Virginia lawmakers are considering whether the state's constitution should enshrine the right of consumers to buy raw milk directly from farmers.
Activists argued to a House committee Monday that the Virginia Constitution needs to be changed to say that Virginians "shall have a right to acquire" farm-produced food directly from farmers. Supporters of the measure said it's needed to protect consumer's rights to have control over what they eat, including unpasteurized milk or uninspected meat.
Lois Smith, president of the Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Associations, said a constitutional amendment would give consumers the ability to challenge in court state regulations prohibiting farmers from selling certain products.
But several interests groups — including the Virginia Agribusiness Council, the Virginia Farm Bureau, and the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association — as well as Gov. Terry McAuliffe's administration spoke out against the measure. Opponents said the proposal could lead to the increased consumption of unsafe food, particularly unpasteurized milk.
Smith said state rules already have enough loopholes that allow consumers to buy directly from farmers, and opponents are overblowing health concerns. She said she's been drinking unpasteurized milk for years through a legal "cow share" program without any health problems.
"People are already drinking it and not getting sick," she said.
Amending the Virginia Constitution is a lengthy process. Lawmakers have to approve a proposal two consecutive sessions, with a legislative election in between, before voters can approve it.
But the activists enjoyed one small success Monday as Del. David Ramadan, a Lebanese immigrant who said he grew up drinking raw milk, indicated he was friendly to proposed amendment.
Lawmakers are also considering constitutional amendments that would enshrine Virginia as a "right-to-work" state, repeal the amendment prohibiting same sex marriages, and allow governors to serve consecutive terms. Virginia is the only state in the country prohibiting governors from serving more than one term in a row.