Lawmakers nix plan to dye raw milk

A plan to make raw milk more palatable – at least to animals – earned the backing of a House committee Tuesday, as lawmakers rebuffed a state Board of Agriculture plan that would have required the product to be dyed gray.

The House Health Committee approved a plan requiring unprocessed milk, known as raw milk, sold in-state to be labeled as not for human consumption.

Unlike the milk sold at grocery stores, raw milk is unpasteurized.

Public health officials say raw milk may contain harmful bacteria that's unsafe for children. But the product's supporters say it contains immune system-boosters that are otherwise killed in the pasteurization process.

N.C. law prohibits the sale of raw milk for human consumption, but the product can be sold for pets and animal use. Raw milk advocates say many people, including farmers, zookeepers and pet owners, feed their animals raw milk.

But because the products look similar, the N.C. Board of Agriculture in September passed a rule requiring all raw milk sold in-state – and therefore not for human use – to be dyed charcoal. The discoloration would discourage children from consuming it accidentally, said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler.

“You don't want to make this milk attractive to children,” Troxler said. “So with red, that could mean strawberry. The charcoal seemed to be a color that fit.”

But farmers and natural food advocates were appalled by the dyeing mandate.

They said there are no suitable organic dyes that can be added to the natural product, and their animals wouldn't want to go near a dirty-looking product, anyway.

“I don't know how many animals will actually consume black milk,” said raw milk advocate Ruth Ann Foster, who lives in Greensboro and serves her rescued white poodle raw milk. “I don't think my dog will.”

The milk advocates' protests opened the door for the legislature to intervene.

On Tuesday, the House panel approved a plan from Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, that would require two warning labels to be placed on all raw milk containers. One would warn that the product is not to be consumed by people, while the other would explain that it's illegal to sell raw milk for human consumption in North Carolina.