bill tracking page at realmilk.com.

Tennessee State Legislator Criticizes Department of Health for Going Overboard with Warnings Against Raw Milk

All across the United States, there is a constant battle between health officials who argue that unpasteurized milk is too dangerous for consumption and raw milk advocates who argue that it is no more risky than buying produce or raw meat which is left up to the consumer to prepare. Each side uses its own carefully selected words and distributes its own propaganda to try to convince others to see it their way.

On July 21, 2015 the Tennessee Department of Health released a news bulletin that said: “Consuming raw milk in the belief it’s healthier than pasteurized milk is a perilous risk that shakes off the possibility of a range of serious and occasionally fatal illnesses for the individuals and anyone they share it with. Our best choice for healthy, nutritious milk is the pasteurized kind. Even if one believes there are health benefits, an upside, is it worth gambling on the downside risk of a serious illness, especially in a child?”

Senator Frank Niceley of Strawberry Plains, who sponsored 2009 legislation allowing cow sharing and has pushed for legalization of marketing for raw milk from these cow shares, believes the TN Department of Health is going overboard in their continuous warnings.

“Blue Bell ice cream killed three people, and it’s made with pasteurized milk,” he said. “Why aren’t they up in arms warning about that?”

Read more via Knox News here.

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