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Bill allowing sale of raw milk advances through ag committee

A bill that would allow the sale of raw milk in West Virginia passed the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee in the House of Delegates Wednesday.

The bill, HB 4911, would wipe out current state law that only allows the distribution of raw milk through what are called “shared animal ownership agreements.”

Bill sponsor, Del. Mike Hornby, R-Berkeley, called the current law, passed in 2016, relating to raw milk a “ponzi scheme.” He said residents should be allowed to sell raw milk to their neighbors.

“This is a freedom bill,” Hornby said. “If I want to purchase raw milk from my neighbor I should be to able to purchase and consume that milk.”

According to the bill’s wording, “sales of raw milk are permitted in West Virginia as long as the containers are clearly labeled as ungraded raw milk.”

The bill also grants immunity from civil lawsuits to those who may make an error or omission in the process of selling raw milk.

Del. Ric Griffith, D-Wayne, said the sell of raw milk presents a significant health risk. He cited the bill’s second committee reference to the House Health Committee as proof.

“I must speak against raw milk,” Griffith said.

Hornby said there have been fewer than four reported illnesses due to raw milk a year in West Virginia since the original bill was passed. He said everybody who drinks raw milk knows it’s raw milk and they choose to drink raw milk.

“We haven’t had an issue in the last eight years. This bill just takes it further and lets farmers sell raw milk to consumers and lets consumers buy raw milk from their neighbors,” Hornby said.

Committee Vice Chair George Miller, R-Morgan, called raw milk an acquired taste.

“Growing up I used to help by grandfather milk. The animals were cleaned before milking. I don’t see any problems with this,” Miller said.

Del. Todd Longanacre, R-Greenbrier, said making raw milk available to families could save them money on their grocery bills.

“Think about those people out in the community and give them an opportunity to go buy milk that may be a lot cheaper than $7 a gallon,” Longanacres said.

West Virginia Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt’s office told MetroNews Leonhardt believes it’s a person’s freedom to choose if they want to drink raw milk but they should be educated on the risks involved.

The bill passed on a voice vote and now heads to the House Health Committee.