Senate Ag Committee Hearing:
The Senate Ag Committee held a hearing on HB 1515 March 16th. Though the hearing was rushed because the committee was running late, Food Freedom advocates made their points:
1. Raw milk is a completely natural, nutrient-dense food.
2. Raw milk differs greatly from the milk you purchase in a store and, if you can no longer consume store-milk, you may very well be able to drink raw milk without digestive problems.
3. While any food can contain pathogens, raw milk is not inherently dangerous.
4. Consumers want the choice of buying raw milk when they wish.
5. Share contracts are merely milk sales with paperwork. This bill removes the paperwork.
6. No regulation is needed.
Bill sponsor Rep. Holle presented amendments to the committee which would require labeling and testing. The amendments were at the request of the Milk Producers Association (Grade A dairies), who oppose the bill in its current form.
AN EXPLANATION OF THE HOUSE AG COMMITTEE AMENDMENTS – The amended version of the bill is here: https://ndlegis.gov/assembly/68-2023/regular/documents/23-0745-020
Amendment 1: Changes the wording of the bill, starting on line 8 of the printed bill to read as follows: "A farm may sell raw milk directly to a consumer for personal consumption. A farm may not sell raw milk to a wholesaler or retail store for mass consumption under this chapter."
This amendment passed the committee 13-0.
Amendment 2: "The sale must occur within the state and must not involve interstate commerce."
This amendment also exempts the producer from any regulation in these sections of Century Code:
Title 4.1-05 – Dairy Promotion Checkoff Title
Title 4.1-25 – Dairy Product Regulation (Ag Department)
Title 4.1-26 – Milk Marketing Board
Title 19 – Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (Health Department)
Title 23.9 – Food and Lodging (Health Department)
Title 64 – Weights and Measures (Public Service Commission)
This amendment passed 12-1. Representative Prichard voted no, stating he thinks you should be able to sell across state lines.
Amendment 3: Adds language stating, “The producer cannot donate raw milk to a community-spirited or social event.” This was presented at the suggestion of the Ag Commissioner, who wanted to be such anyone drinking raw milk was aware that it was not pasteurized.
The amendment passed 8-5, with the following representatives voting no: Fisher, Headland, Keifert, Prichard, and VanWinkle. The final version of the amended bill was recommended DO PASS on a vote of 13-0.
House Bill 1515 was a raw milk bill introduced by Representative Dawson Holle. Originally, the bill would only have allowed Grade A licensed dairies to sell raw milk to consumers on their farm. The bill also would have allowed the Department of Agriculture to write rules to govern the process. It would NOT have impacted the milk share law already working in our state.
Preparing for the bill’s hearing, Representative Holle made a number of calls to dairy producers, asking them to give testimony. Other producers reached out to the legislator with questions and comments. During the House Ag Committee’s hearing on February 10th, it was evident that many producers wanted sales opened up to all those with dairy animals. At the same time, the Department of Agriculture provided testimony that they regulated pasteurized milk and didn’t want to expand into raw milk because of possible conflicts with the PMO (pasteurized milk ordinance). The committee took the input and several amendments were discussed.
February 16 – In their first official meeting since the bill hearing, committee members amended HB 1515 and sent it to the House Floor with a vote of 13-0 for DO PASS.
As amended, the bill allows any producer to sell raw milk to the end user for personal consumption. Sales could be any place other than a retail setting. This would include on the farm, delivered to the customer’s home, farmers market, etc. The bill specifically exempts producers from any permits, licensing, labeling or other regulation by the Department of Agriculture or the Department of Health. (Specific amendments are listed below.)
This is a “buyer beware” bill. Producers need to sell clean, healthy milk, but consumers are also responsible for safe milk handling. Consumers should ask questions about handling, testing, etc. before they buy.
For anyone concerned about public health. ND Food Freedom has the foodborne illness reports from the Department of Health for 1988-2020. (We’re still waiting for an updated report.) During those 32 years, only 12 suspected (these reports are almost never conclusive) illnesses were attributed to raw milk. During that same period, 24 people became ill of suspected contaminated water.
All food is “potentially” hazardous because the same nutrients that nourish our bodies also nourish pathogens. Proper handling is key to food safety. Raw milk producers and consumers must educate themselves and keep the product under 40 degrees.
