News Briefs

Kansas Senate passes bill outlining raw milk sales, advertising reform

By: - February 11, 2022 1:04 pm
The Kansas Senate unanimously approved a bill requiring labeling and allowing advertising of raw unpasteurized milk in Kansas sold on dairy farms. A 50-year-old ban in state law on off-farm advertising of raw milk was struck down in 2019 as unconstitutional. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

The Kansas Senate unanimously approved a bill requiring labeling and allowing advertising of raw unpasteurized milk in Kansas sold on dairy farms. A 50-year-old ban in state law on off-farm advertising of raw milk was struck down in 2019 as unconstitutional. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The Kansas Senate approved a bill allowing on-farm sales of raw milk with a label identifying the product as unpasteurized and leaving the state Department of Agriculture secretary responsible for assessing imminent health threats of the milk supply.

The bill would create new standards for different categories of milk sold in Kansas and clarify definitions and labeling for unpasteurized raw milk available at on-farm locations. The bill wouldn’t require labels to declare unpasteurized milk could contain bacteria causing food-borne illness. It also would remove from state law prohibitions on off-farm advertising of ungraded raw milk.

Kansas has worked to reform its laws on the sale of milk and milk products since a judge in 2019 struck down as unconstitutional a 50-year-old ban on raw-milk advertising beyond the dairy farm where the products were sold.

The Senate rejected an attempt Thursday by Republican Sens. Mark Steffen and Alicia Straub to amend Senate Bill 346 to transfer oversight of health threats related to sale of milk products from the state agency to individual county governments. Steffen and Straub wanted public health considerations to be handled at the county level, arguing flawed responses of unelected state government officials to COVID-19 illustrated the point.

“This way we don’t have a non-elected official making health decisions,” Straub said. “We can make this a simple matter by not giving the secretary of agriculture such control of what is really a public health issue.”

Steffen said agriculture secretaries were unqualified to intervene in public health problems. Inclusion of that provision was a “fatal flaw to integrity of the bill,” he said.

Sen. Dan Kerschen, a Garden Plain Republican and a farmer, said the amendment proposed by Straub was unnecessary because placement of that authority with the state’s agriculture secretary had stood the test of time.

Mike Beam, who has 38 years of experience in association management with the Kansas Livestock Association, has served as Kansas agriculture secretary since 2019 in the administration of Gov. Laura Kelly. He was confirmed by the Kansas Senate.

State law doesn’t set specific qualifications for the agriculture secretary other than he or she “shall have a demonstrated executive and administrative ability to discharge the duties of the office.”

Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, said the state needed a process allowing for quick response to testing that revealed a public health problem with the milk supply. She said the secretary of the Department of Agriculture confirmed he didn’t intend to use his regulatory authority to thwart sales of unpasteurized milk unless a specific health hazard was evident.

Straub and Steffen support pending legislation allowing physicians to prescribe ivermectin against COVID-19. Steffen is a physician, and he said the Kansas Board of Healing Arts opened an investigation of him for prescribing the drug during the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not authorized ivermectin for use in preventing or treating COVID-19 in humans or animals. Certain formulations of the drug are endorsed by FDA to treat parasites in animals. Ivermectin tablets have FDA approval for treating some parasitic worms in humans.

“We’ve heard all these complaints about people using horse medication,” Straub said. “Well, do you want the secretary of agriculture making your public health decisions?”

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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