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Federally Regulate Raw Milk?

By John Vogel  | American Agriculturist

Dairy groups urge USDA to impose federal food safety regulations.

As reported in American Agriculturist's November and December issues, dairy farmer interest in selling raw (unpasteurized) milk and cheese is rising fast, largely due to regular market prices far below the cost of producing milk for processors. While raw milk is regulated by states allowing such sales and interstate sale of raw milk is banned by the Food and Drug Administration, the facilities are exempted from federal food safety regulations.

The nation's two largest dairy industry groups hope to change that. The International Dairy Foods Association and the National Milk Producers Federation want raw milk covered by food safety legislation now under congressional consideration.

In a letter to U.S. Senators Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., the committee's ranking member, the dairy groups asked them to require all facilities producing raw or unpasteurized milk products for direct human consumption to register with FDA. They also urged adherence to "tried-and-true food safety requirements followed by all other facilities producing milk products."

Before pasteurization became widely utilized, human consumption of raw milk was one of the major sources of food borne illnesses and one of the primary causes of infant mortality, said IDFA CEO Connie Tipton and NMPF CEO Jerry Kozak. "It's important to the health of the American public, and for the continued confidence in the dairy industry, that the new food safety legislation bolsters the success of state-administered Pasteurized Milk Ordinance programs." They urged that any new FDA requirements should apply to raw milk and raw dairy products.

PMOs set the standard for maintaining the safety of the nation's milk and milk product supply. Aged cheeses made from unpasteurized milk eliminate the risk of food borne illnesses, and aren't considered raw milk products.

The PMO covers all aspects of hazard analysis, planning and monitoring from farm to plant to delivery of finished milk products to retail outlets. The letter from Tipton and Kozak implied that raw milk producers aren't currently required to meet those same standards.

In fact, most states allowing raw milk sales enforce the PMOs. They are required to comply with food safety plans, record keeping and access, and other regulations. They just don't have to register with FDA.

IDFA and NMPF want the proposed "FDA Food Safety Modernization Act" expanded to include facilities producing raw milk products for direct human consumption. They also want the legislation to recognize that state inspections of dairy facilities under the PMO already meets necessary food safety requirements and that no duplicate functions are warranted.

Raw milk marketers already pay fees for state licensing and inspections. IDFA and NMPF recommend that these state fees be credited against any new FDA registration fees if such fees are added to the food safety bill.

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