Louisiana lawmakers have killed an attempt to lift the state's ban on sales of unpasteurized — or "raw" — milk for the third year in a row.
The House agriculture committee narrowly voted to halt Ville Platte Sen. Eric LaFleur's proposal to allow limited sales of raw milk from farmers to the public. Lawmakers on the panel voted 8-7 Thursday against the Senate-backed measure.
The Democratic senator argued his "don't tread on me" bill curbed any risk with pages of regulations, from labeling requirements to inspection specifications. Rep. John Guinn, R-Jennings, applauded the latest version, calling it a "very safe bill."
Louisiana, LaFleur said, is "one of a handful of states" that prohibits raw milk sales.
The proposal would have only permitted farmers to sell an average of 500 gallons of raw milk a month, or about four cows' worth of milk production. It wouldn't permit retail store sales, which LaFleur said spoke to his bill's spirit -- to grant people the freedom to buy from their neighbors.
"It's about freedom of choice and getting government out of your hair," he said.
Adults and children wearing "I love raw milk" stickers gathered to hear the debate Thursday. Supporters testified to having consumed raw milk produced by their own cows or after having bought it in other states, like Mississippi. "Smuggling" the unpasteurized milk can run a hefty price tag, with some saying they've paid about $2,000 a year to purchase and transport it over state lines.
State-supported access to raw milk would support food freedom, allow people to seek its health benefits and strengthen Louisiana's artisanal cheese industry, they said.
But Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain and Louisiana's chief health officer Jimmy Guidry countered that the bill would threaten public safety because the milk isn't heated in a process to kill harmful bacteria.
Strain told lawmakers they have "a fundamental duty to protect public health," while Guidry warned the committee the Louisiana legislature may have to reverse LaFleur's bill in the future if it led to heightened hospitalizations and disease outbreaks.
Others echoed the concern, comparing feeding children raw milk to handing them cow manure patties.
The debate came down to economics for Daniel Hayes, Jefferson Parish representative of the Libertarian Party of Louisiana, who noted the state allows raw milk consumption but not its sale.
"Let (people) put in their bodies what they want," Hayes said.
Those against the bill agreed economics was a factor in the debate, but said the health concerns could spill into the economic realm and damage Louisiana's dairy industry, they said. Strain said milk is made 150 times safer through pasteurization, and could have a negative ripple effect across the milk industry if unpasteurized milk sickened a consumer.
Pasteurized dairy farmer Joy Womack pointed to the federal and state inspections conducted at commercial farms, which must also have liability insurance.
"(With raw milk,) we're playing Russian roulette. I never play Russian roulette with my children," she said.