PORTLAND — Farmers may be allowed to sell unpasteurized milk at the city’s farmers markets, but they would be required to provide a consumer warning about the alleged dangers of drinking raw milk.
Members of the City Council’s Health and Recreation Commission on Tuesday recommended approval of an ordinance authorizing the sale of raw milk, provided that vendors supply buyers with a copy of a list of potential risks. The warning list was developed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Commission members also endorsed an ordinance amendment that would allow the sale of hard cider at farmers markets.
Both ordinance changes must be approved by the full City Council, a vote that will likely take place in December, said Councilor Dory Richards Waxman, who chairs the commission.
Most of Tuesday night’s discussion centered around raw milk sales at the outdoor farmers markets in Mon =ument Square and Deering Oaks. There is also an indoor farmers market held during the winter months on State Street.
“I can live with this,” said Larry Bruns, who manages the outdoor markets in Portland. “I just find it cumbersome. Pretty soon you’ll need one of these (consumer fact sheets) for everything we sell at the farmers market including spinach, lettuce and raw greens. It’s a slippery slope you are heading down.”
After the city began enforcing its ban on the sale of raw milk at farmers markets, about a dozen farmers and raw milk drinkers showed up at the Health and Recreation Commission’s October meeting to protest. That led to Tuesday’s meeting, where councilors Waxman, Cheryl Leeman and John Anton discussed the merits of allowing raw milk sales.
Anton said he did not support requiring vendors to provide a warning because at least one other store in Portland sells raw milk and would not be required to comply with such a provision.
The federal list mentions seven points about drinking raw milk, from how it could be risky for pregnant women, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems to drink, to the symptoms that can result, such as diarrhea, stomach cramping and vomiting.
“We felt this was an opportunity for us to educate folks about the risks of consuming unpasteurized milk products,” said Doug Gardner, director of the city’s health division.
Leeman said she could not see the harm in educating consumers.
“It doesn’t give me any heartburn. It’s a happy medium,” Leeman said.
But Lauren Pignatello, who operates Swallowtail Farm in Whitefield, said she also sells honey and meat at the Portland farmers market. She questioned how far the city intended to go with regulating the sale of food items at markets.
“It’s a lot of government for the farmers to deal with,” she said.
Leeman said there are all types of warning labels on food, and she sees nothing wrong with treating raw milk that way.
“I have no intention of extending this to green beans,” she said.
South Portland resident Roxanna Kennedy said the only reason she visits the Portland farmers market is to buy raw milk for her children. She said her kids are healthy.
“It’s very high in protein and it’s great for my kids,” Kennedy said. “People have been drinking raw milk for hundreds of years and we’re all still here as proof that it works.”
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]