Dairies are experiencing dire financial straights, causing an interim study for the Georgia General Assembly to consider making raw milk as legal as peaches. It  comes in a year that has seen  year-over-year declines continue in the number of dairy operations, continuing a long trend of farmers deciding to exit the dairy business.

Since 2003, the U.S. has lost more than half of its licensed dairy operations, now just shy of 32,000 dairy operations.

Georgia is experiencing that decline.

The state currently only permits raw milk sales for use as pet food. The legislative study committee could have the General Assembly considering the sale of raw milk for human use by this time in January 2022.

Before that occurs, however, Peach State lawmakers will have to work out regulations and standards to prevent any raw milk sold in Georgia from carrying harmful bacteria. That’s the role pasteurization plays and the step raw milk production skips.

State Rep. Clay Pirkle, R-Ashburn, said Georgia might improve food safety with new legislation. “Anyone can bottle and sell raw milk under a pet label if they pay a small licensing fee (to the state) Pirkle says. “No inspections, no regulations, no safety guidelines.”

Pirkle chairs the interim study. It will make recommendations shortly to the General Assembly.

Georgia is a modest dairy production state with declining licensed dairy herds. Meriwether County dairy farmer Kenneth Murphy says he gets “roughly $1.60 per gallon” while raw milk “for pet food” fetches $8 to $10 per gallon.

Murphy wants the opportunity to sell his 140-cow volume every day at those higher raw milk prices.

Georgia Milk Producers and the National Milk Producers Federation will likely split over the study recommendations. Georgia Milk Producers favors new raw milk regulations and standards, whereas National Milk Producers do not condone raw milk consumption because of the dangers of bacteria and viruses that are killed during pasteurization.

The Georgia Department of Public Health has recorded only one raw milk-associated outbreak in recent years. That was in 2007. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (DCD) warns consumers to avoid drinking raw milk.

Rep. Pirkle says he is not advocating that raw milk can be safe, but like sushi, raw oysters and raw or runny eggs come with risks. Rep. Rebecca Mitchell, D-Snellville, says the Assembly shouldn’t “trivialize food safety.” She said if the safety of raw milk can be “vastly increased” she will consider supporting it. If it isn’t, she will not.

Much of that raw milk for pet use only is sold and even delivered to the homes of consumers throughout Metro Atlanta and areas of North Georgia.

Retail raw milk sales are legal in only 10 states, including South Carolina. Direct raw milk sales to consumers in 17 states, including Mississippi, are legal.

The Georgia General Assembly is one of the largest state legislatures in the nation, composed of the House of Representatives and the Senate. It meets from January until late March to set the state’s annual operating budget and to propose laws on a variety of topics. Republicans control the House, 103-76 and also the Senate, 34-22.

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