West Virginia Governor Moo-ves on Lawmaker’s Raw Milk Bill

Dustin Siggins

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) signed a bill legalizing the consumption of raw milk, opening up a way for consumers to avoid the state’s economic restrictions on sales between farmers and foodies.

Lawmakers passed Senate Bill 387 in February, and Tomblin signed it into law in March. State agriculture laws still prevent consumers from purchasing raw milk directly from farmers, but consumers are now allowed to purchase “cow shares,” ownership shares in a cow or herd of cows.

Black Market in Milk

Baylen Linnekin, an adjunct professor of law at George Mason University, says the new law is a refreshing win for consumers and will make milk safer in the state.

“People in West Virginia, as in every state, buy and sell raw milk, whether it’s illegal or not,” Linnekin said. “This law removes unpasteurized milk from the unregulated black market, which should enhance food safety. Raw milk sales should be legal in every state.”

Linnekin says some of the law’s provisions leave a sour taste in his mouth.

cowatwvcapitol_small West Virginia Governor Moo-ves on Lawmaker's Raw Milk Bill

“I’m troubled by the law’s requirement that farmers who choose to operate a herd-share must provide their name and the names of herd-share consumers to the state,” Linnekin said. “This amounts to a compulsory registry of West Virginia raw milk drinkers. That is needlessly intrusive and makes no more sense than does a compulsory registry of West Virginia medium- and rare-cooked hamburger eaters.”

‘A Question of Freedom’

West Virginia state Sen. Robert Karnes (R-Upshur), the bill’s only sponsor, says his bill is all about giving people the power to choose what they want to drink.

“This is a question of freedom,” Karnes said. “There are many people who prefer raw milk over pasteurized milk. It is legal for the vast majority of Americans. There is simply no overwhelming reason to deny them the ability to have access to this product.”

Karnes says economic freedom empowers farmers, too.

“West Virginia has the largest percentage of family farms of any state in the United States,” Karnes said. “About 90 percent of the farms in West Virginia are family farms, owned and operated by families. Few of these family farms are economically viable. Most require the owners to work a full-time job while farming on the side. Herd-sharing provides another way for these small farmers to add to the bottom line.”

‘Do We Want Freedom?’

To Karnes, this law is about more than just milk.

“The question is, really, do we want a nanny state that removes the ability for people to make risk-reward assessments for themselves, or do we want freedom?” Karnes said. “That argument goes far beyond the raw milk question.”

Dustin Siggins (dustinsiggins@gmail.com) writes from Washington, DC.

Internet Info:

Reed M. Marbury, “The Faulty Focus of Food Regulation: The Regulatory Roadblock to Entrepreneurship and Innovation,” Liberty University Law Review, March 1, 2015: https://www.heartland.org/policy-documents/faulty-focus-food-regulation-regulatory-roadblock-entrepreneurship-and-innovation/