By Robin Opsahl
Iowans may soon be able to buy and sell unpasteurized milk if a bill passed by the Iowa House this week becomes law.
Iowa Senate passed Senate File 315 in March, but will review the bill again as the House made changes before passing it on a vote of 64-35. The amendment, brought by Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, requires raw milk producers maintain bacteria test and antibiotic records, and prohibits raw milk from being processed or distributed if the dairy animal’s bacteria count exceeds specified limits. The amendment also requires raw milk be stored at 45 degrees or lower and distributed within seven days of production.
“Full disclosure, I would have preferred the original version,” Kaufmann said. “But I also acknowledge that there are differences of opinion.”
Rep. Megan Srinivas, D-Des Moines, spoke in opposition to the bill. As an infectious disease physician in Des Moines, she said she has seen multiple children as patients who fell ill due to consuming raw milk.
“It’s one thing if it’s an adult choosing what milk that they’re consuming,” Srinivas said. “But when we have children who are falling victim because they are being given milk that can make them sick, (and) have permanent or even lethal ramifications, that’s where I get concerned.”
Srinivas also brought up concerns with the testing required by the amendment. She said testing the animal and not the milk itself will not find contaminations that occur in handling and storage. Bacteria count limits also do not reflect real safety concerns, she said. For a healthy gut bacteria, the limit specified in the amendment of 25,000 colony forming units (CFU) per milliliter is not a cause for concern, Srinivas said, but even 5,000 CFU of a bacteria like shigella could be lethal.
If a person chooses to consume milk and does get a bacterial infection, they may put others at risk, she said. People who consume unpasteurized milk and work in the food service industry have been linked to hepatitis A, E. coli and shigella outbreaks, Srinivas said.
“These outbreaks have public health implications that we cannot ignore,” she said.
Health care and agricultural groups, including the Iowa Public Health Association, Iowa Farm Bureau and Iowa State Dairy Association, registered in opposition to the bill.
Kaufmann said he understood Srinivas’ perspective, but disagreed with her assessment that these concerns mean the government should not allow the production and sale of raw milk. He said the amendment provided “heck of a lot of regulation in it, more so than I’m even comfortable with,” on access to unpasteurized milk, but that the goal is to give Iowans the option to consume it.
“Literally anyone that has those concerns, they don’t have to buy it,” Kaufmann said. “They don’t have to participate. Nothing said in this bill says ‘You will go buy milk.’ It’s just an option. Just like I can get eggs, a quarter of beef, honey or an apple. We’re simply adding this to a list of foods that people can give without — Jiminy cricket — the government sitting on their shoulder and whispering what’s best for their families.”
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