Legislators consider unpasteurized milk, homemade food sales without inspection

Published: Jan. 7, 2015 at 7:10 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 13, 2015 at 8:11 AM EST
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Would you buy homemade foods from someone if the kitchen was not inspected or regulated by the state? Would you like to buy raw, unpasteurized milk?

The General Assembly is about to consider allowing these things.

It's part of a movement: more people want to eat natural, locally grown foods. There are three bills before state legislators this session, one supporters call the Food Freedom Act, to let farmers and entrepreneurs sell raw milk and homemade foods without state inspection.

But opponents wonder, will it be safe?

"No color was added to this butter and it's a delicacy," Lois Smith told us, showing us unpasteurized butter, milk, and cheese she produces at Happy Food Farm near Spotsylvania.

Smith is President of the Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association.

She'd like to be able to sell jams and homemade foods without her kitchen having to be inspected by the Virginia Board of Agriculture and Consumer Services. And she'd like to sell unpasteurized milk, cheese, and butter, which Virginia currently prohibits. She believes unpasteurized milk is healthier.

Said Smith, "The cream top you can see on this milk, we don't take the cream off. It has most of the vitamins and the enzymes."

The proposed bills would allow those homemade food and unpasteurized milk sales if the products are sold directly to consumers and are labeled with contact information, ingredients, and a statement that they were made without state inspection. Smith says it would save the cost and trouble of going through inspections and help entrepreneurs like her.

"Maybe I don't want to spend thousands of dollars to see if somebody likes my jelly, or see if it's something I want to do, so I can start small," explains Smith.

But some Virginia agriculture groups fear bacteria that can be left in unpasteurized milk can make people sick.

Lindsay Reames with the Virginia Farm Bureau said, "Pasteurization was discovered in the 1950's, and once it was put into place, you really had a reduction in the amount of food borne illnesses, tuberculosis, kidney failure and others."

The Farm Bureau worries an illness outbreak from raw milk could hurt the entire dairy industry.

"When you do have a food illness outbreak, the headlines don't read 'raw milk produced this, the milk on your supermarket shelves is safe,'" said Reames.

State inspections help keep food production safe. But bill supporters respond that illness outbreaks and recalls still happen in inspected facilities.

Similar bills have been proposed and killed in the General Assembly in the past.

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