Third time was a charm for enthusiasts wanting to buy and sell raw milk in Louisiana.
On a 3-2 vote, the state Senate Health and Welfare Committee, which had killed efforts in each of the last two years, advanced Wednesday the legislation to the full Senate.
But Senate Bill 29, by Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, was heavily amended to pick up votes from wavering members of the panel. Raw milk could be sold only at the farm that produces it — cutting out sales at farmers markets and grocery stores — and the farms would have to be inspected four times a year.
Sierra Majors, who owns a dairy farm near Melville, has been pushing the idea for three years. The difference this year was a few new members on the committee along with a willingness to address some of the issues critics raised, she said.
In 2014, the young dairy farmer came to the Louisiana Legislature, children in tow, distributing raw milk from her cows and cookies she had baked. She talked up what she thought were the health benefits of unpasteurized milk.
“I thought it was an easy bill,” a much more subdued Majors said after the measure cleared the panel.
The legislation made it through the House in 2014 but was rejected in the Senate Health Committee after testimony about possible health disasters from improperly handled milk. Louisiana is one of only a few states that don’t allow the sale of unpasteurized milk.
“We were very disappointed,” she recalled. “I didn’t realize it’s so hard to pass a bill in the Louisiana Legislature.”
The next year, Majors decided to start with the Senate health panel so as not to build up hopes. The panel promptly dispatched the measure.
With the narrow approval by the Senate committee on Wednesday, the legislation now must clear the full Senate and the House.
Marguerite Constantine said her WesMar Farms in Moreauville is a small dairy that is licensed and inspected and pasteurizes the milk they sell. She testified that the wording of the legislation didn’t specifically prohibit the sales of raw milk to retailers, at farmers markets and to restaurants. She also noted that the state Department of Health and Hospitals wouldn’t be required to inspect the facilities where raw milk is produced as they do for her dairy.
Senate Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Fred Mills, R-Parks, amended SB29 to limit sales only on the farm where the milk is made.
Republican Baton Rouge Sen. Dan Claitor added a requirement for quarterly health inspections.
The 18-page bill also limits the amount of raw milk that could be sold and would require warning labels and testing.
After the hearing, Constantine, who testified against selling raw milk last year, said the changes were fine but still don’t address her real concern about what would happen if raw milk was sold and caused someone to get ill or die.
An operation as small as hers could not survive if a health scare prompted a lot of consumers to stop drinking milk even for a little while.
Voting to advance the sale of raw milk (3): Sens. Gerald Boudreaux, D-Lafayette; Norby Chabert, R-Houma; and Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge.
Voting against SB29 (2): Sens. Regina Barrow, R-Baton Rouge; and Yvonne Colomb, D-Baton Rouge.