NJ bill would allow sale of raw milk

(Associated Press, NJ)



Jonathan and Nina White drink raw milk every day, pouring it from two-quart mason jars they keep in their northern New Jersey home. Jonathan makes ice cream and cheese with it, and their three kids have drunk the milk for years.


"Of course, some public health people would want to have me locked up for that," Jonathan said.


The sale of raw milk is banned in New Jersey, annoying food purists who want the natural product but pleasing others who say it has harmful bacteria. The Whites own a dairy farm in Vernon and get raw milk from their cows, which is legal, but say they do not sell it.


Raw milk and the laws surrounding it were discussed Monday, at an Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee hearing. A bill in the Legislature would overturn the ban, requiring vendors to have a state permit when selling it.


Committee Chairman Nelson Albano said after the hearing that he supports the bill "in theory," as long as the committee gets detailed information on regulations needed to ensure the milk's safety.


"That's my priority right now," said Albano, D-Cape May Court House.


At the hearing, Jonathan White was one of several people to testify. Most said they support raw milk consumption, and many described it as safe, healthy or natural.


At least one person spoke in favor of the ban. Margery Eachus, whose family owns a dairy farm in Pilesgrove, said if a consumer gets sick from raw milk, the ensuing media frenzy would scare people away from all dairy products, hurting the entire industry.


"I do not believe in nostalgia and the myths of the 'good old days' before pasteurization was required," Eachus said.


Raw milk means it hasn't been pasteurized. During pasteurization, milk is briefly heated to at least 174 degrees Fahrenheit, destroying E. coli, salmonella and other unwanted bacteria, said Daniel Wunderlich, dairy program coordinator for the state Department of Agriculture.


State law prohibits the sale and distribution of raw milk, but it is legal to obtain it from your own cow for private consumption, said Marilyn Riley, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Senior Services, which regulates dairy safety.


According to Riley, the ban was implemented in 1987, just after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned interstate raw milk sales.


Each state decides whether raw milk can be sold within its borders, and the specifics of the laws vary. In addition, authorities sometimes aggressively pursue illicit dealers.


In October 2006, Michigan state police arrested a farmer delivering raw milk and other products to a cooperative. An undercover agent reportedly gathered evidence by infiltrating a group that bought products from the farmer.


Such activity apparently goes on in New Jersey as well. Vernon's Jonathan White said he's heard of underground raw milk "buying clubs," and Eachus, the Pilesgrove farmer, said some people buy it after telling farmers they need it for their cats. 5-11-09





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