DES MOINES, Iowa – The Iowa Senate passed SF 2309, a bill that allows the sale of unpasteurized milk and milk products by specified raw milk dairies to individual consumers, by a 32 to 15 vote on Wednesday.
The bill requires a warning label for containers used for unpasteurized milk that warns consumers that the raw milk or raw milk products are not subject to state inspection or other public health regulations that require pasteurizing and grading.
It also prohibits selling, advertising, using, or distributing raw milk or raw milk products by home bakeries, food establishments, farmers’ markets, or commercial dairies.
State Senator Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, the bill’s manager, said he worked with State Senator Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, on an amendment that included additional restrictions addressing concerns from the dairy industry.
He said he wanted it to be clear that the bill did not create a new commercial industry but allowed a homestead or cottage industry.
Schultz’s amendment passed in the chamber by a voice vote.
State Senator Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, offered an amendment that required an additional warning to pregnant women about the dangers of Listeria.
Schultz encouraged the body to resist the amendment because they created a general warning in the previous amendment to cover a variety of concerns.
He said that over the last 12 years working on this issue, “people wanted to bring in issues that were so numerous they would cover the jar.”
“And the truth is none of them are a real threat,” Schultz said. He also pointed out that Listeria can be found in refrigerated, ready-to-eat foods, poultry, meat, seafood, and dairy.
“We don’t have this warning on meat, poultry, seafood, or pasteurized dairy. I don’t believe that it’s, I don’t believe it’s necessary in this case,” Schultz argued.
State Senator Claire Celsi, D-West Des Moines, said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported illnesses attributed to raw milk are up fourfold from years past due to broader legalization.
State Senators Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, Liz Mathis, D-Hiawatha, and Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, also spoke in support of Petersen’s amendment.
Schultz countered that no one has died in the largest state that allows the sale of raw milk.
In her closing comments on the amendment, Petersen said, “We need to make sure that they have accurate information to protect their health and the health of their baby. Asking for a warning label to prevent stillbirth, miscarriage, death of a newborn and illness among a pregnant mom, I don’t believe is too much to ask.”
Her amendment lost.
Bisignano spoke in support of the bill. He pointed to his original training dealing with food and environmental inspection.
” I guess I’m numb to the fact of the risk you take every day that you walk in and eat in a restaurant. I mean, the opportunity for you to be food poisoned is very high. And it’s not about the process of where the product is. It’s the preparation. That’s probably the issue with this is we’re talking about the handling, you know, whether it’s a clean environment, and so forth,” he said.
Bisignano pointed out the bill is about as narrow as it can be without closing the door on a new cottage industry, noting the state has already expanded many different cottage industries and niche markets.
He also pointed out there are Iowans already drinking it and providing it now.
“It is an interesting thing that we’re doing, you know, this is an agricultural state. And that becomes really the confusion to me. It’s an ag state. And this is an ag product, and it’s banned. That’s odd to someone like me,” Bisignano said.
Schultz reiterated that he had studied this issue for 12 years.
“I’ve done so much homework on this I can look you in the eye and say I believe this is the right thing to do. It’s not a partisan issue. It’s not ideological,” he argued.
The 32 to 15 vote was primarily a party-line vote except for State Senators Bisignano and Kevin Kinney, D-Oxford, joining Republicans in support of the bill.