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Republican lawmakers have introduced legislation in the Minnesota House and Senate that would relax regulations on selling raw milk.

They portray it as an issue of consumer choice and freeing private business from unnecessary regulation.

The legislation is dangerous and irresponsible.

Supporters of raw milk use dubious Internet research and ignore solid scientific conclusions. Many of them see raw milk as a magic cure-all for ailments and contend that pasteurization of milk kills beneficial nutrients.

University studies show pasteurization doesn’t significantly change the nutrient value of milk, and Vitamins A and D are added to it before it hits grocery shelves. Anything lost in the pasteurization process is more than made up for by protecting the health and even lives of consumers.

Life-threatening pathogens that can occur in raw milk are many, including E. coli,  salmonella, listeria and more. In a recent 10-year period there were more than 1,600 reported illnesses, nearly 200 hospitalizations and two deaths linked to raw milk, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

The raw milk debate comes as the state Ag Department continues its legal battle against Gibbon farmer Michael Hartmann. The raw milk he sold has been linked to illnesses in at least 15 people, including young children. Hartmann had earlier lost his license to produce Grade A milk because of a host of sanitary problems on his dairy farm. He’s defied the law and court orders — he was in court Monday for a contempt of court hearing — yet his supporters find government conspiracies around every corner.

Current state law allows farmers to sell raw milk to consumers who come to their farm. The proposed legislation would allow it to be sold more broadly, including at farmers markets and through home delivery.

If anything, lawmakers should further restrict raw milk sales.

Government has a legitimate role in protecting the food supply and public safety. Even if some wish to ignore established science and risk their own and their children’s health, it does not diminish the government’s responsibility to apply reasonable safeguards on the food supply. 

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