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MT Senate kills bill to allow limited sale of raw milk

HELENA, Mont. — Throughout Montana’s 65th Legislative Session, issues of personal freedom have continuously taken center stage. One bill that encapsulated that was one that would have allowed for the limited sale of raw milk.  

The Senate voted down House Bill 325 on a 22-28 vote after debating it for more than an hour.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton, allowed for milk sales from a limited numbers of milk-producing cows, sheep and goats. It would have barred producers from selling raw milk in a retail setting, allowing just person-to-person sale.

During its first committee hearing in February, Ballance called HB 325 “the ultimate freedom bill.”

Opponents at that hearing argued the bill did not provide enough safety measures.

“It does not provide adequate disease, drug or antibiotic testing,” said Krista Lee Evans, representing the Montana Milk Producers Association.

Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, carried the bill in the Senate.

“Processing foods takes valuable nutrients out of the food,” Regier said. “Steamed or raw vegetables are said to be healthier. Many of you eat salad with raw ingredients.”

Opponents of the bill said raw milk poses a health risk, and that milk pasteurization kills harmful bacteria like E.coli.

“We have found through the years and years of public health work … that pasteurization does its work,” said Sen. Jill Cohenour, D-Helena. “It protects us from the sicknesses that can come from raw milk.”

Cohenour also said the bill would be costly to local communities, who would need to conduct county health investigations in the event of illnesses from infected raw milk.

In 2015, the Senate voted down a similar bill, also carried by Ballance, on a split vote. Another died in 2013.

Siebert is a reporter with the UM Community News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism and the Montana Newspaper Association.