Health officials warn of raw milk risk after bill passes House - KAIT Jonesboro, AR - Region 8 News, weather, sports

Health officials warn of raw milk risk after bill passes House

JONESBORO/LITTLE ROCK, AR (KAIT) –Farmers could soon be able to sell milk straight from the source.

The state House approved a bill this weekend to allow the sale of unpasteurized milk.

House Bill 1536 would let farmers sell "raw" milk from cows and goats at the farms where it is produced.

The proposal has drawn opposition from doctors, like Craighead County Health Officer Dr. Joe Stallings.

Dr. Stallings says "raw" or unpasteurized milk presents a health risk because of all the bacteria and germs. He has even asked lawmakers to vote down the proposal, but not everyone agrees.

"To advocate drinking unpasteurized milk is moving the clock back," Dr. Stallings said.

He says science has greatly reduced the risk of people getting sick or even dying from drinking milk because of a 120-year-old process called pasteurization.

"Through pasteurization, 99.9 percent of all bacteria [are] eliminated," he explained.

The milk stocked on grocery store shelves is all pasteurized, but some people prefer getting it straight from the source – much to Dr. Stallings' dismay.

"If you have access to a farm, if you have access to a cow or goat, you can drink unpasteurized milk," he said. "My point is that it puts you in harm's way. The diseases that can be transmitted can be fatal."

Dr. Stallings hopes lawmakers keep that in mind, as HB1536 progresses in the state legislature.

The bill, which was sponsored by Republican Rep. Randy Alexander of Springdale, would allow Arkansas farmers to sell up to 500 gallons of unpasteurized milk per month on average. The legislation would also require farmers to post a sign letting consumers that neither the milk has been pasteurized nor has it been inspected by the state.

Supporters, like Christopher Dyson of Jonesboro, said the bill would give consumers more freedom to buy whatever they'd like.

"I was raised drinking unpasteurized milk," Dyson said. "I'm 30 years old and I'm still alive today, so it didn't kill me yet."

Many Region 8 News viewers seem to side with Dyson based solely on the large amount of feedback from social media.

Elizabeth Tarver wrote on the KAIT Facebook page, "We have never gotten sick from [raw milk], and I believe it has a lot of healing and immunity properties."

Kim McKay commented too, writing: "We have had raw milk before and it is healing, tastes good, makes amazing butter and cheese and is just great."

While consuming unpasteurized milk does carry some benefits, Dr. Stallings says they fail to outweigh the potentially negative consequences.

"I hope that [the lawmakers] will have the wisdom not to pass this, and I hope if they do pass it that the governor will veto it," he said.

The bill cleared the state House by a vote of 60 to 19, so it's now pending in the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development ahead of a possible full floor vote.

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