February 20 - GREAT NEWS! HB 1515 just passed the House 83-10. Thank you to our supporters. There was a spirited debate lasting 25 minutes, which is pretty long at this time in the session. You can watch the video of the debate here beginning at 3:47:38: https://video.ndlegis.gov/en/PowerBrowser/PowerBrowserV2/20230220/-1/29131
The following were NO votes (voting against raw milk): Hanson, Ista, Karls, Klemin, Martinson, Monson, Murphy, Satrom, Schauer, and Speaker D. Johnson.
ND Senate Update - HB 1515 passed the ND Senate on April 3rd on a vote of 38-9. Because of the amendment (see info below), the bill needs to go to a conference committee to reconcile the House and Senate versions. We expect this will be a friendly conversation with a good outcome.
Good news! The Senate Ag Committee voted 4-2 to recommend Do Pass Amended on the raw milk bill. The bill could be voted on by the entire Senate as soon as Monday, April 3rd. Please contact your Senator ask for support for HB 1515. You can find a list of Senators here: https://ndlegis.gov/assembly/68-2023/regular/members/senate
The 4-2 vote reflects a difference in opinion on regulation. Senators Lemm, Mydral, Weber and Weston supported the basic House version of the bill with only a technical correction. They understand the argument that shares are basically "sales with paperwork" and that the State has legalized shares without any regulation for the past ten years. They are also hearing from constituents about their desire to purchase raw milk and believe that sales rather than signing up for a share program will increase availability of the product to consumers.
Chairman Luick gave a reluctant "Nay" vote, stating that he believes requiring a label could be a good thing. Senator Hogan also voted "Nay," wanting some type of government oversight, though it wasn't specified during committee discussion.
Several amendments were considered which would have required health testing of animals, coliform testing of milk 2-4 times per year, and labeling. Committee members questioned the Health and Ag Departments about the cost of testing and voiced concern about testing costs - especially for coliforms - being too expensive for the person wishing to sell milk from just 1-2 animals.
Kirby Krueger from the Department of Health was asked about coliform testing and the frequency needed. He candidly told the committee that coliform testing is only valid for the sample tested and, when you have a fresh batch of milk every day, the result of 2-4 tests a year are not proof of clean milk every day. For that reason, the Department recommends all milk be pasteurized.
The approved amendment is a technical one. The bill as it came from the House, puts a new section into the "Dairy Products" section of Century Code. The House version, in an attempt to prevent any regulation, exempted producers from that same section of Century Code. So there's a conundrum. How do we add a law to allow direct to consumer sales of raw milk without regulation, but still place it in the correct section of law? The Senate amendment removed the exemption so the new law could be placed into the correct section of code. However, that part of the code also calls for permits for milk sellers (meaning dairies selling to processors), inspections, etc. In our opinion, the Senate amendment will need tweaking, but that can happen in conference committee. First, we need to pass this version in the full Senate. Once that happens, the bill will be sent to conference committee, composed of House and Senate Ag Committee members, to resolve the issue. We believe this process will result in a clean bill without regulation.
You can find the current version of the bill with the Senate amendment here: https://ndlegis.gov/assembly/68-2023/regular/documents/23-0745-03000.pdf
GREAT NEWS! RAW MILK HAS PASSED!
April 24th - The conference committee version of HB 1515 has passed both houses and has been signed by the Governor and filed with the Secretary of State, so North Dakota officially has a raw milk law. The law becomes effective August 1, 2023.
The final version exempts direct to consumer sales of raw milk from all government regulation as long as sales are only to the end user consumer and take place within North Dakota. No wholesale or retail sales are allowed and raw milk may not be donated for community events or other places where the end consumer may not understand they are drinking unpasteurized milk.
Producers selling under this statute are exempted from inspections, permits or other regulations currently used for sellers of Grade A or Grade B milk (Ag Department), the Dairy Checkoff, Milk Marketing Board, Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act (Health Department), Food and Lodging (Health Department) and Weights and Measures (Public Service Commission).
All producers and consumers of raw milk owe a big debt to our supporters in the State Legislature, especially the Conference Committee members who agreed to the final exemptions. Conference committee members were: Representatives Fisher, Henderson, and Finley-DeVille and Senators Lemm, Weston, and Luick. You can find contact information for legislators here.
It should be noted the Legislative Session will likely end the end of April, so sending a hand-written thank you to their home address will reach them in a timely fashion.