Hemp, raw milk included in Farm Bill amendments
Two amendments to the Senate's version of the federal Farm Bill drew attention from interest groups this week as senators began debating farm policy.
One would legalize the production of industrial hemp and the other would allow the direct sale of raw milk and raw milk products across state lines.
Two major dairy organizations came out in opposition to the raw milk amendment, No. 2180, sponsored by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY.) His father, presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) came out in favor of raw milk sales on the campaign trail earlier this year.
The National Milk Producers
Federation (NMPF) and International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) had squabbled over previous dairy policy issues, but were united in their opposition to the raw milk amendment.
In a joint letter to members of the Senate the two dairy organizations said that if adopted the amendment "greatly enhances the chances that people will become sick because of increased consumption of raw milk."
"Pasteurization is one of the greatest public health tools. To compromise or reduce its use through this legislation is not just bad politics - it's a huge inhumane step backwards, and one that will cause sickness and death," said Jerry Kozak, President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NMPF, the organization that includes many of the country's largest dairy cooperatives.
Paul's amendment would reverse federal law, which currently prohibits interstate sales of raw milk. States are allowed discretion to regulate raw milk sales within their borders.
In recent years several states have allowed sales or distribution of raw milk, but opponents, including leaders of the two groups, say that the product has repeatedly been linked to serious illness from pathogens.
Wisconsin allows "cow share" plans - where consumers "own" a cow and are allowed to take home her milk - and "incidental sales" but farmers are not allowed to regularly sell raw milk to a great number of consumers as a commercial endeavor - something that has been controversial in the last couple of years.
Farmers are allowed to legally consume milk they produce on their farms.
A bill to liberalize raw milk sales passed the legislature two years ago but was vetoed by then Gov. Jim Doyle after opposition from the state's medical community as well as many dairy and veterinary groups.
"The link between raw milk and foodborne illness has been well-documented in the scientific literature, with evidence spanning nearly 100 years," said Connie Tipton, President and CEO of IDFA.
"Raw milk is a key vehicle in the transmission of human pathogens, which is why its consumption has been opposed by every major health organization in the United States, including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics."
Kozak said that lawmakers have to keep in mind that "nearly two-thirds of all outbreaks associated with raw milk or raw milk products involve children.
"It is the responsibility of our nation's leaders to make decisions to protect the health of the American public, most especially, those who are minors and are unable to make fully informed decisions that could have profound consequences for the rest of their lives," he said.
In urging senators to vote against the amendment, Tipton said that consumer choice is an important value but it should not pre-empt public health and well-being.
"Legalizing the sale of raw milk and raw milk products to consumers, either through direct sale or through cow-share programs, represents an unnecessary risk to consumer safety," Tipton said.
Another amendment, sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) would decouple industrial hemp from marijuana and allow farmers to grow the industrial version that has virtually no psychoactive chemicals in it.
Industrial hemp can be used to make fabric, oil, paper and other products. During World War II it was grown extensively across the country, including Wisconsin, to produce rope for the military. Sometimes remnants of the crop are seen in fencelines or among farm buildings, called "ditch weed" by some.
During WW II the federal government actually encouraged farmers to grow industrial hemp with a "Hemp for Victory" campaign.
Some states, including Oregon, have passed legislation making it legal to grow industrial hemp but actual production has been blocked by federal policy.
The Farm Bill amendment gets at the fact that federal regulations don't make a distinction between industrial hemp and its relative that is grown to be ingested for its psychoactive compounds.
Wyden said that his amendment would change federal policy to allow U.S. farmers to produce hemp for these "safe and legitimate products" and would improve the economy in the process.
In order to make the hemp products that are now sold in U.S. stores, manufacturers must import industrial hemp because of the de facto ban on domestic production imposed by federal regulation.
In the mid-20th century it was recognized that over 25,000 products could be made from hemp - from cellophane to dynamite - but it has not been legal to grow it in the United States since 1970 when the federal Drug Enforcement Agency included it in the prohibited group.
When Wisconsin debated legalizing the production of hemp many years ago one expert testified that "trying to get high on industrial hemp would be like trying to get drunk on NA beer" because the compounds that produce the "high" from marijuana are missing from its industrial cousin, the hemp plant.
Seventeen states have passed pro-hemp legislation and six states, including Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont and West. Virginia, allow production of industrial hemp. Farmers there still cannot grow it because of the federal ban.
A year ago Rep. Ron Paul (D-TX) introduced the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2011, which would have amended the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana.
He argued then that the federal government has conceded the safety of industrial hemp because it allows the product to be legally imported as food.
Paul's bill was co-sponsored by 20 House Democrats, including Wisconsin Rep. Tammy Baldwin, and two House Republicans.
Industrial hemp is grown as an established agricultural commodity in 30 countries in Europe, North America and South America.