BOSTON >> An omnibus farming bill that has cleared a key legislative committee would allow farmers to deliver unpasteurized raw milk to consumers and allow people to buy shares of a cow or goat to receive raw milk.
The bill (H-748), reported favorably out of the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, would also establish a program where state parkland could be used as noncommercial community gardens available for local residents.
The raw milk "herdshare" amendment was put forth by state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli of Lenox.
Originally filed by Rep. Paul Schmid, House chairman of the committee, the omnibus bill also establishes a program to support veterans working in agriculture funded in part by 2 percent of the money sent to the Gaming Economic Development Fund, according to a bill summary.
Schmid's original bill was more limited in scope, directing state and local agencies to consider potential regulation's effect on agriculture. A Westport Democrat, Schmid has a beef farm with about 50 head of cattle.
The bill would also allow cities and towns to establish agricultural commissions, which could buy and manage land for farming purposes, and it would establish an Agricultural Resolve and Security Fund, which would be funded in part by revenues from annual pesticide product registration fees, according to the summary.
A separate bill (S-419) filed by the committee's Senate chairwoman, Spencer Democrat Sen. Anne Gobi, and reported out with the omnibus bill, would also allow farms to deliver raw milk to consumers through a community supported agriculture program or other means.
A bill filed by Pignatelli (H-3648) and moved out of committee would exempt from the state's raw milk statute the personal consumption of milk from one's own cows and goats.
Pignatelli said Wednesday that he was approached by South Berkshire County farmers and other residents about the idea of a "herdshare" option, in which people who jointly own a cow or goat could receive raw milk, which according to the Northeast Organic Farming Association, state law prohibits from being sold to the public anywhere except on the farm where it was produced.
"I'm very pleased," Pignatelli said of the bill being reported out of committee for the first time, "and I'm sure the farmers are estatic."
He said the bill is based in part on similar legislation in Connecticut and other states that allow raw milk distribution within herdshare situations.
Raw milk can be a divisive issue. The product is coveted by some consumers and viewed warily by regulators.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, unpasteurized milk is unsafe and interstate commerce of raw milk for human consumption is illegal. The federal agency counted at least 133 outbreaks of illness caused by raw milk and raw milk products from 1987 into 2010.
The Northeast Organic Farming Association contends that raw milk is healthier and tastier than pasteurized milk. On its website the association reports there are more than 24 farms in Massachusetts licensed to sell raw milk from their farm stores.
"We have not yet offered a formal opinion on the bill but are looking at it closely to see if there are any health concerns that warrant a closer look," Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matt Beaton told the News Service about the raw milk legislation.
The bills were reported out of the Environment Committee on a 13-0 vote, according to an aide.
Eagle staff writer Jim Therrien contributed to this report.