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West Virginia House lawmakers pass bill expanding sales of raw milk

Nadia Ramlagan

West Virginia House delegates passed a bill this week that would allow raw milk products from farmers to be sold directly to consumers.

Maria Moles, owner of Meadow Branch Farms in Clay County, and a member of the West Virginia Alliance for Raw Milk who has been milking cows for more than a decade, said the bill will make it easier for small farmers to get their raw dairy products to consumers.

“We need the legislators to listen to the farmers. I mean, this is our life, this is our passion, she explained.”

Producing raw milk has been legal since 2016, but only under strict conditions. House Bill 4911 removes language that requires licensed dairy farmers to agree not to sell raw milk through retail or herdshare agreements, and legalizes raw milk products as long as they are properly labeled. The FDA maintains that pasteurization is the safest way to consume milk, and reduces the risk of bacterial contamination that can cause harm, especially among people with compromised immune systems or pregnant people.

Moles said small farmers also want standards to ensure raw milk is safely distributed to the public, noting that equipment should be sanitized, and cows and goats should be sanitized before milking.

“Milk is a ready-to-eat food, and we need to handle that with that in mind, in how we milk, what equipment we use, how we bottle it, how we store it,” she explained.

More than two dozen states have legalized the sale of raw, unpasteurized milk. According to the CDC. From 1998 through 2018, more than 200 outbreaks occurred because of drinking raw milk, leading to more than 2,500 cases of illness and 228 hospitalizations.