Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund
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Raw milk drinkers have had their fill of ban

Pushing officials to change law, weighing lawsuit

By Blake Aued | Athens Banner-Herald

Athens-area raw milk drinkers are lobbying officials and may go to court to change laws barring people from drinking the unpasteurized dairy product.

When state food inspectors seized 110 gallons of unpasteurized milk at an Athens farmers' market earlier this month and forced organic food advocates to dump it out, it galvanized them to seek to reverse the state's policy, said Eric Wagoner, who runs Athens Locally Grown, an online farmers' market.

"A lot of folks had no idea this was even an issue," Wagoner said. "There's a lot more awareness now."

The incident also drew the attention of a national nonprofit that long has sought to overturn a federal ban on transporting raw milk across state lines. The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund is considering using the Athens Locally Grown controversy as a test case to challenge the state's interpretation of the law in federal court, Wagoner said.

"They have a good case to move forward, a very strong case," he said.

Wagoner was bringing raw milk from a South Carolina dairy to the old West Broad Street farmers' market two weeks ago when inspectors with the state Department of Agriculture told him the milk was illegal. They sealed the containers and came back Oct. 19 to watch Wagoner dump out the milk.

Raw milk is legal for human consumption in South Carolina. Wagoner contends he did not run afoul of Georgia law by bringing the milk into the state because he merely delivered it and did not handle any money during the transaction.

Athens Locally Grown members have been calling legislators to tell them to change the law, although the effort has not been organized so far, Wagoner said.

State Rep. Doug McKillip, D-Athens, said no constituents have contacted him about the issue, but if someone does bring it up, he would be willing to introduce a bill to legalize drinking raw milk if he is convinced that it is safe.

"It's certainly something I'd be open to," McKillip said. "I'd at the very least educate myself about it."

During pasteurization, milk is heated to destroy bacteria. Some raw milk advocates say the process does not make milk any safer, but it does remove nutrients and alter the taste.

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