A coalition of Congressional representatives on the right and left side of the political spectrum came out with a proposal to allow the interstate sale of raw milk.
The Interstate Milk Freedom Act of 2014 (HR 4307) was introduced by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and a bipartisan coalition of representatives who favor consumers' right to choose the food they eat.
"The federal government should not punish farmers for providing customers the foods they want, and states should be free to set their own laws regulating food safety," Massie said in unveiling the proposal last week.
"As a producer of grass-fed beef, I am familiar with some of the difficulties small farmers face when marketing fresh food directly to consumers," he added.
"Our bills would make it easier for families to buy wholesome milk directly from farmers by reversing the criminalization of dairy farmers who offer raw milk."
His second proposal (HR 4308) would prevent the federal government from interfering in raw milk or dairy product trade between states where those sales are already legal inside the state borders.
The measures are the first in a series of "food freedom" measures Massie said he plans to introduce to help local farmers, small producers and others who "have been harassed, fined, and in some cases even prosecuted" for the "crime" of distributing unpasteurized milk.
"Personal choices as basic as what we feed our families should not be limited by the federal government," he said.
The "Milk Freedom" measures wouldn't necessarily bring changes in states like Wisconsin where selling unpasteurized milk is still illegal, but the fact that federal action would be kept out of the picture helped the Kentucky Republican garner a slate of 18 co-sponsors, including many who consider themselves to be Libertarians.
Two Democrats have joined the group as co-sponsors.
The following representatives are co-sponsoring the "Interstate Milk Freedom Act of 2014": Paul Broun (R-GA), Walter Jones (R-NC), H. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), Andy Harris (R-MD), Raul Labrador (R-ID), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), Ted Poe (R-TX), Jared Polis (D-CO), Scott Rigell (R-VA), Steve Stockman (R-TX), Marlin Stutzman (R-IN), Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA), Louie Gohmert (R-TX) and Scott Perry (R-PA).
The introduction of the measure on March 27 prompted the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) to issue a statement opposing the bill saying that any additional availability of raw milk would increase the number of sicknesses and deaths of people who consume it.
The dairy farmer and dairy processor organizations said that "the risks inherent in raw dairy products are not worth any imagined benefits to either consumers or producers of unpasteurized milk products.
"Raw milk skips the pasteurization safety process, and this is playing Russian roulette with the health of too many Americans – including many of our children."
Massie's bill would repeal a long-standing ban on the sales across state lines of unpasteurized milk.
Federal law currently gives states the discretion to regulate raw milk within their borders, but the dairy organizations expressed concern that repealing the interstate ban would greatly increase the production and consumption of a known health hazard.
President and CEO of NMPF Jim Mulhern said passage of the measure would open the nation's most vulnerable citizens, including children, to pathogens in unpasteurized milk.
"Consumption of raw milk is a demonstrated public health risk. The link between raw milk and food-borne illness has been well documented in the scientific literature," Mulhern added.
President and CEO of IDFA Connie Tipton said the dairy industry benefits from a very high degree of consumer confidence which has been built in part by the excellent food safety record of milk and dairy products.
"While choice is an important value," Tipton said, "it should not pre-empt consumers' well being. To further ease the regulations surrounding the national sale of raw milk is an unnecessary risk to consumer safety."
The two dairy groups said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that nearly 75 percent of disease outbreaks associated with raw milk have occurred in states where sale of raw milk is legal.
Only one to two percent of reported food-borne outbreaks are attributed to dairy products. However, of those, over 70 percent have been attributed to raw milk and inappropriately aged raw-milk cheeses, the two leaders said.
"Seldom has the science behind public health policy been so clearly one-sided. Pathogenic bacteria can be found on any dairy farm, regardless of its cleanliness or the good intentions of its owner," the organizations said.
"This legislation is a threat to public health and should not be approved," they said, prompting Massie to tweet this -- "The lactose lobby is so intolerant! #MilkFreedom #RawMilk"