The bid to sell raw milk in Louisiana got a boost Wednesday when Gov. Bobby Jindal’s top three advisers threw their support behind the bill.
It didn’t really help, though, as for the second year in a row, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee defeated legislation that would lift the state’s ban on selling unpasteurized milk.
The panel voted 5-3 to defer Senate Bill 238, thereby likely ending the effort for this year.
Sen. Eric LaFleur, the Ville Platte Democrat who sponsored the measure, told supporters afterward that they made progress picking up two votes and that they would bring the bill back next year.
Sierra Majors, a St. Landry Parish farmer who has spearheaded the effort for the past two years, dabbed tears from her eyes as she left the hearing room defeated. Her bill last year was passed overwhelmingly in the House but died in the same committee.
“It’s perfectly legal and apparently safe for me to give my milk away,” Majors said. “But I can’t sell a gallon to someone who wants it.”
The measure would have limited the sale of raw milk to farms that produce no more than 500 gallons per month. That’s not a whole lot but more than a family can consume. The cows and goats keep producing milk, and the farmers are looking for a way to sell the excess, Majors said.
“We’re not asking for retail sales,” Majors said. “You’re going to have to seek me out. You’re going to have to find me.”
“We’re talking about one person watching over two cows,” LaFleur said.
He argued that it was a matter of freedom. Because the state allows farmers to sell eggs and vegetables, it should not ban the sale of raw milk, he said.
Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb, D-Baton Rouge, ran a video that told the story of Kaylee, a 2-year-old who spent 95 days in the hospital because she was sickened when a single hair contaminated the raw milk her parents gave her to drink.
“That’s the other side, and that’s the reason for pasteurization,” Dorsey-Colomb said.
State Health Officer Jimmy Guidry remembered drinking raw milk as a child. But he said the scientific literature shows that raw milk carries a much higher threat of disease. Warm with high contents of sugar and fat, the milk as it comes out of the cow is the perfect media for bacteria.
The heating of milk for several seconds — pasteurization — would kill that bacteria and make the milk safe, Guidry said.
Marguerite Constantine said her WesMar Farms in Moreauville is a small dairy that nevertheless is licensed and inspected, and pasteurizes the milk they sell. She said she was concerned about what would happen if raw milk was sold at farmers markets and caused someone to get ill or die. An operation as small as hers could not survive if large numbers of consumers stopped drinking milk from small dairies.
Jindal’s top advisers — Timmy Teepell, his political strategist, along with Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols and Revenue Secretary Tim Barfield — walked into the hearing room and filled out “green cards” signifying their support.
Teepell said he, Nichols and Barfield had been in another room discussing Thursday’s House session, which will feature votes on tax increases, when they saw the hearing on television. They came downstairs and filled out “green cards” signifying their support of the legislation and took a seat among dozens of children and farmers wearing “I love Raw Milk” stickers.
Only two of the senators on the committee were in the room at the beginning of the hearing, leaving interim Chairman Fred Mills, R-St. Martinville, to apologize and explain that the rest of the committee was eating lunch in another room while watching testimony on the television.
He then recognized Teepell, Nichols and Barfield, adding that they supported the bill.
Majors said she didn’t know who they were but noticed LaFleur got excited.
Teepell said later they were supporting the legislation on their own, not as an expression of the Governor’s Office. He drinks a glass of milk every night before bed and prefers raw milk to pasteurized whole milk, he said.