N.J. bill would legalize raw milk sales

    New Jersey lawmakers may soon weigh whether to make raw, unpasteurized milk legal in the Garden State.

    A bill passed by the state Assembly this spring would allow permitted dairy farmers to sell raw milk directly to consumers or stores, and the legislation awaits action in the Senate.

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    Federal health agencies warn against drinking unpasteurized milk, which hasn’t been heated to kill salmonella, listeria or E. coli. But raw milk has a passionate following of people who say it tastes better and is healthier than the typical grocery store variety.

    They post songs to pro-raw-milk web sites; start groups such as Garden State Raw Milk, founded in 2006 to legalize raw milk in New Jersey; and cross state lines to stock up in Pennsylvania, where raw milk is legal.

    Mark Lopez runs Wholesome Dairy Farms in Yellow House, Pa., near Reading and more than an hour from the state border. 

    “I can tell you probably several hundred gallons a week probably end up going to New Jersey,” Lopez said, about 35 to 40 percent of his milk.

    That is business the bill’s sponsors say should stay in the Garden State, to boost its declining dairy industry. Lopez hopes if the law is passed, the milk from his grass-fed, heritage cows can hold its own against any new competition.

    “We’re hoping to create a product that’s not easily replaceable with something you just buy at just some other dairy,” Lopez.

    But Lopez has been diversifying, partly to hedge against any customers lost to New Jersey dairies, and now offers kefir, cheese curds and yogurt in addition to milk.

    In New Jersey, dairy farmers are split on the topic of legalizing raw milk sales.

    “Larger dairy farms, they sell into the wholesale milk market, and they’re worried about if people are drinking milk and getting sick from raw milk, that it would damage the image and reputation of milk and thus hurt their end product line,” said Ed Wengryn, with the New Jersey Farm Bureau.

    Smaller farmers, though, see it as an opportunity to market raw milk to their neighbors, Wengryn said. In Pennsylvania, raw milk sells for about twice as much as pasteurized milk.

    Selling raw milk is legal in 30 states.

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