CARSON CITY — Despite health authorities’ warnings of the dangers of raw milk, a dozen residents asked Assembly Health and Human Services Committee members Friday to allow the legal sale of the product in Nevada.
“Men and women should control what we put in our bodies,” testified Joan Schmacher from a hearing room in Las Vegas. “We should not have to feel like criminals (for acquiring raw milk).”
John Schroeder, speaking from Carson City, said he consumes 10 to 15 gallons of raw, or unpasteurized, milk each week, has not had to visit a doctor or dentist since 2003, and no longer has asthma and bowel problems.
“I have found raw milk to be one of the most beneficial foods,” he said.
Others told the committee that if the Legislature approves Assembly Bill 209, then they won’t have to go to California or to underground dairies to buy raw milk and tax dollars will stay in Nevada.
The committee took no action on the bill.
Under the bill, if a milk commission in one county authorizes the sale of raw milk, then that type of milk can be sold in all other Nevada counties. Nye County has agreed to the sale of raw milk, although a dairy to deliver such products has not been established. To this point, Nye County is the only Nevada county with a milk commission.
Brett Ottolenghi, a Nye County resident, said he wants to start a small dairy of 12 cows to sell raw milk, but is waiting action on the bill.
“I am confident we can produce it cleanly,” he said. “It would give us a bad name if someone got sick.”
Lynn Hettrick, director of the Nevada Dairy Commission, testified he could support the bill only if regulations were adopted that prevented people from buying raw milk on a farm in Pahrump and then carrying it non-refrigerated in their cars in the summer heat back to Las Vegas.
But Dr. Tracey Green, the state health officer, warned legislators that raw milk can be dangerous. She cited a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that two people died and 284 were hospitalized between 1998 and 2011 after drinking raw milk.
“We are concerned that with passage of this bill we will see more risk and increases in food-borne illnesses,” she said.
Assemblyman James Oscarson, R-Pahrump, asked Green also to produce statistics on illnesses and deaths due to pasteurized milk. She said she did not have those figures now, but would provide them later to the committee.
Oscarson earlier told the committee, “I did my own research and got some raw milk and loved it.”
He would not say where he acquired the milk.
Fresno, Calif., dairy farmer Mike McAfee told legislators how his farm is now producing raw milk for thousands of California customers. He testified that pasteurized milk contributes to asthma, eczema, ear infections and allergies, and raw milk can help end such problems.
“The immune system works better once children drink raw milk,” added McAfee, basing his views on four European studies.
After McAfee praised the virtues of raw milk for babies, Assemblyman Andy Eisen, D-Las Vegas, responded, “Cow’s milk is best for calves; human breast milk is best for babies.” Eisen is a physician.
The biggest indictment of the bill came from the Southern Nevada Health District, which issued a statement:
“Raw milk and the known pathogenic organisms found in it are a significant threat to public health and safety. In attempting to provide ‘more nutritious’ milk to their children, parents are actually placing their children in direct danger of serious illness and even death.”
The health district said people are relying on “anecdotes and unproven evidence” that raw milk offers health benefits.
In 1862, French chemist Louis Pasteur developed pasteurization, a process to heat liquids to just below the point of boiling for about 16 seconds, as a way to kill contaminants and prevent beer and wine from souring. Later it was applied to milk, although some milk producers had been using the technique since the early 1800s. Germany ended pasteurization requirements in 2007.
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