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Raw milk finds legislative support

By Blake Aued - [email protected] | Athens Banner-Herald

A Cobb County lawmaker has introduced a bill that would legalize the sale of raw milk in Georgia.

State Rep. Bobby Franklin said he became interested in the issue after hearing about an October case where state agriculture officials forced Eric Wagoner, who runs the online farmers market Athens Locally Grown, to pour out unpasteurized milk he was delivering from South Carolina.

The bill would prohibit the state Department of Agriculture from banning or regulating raw milk.

"If someone wants it, it's not the state's job to tell you what you can and cannot feed your family," said Franklin, R-Marietta.

But the bill goes too far for some Athens residents who support allowing consumers to buy and drink raw milk.

The unpasteurized dairy product should be legal but regulated, said state Rep. Doug McKillip, D-Athens. Raw milk generally is safe when consumed soon after it comes from the cow, but leaving the commodity completely unregulated could lead to serious health concerns, he said.

McKillip said he would ask Franklin to amend the bill to add safety regulations.

If Franklin refuses, McKillip will introduce his own bill, he said.

Wagoner also said he does not support Franklin's bill. He said he prefers a law similar to South Carolina's, where raw milk is tested for bacteria before it is sold.

"It seems to have worked well for them," he said. "A total deregulation is asking for trouble."

Franklin prefiled the legislation, House Bill 874, last week after friends passed along word of Wagoner's run-in with the Agriculture Department.

Inspectors impounded 110 gallons of raw milk from Wagoner last month in Royston. He was trucking the milk from a South Carolina dairy to the old West Broad Street farmers market, where consumers who bought the milk from the dairy through Athens Locally Grown would pick it up. The inspectors said the milk was illegal in Georgia, though Wagoner contends he was not breaking the law, because he only was delivering it, not selling it.

Franklin said he contacted the department and learned that only a department policy, not state law, prohibits consuming raw milk. His bill would overturn that policy legislatively, he said. The bill will be considered when the legislature convenes in January.

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