Future of raw milk sales in Kansas up for debate

Producers and consumers of raw milk in Kansas have a sour taste after two bills being considered in the legislature seeking to ban or restrict the product sale.

Photo: Guy Montag / CC BY 2.0

Some of Kansas's agricultural leaders and farms say it's needed for safety.

"I think taking away a person's right to choose and a farmer's right to produce what they choose, bottom line, that's wrong," said Mary Powell, a consumer and advocate for raw milk.

Mary Powell is an Elk County, Ks. goat farmer. She got her start in the agriculture working at a friend's dairy farm when she was introduced to raw milk 30 years ago.

"I didn't have any digestive upset what so ever," said Powell after first starting to drink raw milk. "I found myself addicted to raw milk."

Creating fewer health issues is why Powell said some people are drawn to raw milk, which is often bought directly from the farm.

"There are risks to drinking it, and I acknowledge those risks, and I'm not blind to it," she said.

Those risks come from the milk not being treated to kill off potentially harmful bacteria.

The Centers for Disease Control says that could include E-coli, Listeria and Salmonela.

Powell said that consumers of raw milk are generally well informed about those risks. She also points to a 2018 report where data from the CDC shows that outbreaks of illness linked to unpasteurized milk were higher compared to pasteurized.
Between 2005-2016, raw milk was linked to 184 to pasteurized, which had 31 outbreaks. However, deaths due to pasteurized milk were at a higher rate.

"I know a few people who sell raw milk, who say before you can start buying raw milk from me, we need to sit down and go over this list. The potential illness that could come from consuming raw milk," said Powell.

Last week, Powell was in Topeka opposing two bills dealing with raw milk on behalf of herself and farms she does business with.
SB 300would completely ban the sale for human use.
The second bill, SV 308, allows the sale of raw milk but requires containers to contain a 37-word warning label.

Powell read the proposed label, "It said this product contains ungraded raw milk that is not pasteurized and, as a result, may contain organisms that cause food-borne illness, especially in infants, young children, older adults, pregnant women and people with weak immune systems."

Powell said an issue with the labeling proposal is the font requirement.

"The wording has to be the same size as the largest font on the container," said Powell.

The bills also would require inspection, which Powell said she wouldn't have an issue with and to track what farms are selling raw milk.

"The farmers are doing everything they can to keep their dairies safe." Powell said, "Some raw milk producers are already inspected by the USDA."

Powell said her concern is these types of ban or restrictions could hurt an already struggling Ag industry.

"We’re losing dairy farms left and right as it is. This is another way to kill small farms," she said.

Discussion on the labeling bill is scheduled to continue Feb. 20.