Liz McCormick Published

Raw Milk is Debated on the House Floor


Senate Bill 30 permits a shared animal ownership agreement to consume raw milk. Currently in the state, it is illegal to purchase or sell raw milk. And just like when it was debated in the Senate, some members of the House also questioned the health effects of drinking raw milk, while others maintained it allows for personal freedom.

Senate Bill 30 would allow two parties to have a written agreement saying they would share ownership of a milk producing animal and that milk would be used for consumption. The bill would also require the Department of Agriculture to be aware of the agreement, and the seller would have to meet state standards from a licensed veterinarian. If an illness would occur after consuming raw milk, those persons in the agreement would have to report the illness to their local health department.

Debate erupted on the House floor as health risks and freedoms were discussed.

Delegate Nancy Guthrie of Kanawha County opposed the bill because she worried it would reintroduce diseases like polio and others.

“When I look at this bill,” Guthrie said, “and I realize that we could’ve taken one more preventative measure by just saying to the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services, while we recognize that agriculture is in a growing industry in our state, we need to be very careful about maybe reintroducing E.coli, maybe reintroducing polio, maybe reintroducing some of the diseases that have been associated with non-pasteurized milk over the years. Let them have joint custody on writing the rules.”

Delegate Jim Morgan of Cabell County says he used to own a dairy farm and questioned the cleanliness of those parties selling raw milk.

“That was a difficult job keeping that sterilized, clean, and the Kanwaha, Charleston Health Department examined our farm every two weeks. I just don’t understand why somebody who maybe thinks that a nice cow giving milk is going to be better than buying it pasteurized off the shelf,” said Morgan, “If you have seen farming conditions other than the ones under the, subject to health department rules, and I understand they’re some rules in this. I feel that it’s a step backwards in public health, and that for those conditions to be met is going to be very difficult, and when you go to the farm to visit your cows, be sure to look at their utter and be sure it’s clean.”

Delegate Lynne Arvon of Raleigh County supported the bill and argued it would not require retailers to sell raw milk, only two consenting parties with an animal that produced milk.

“I think people need to remember, this bill is not about selling raw milk. This is about people owning their own cows, their own goats and using the milk from those cows and goats,” Arvon noted, “I think they have the right to use those animals as they choose. We talk about freedom; that is freedom. We’re not selling it to anyone else, although personally I think they should be able to do that. If people want to buy raw milk, they should be able to buy raw milk. And I’ll use the example I spoke about in Health committee. Alcohol. How many deaths can we relate to alcohol? I can’t even count. How about to raw milk? I know one in twenty-five years. So are we gonna ban alcohol? I think not.”

Delegate Kelli Sobonya of Cabell County also supported the bill and says there are more deaths related to foodborne illnesses than from raw milk.

“There are ten million people in America that consume raw milk. Ten million people,” Sobonya said, “We haven’t heard a big problem that people are out there dying, but yet there are millions and millions of foodborne illnesses in America, due to cantaloupe, three-hundred people were hospitalized for candied apples. We haven’t outlawed candied apples for the consumption of children. Seven people died in 2015 from candied apples, and three-hundred were sickened.”

Delegate Matthew Rohrbach of Cabell County says he will support the bill, but only because he thinks it’s an attempt to regulate something that has the potential to be harmful.

“I think we have to be realistic that raw milk is being sold, and we’re not regulating it,” Rohrbach noted, “I think this bill is an attempt to regulate a cottage industry that is going on, and if it does get some oversight over the herds, begrudgingly I can support this bill, but I’m gonna rise to tell the members that we’re gonna have some tough debates this week about some issues of public health, and the people of this state depend on a hundred people sitting here to make decisions for their health and well-being, and I urge you not to go backward.”

Senate Bill 30 passed 81 to 19.