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Colorado won’t legalize raw milk this year after proposal spoils in legislature

A proposal to allow Coloradans to buy raw milk at farms, farmers markets and roadside stands died at the Capitol on Thursday. (Journal file photo)
State has some of the strictest raw milk laws in the West

The “food freedom” movement didn’t get far at the Colorado legislature this year.

A proposal to allow Coloradans to buy raw milk at farms, farmers markets and roadside stands died at the Capitol on Thursday.

The legislation from Sen. Dylan Roberts, a Frisco Democrat, and with the support of Gov. Jared Polis, didn’t even get a hearing in the full Senate. Instead, leadership laid over the bill until May 9, a day after the legislative session ends, effectively killing it.

Roberts told The Colorado Sun that the timing wasn’t right for the legislation, which he said he might bring back next year.

“We have been in discussion with the Department of Agriculture and given the news about avian flu in cattle across the country, we think we need to study this issue a little more,” he said.

The H5N1 influenza virus that has been killing birds across the globe has been detected in cows. Inactive remnants of the virus were then recently found in milk during processing and on store shelves, according to The Associated Press.

Roberts said he plans to study the bill in the legislature’s interim in anticipation of bringing it back next year.

The bill proposed opening up direct sales of unpasteurized milk, or milk that hasn’t been heated to kill bacteria, from farmers to customers. It would not have impacted a creative workaround that for decades has allowed people who want raw milk to get it by purchasing shares in a sheep, goat or cattle herd.

Mikaila Robertson pets a miniature dairy goat during the Four States Ag Expo in Cortez in 2017. (Journal file photo)

Colorado has some of the most restrictive raw milk rules in the West, an attempt by public health officials to protect people from getting sick from harmful pathogens including E. coli, salmonella and campylobacter. The only way to legally buy raw milk in this state is to sign a bill of sale to become part owner of a herd, a transaction that typically specifies that the dairy farmer will feed and milk the cows for you.

The herd-share arrangement is legal because farmers are allowed to consume their own products.

The raw milk proposal passed 7-0 out of the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee in January, then went nowhere for the next three months. The appropriations committee finally gave the go-ahead this week to pass the bill – which came with a $125,000 price tag for milk inspections – along to the full Senate, where it was promptly killed.

Raw milk enthusiasts who are tired of the hassle of joining a herd share to get raw milk were behind the measure, but some milk producers complained that the enforcement measures in the legislation were too harsh.

Raw milk farmers would have had to label every container with their name, date and a warning that raw dairy products “may increase your risk of foodborne illness” and that children, pregnant women and older people are at higher risk.

They also would have had to keep containers of milk below 40 degrees during transport. Violations of the rules could result in a fine of $500 per container of milk, the bill proposed. The governor told The Sun in September that he wanted Colorado to “fully legalize the production and sale of raw milk, properly labeled, so that those who prefer it are able to legally obtain it with greater ease.”

Read more at The Colorado Sun

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.