PORTLAND — Dairy farmers will be permitted to sell raw milk at the city’s farmers markets without having to warn customers about its potential health risks.
After a long discussion, the City Council voted Monday night not to amend the city’s Farmers Market Ordinance to require vendors to display a placard and provide handouts to consumers detailing the risks of unpasteurized milk.
Councilors also authorized farmers market sales of malt liquor, hard cider and wine produced by Maine farms.
Councilor John Anton led the drive against the requirement for vendors of raw milk.
“It feels unfair and arbitrary,” he said.
The proposed amendment was considered by the council’s Health and Recreation Committee on Nov. 15.
At that meeting, Douglas Gardner, director of the city’s Health and Human Services Department, and his staff recommended that farmers be required to offer a fact sheet about the risks of drinking raw milk.
The fact sheet, based on warnings from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, says raw milk is responsible for nearly three times as many hospitalizations as any other food.
The federal government warns that children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are at the greatest risk of becoming ill.
The government says there are no scientifically proven nutritional benefits of drinking raw milk.
Anton said he did not want to take a position on the potential health risks but did want to point out that Rosemont Market in Portland sells raw milk without having to provide materials explaining its health risks.
And he said Whole Foods used to sell raw milk. The proposed changes would have applied only to farmers markets.
“We’d rather not have to display the hazards of drinking raw milk without being able to display the benefits,” said Lauren Pignatello, the operator of Swallowtail Farm and Creamery in North Whitefield.
Pignatello manages the winter farmers market in Portland.
“I think raw milk should be avoided,” said Charles Bragdon, a Portland resident. “It is very dangerous to some members of our population and I think the labeling is extremely important, if not critical.”
Heather Donahue operates Balfour Farm, a certified organic dairy farm in Pittsfield, with her husband, Doug.
She spoke against the fact sheet, saying, “The people who seek out this product are very well informed about what they are buying.”
To be certified in Maine, Donahue said, her dairy herd must be tested once every three years for tuberculosis. If a cow tests positive, it must be culled from the herd.
Councilors voted 5-4 to remove the consumer warning provision, with Councilors Jill Duson, Ed Suslovic and Cheryl Leeman and Mayor Michael Brennan voting in the minority.
Councilors voted 7-2 to allow sales of malt liquor, hard cider and wine at farmers markets, with Duson and Suslovic opposed.
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]