Updated: December 1, 2012 11:14PM
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — An Indiana agency that studied whether the state should loosen its long-running ban on the sale of raw milk has concluded that doing so would lead to human illnesses.
But in a report released Friday, the State Board of Animal Health also said the question of whether to allow such sales is “ultimately a political decision.”
State lawmakers sought the report from the agency after being asked last session to loosen Indiana’s ban on sales of raw, or unpasteurized, milk. The Indianapolis Star reports the Board of Animal Health’s report neither recommends barring all raw milk sales nor suggests opening the door to such sales.
“Distributing raw milk for human consumption will increase the risk that someone will become ill,” the board’s report says. “But the decision to authorize or not the sale of unpasteurized milk to consumers is ultimately a political decision.”
Instead of recommending a single course of action, the board’s 205-page report suggests lawmakers consider two choices:
— Toughening the current law requiring all milk to be pasteurized before sale by closing loopholes such as “cow-sharing.” In cow-sharing, farmers sell ownership shares in cows to customers, who then can drink raw milk legally because they are considered owners of the cow.
— Loosening the law to allow limited distribution of raw milk, but put the Board of Animal Health in charge of setting sanitary requirements to reduce the health risks from pathogens in the milk.
Since 1925, Indiana has required pasteurization of milk sold to the public. Pasteurization kills disease-causing germs by heating milk to high temperatures. Only milk sold for certain cheeses is exempted.
Lawmakers who reconvene in January are expected to take up the raw milk issue, but the board’s report says legislators will face “deeply held positions.”
“No consensus middle ground exists between the public health community that wants no raw milk sales to consumers and advocates who (do),” the report adds.
The Board of Animal Health’s report is based in part on public hearings that drew 831 comments. The board also surveyed Indiana’s 1,500 dairy farms and got back 242 responses. Among those responses, 158 farmers said they would sell raw milk to the public if it were legal.
Raw milk supporters contend that pasteurization, which kills pathogens and extends shelf life, depletes milk of beneficial nutrients.
But the dairy industry and other opponents warn that E. coli or salmonella can be carried in raw milk and passed on to humans, causing illness or even death.
Some raw milk advocates have used the cow-sharing loophole — which allows consumption of raw milk by farmers, their families and nonpaying guests — to gain access to raw milk. Other farms supply raw milk to outsiders under an exemption allowing sales for consumption by pets.
Indiana law is vague on whether the cow-sharing loophole is legal.
Nationally, 30 states authorize the sale of raw milk to consumers, but most of those still bar its sale in restaurants, hotels, schools and health care facilities.
Four of those states allow raw milk sales only if the milk comes from goats.
The board’s report notes that nearly all of the states that allow raw milk sales require the farmer producing and packaging the milk to get a permit from the state and undergo sanitary inspections.
Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com