Clay County, WV woman fights to legalize raw milk sales - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Clay County, WV woman joins others in fight to legalize raw milk sales

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Maria Moles at her farm in Clay County, WV. Maria Moles at her farm in Clay County, WV.

A group of farmers and parents met in Charleston, WV Wednesday morning to attend a House Agriculture Committee meeting. The parents were there to show support for two bills that would allow West Virginia residents to legally access raw milk.

"It is a question, do I stop using the milk from my cows do I pour it out? What do I do," asked farmer Maria Moles, during an interview on her farm in September 2013.

Maria and her husband, Mike, were shocked to learn they couldn't sell the milk from their dairy cows. What they can't consume within their family, they have to feed to animals on the farm, or discard.

"I passionately believe in providing people with good healthy food and I believe raw milk is a God-given healthy food," Moles said.

On Wednesday, Feb. 12, she was at the West Virginia State Capitol to fight for two bills that would allow her to sell the milk produced on her farm in Clay County, WV.

Cabell County mother Ann Boyce was by her side. Boyce started researching on her own when members of her family started struggling with health problems. She decided she wanted to start providing her family with raw milk. The only way to do that legally was to spend thousands of dollars on a goat herd of her own, and milk them herself.

"I know it is healthy. I have done my research and it doesn't represent freedom to West Virginians to not be able to do that," Boyce said.

Representatives from the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health were at the meeting as well. Attorney Ann Goldberg told lawmakers raw milk sales had been illegal in West Virginia for decades because bacteria and germs in the milk could kill people.

"By law and by rule, from a public health standpoint, this practice is illegal," Goldberg said, referring to raw milk sales. "Our duty is to protect public health and there is no new evidence that shows us that raw milk is safe for public health." 

The Agriculture Committee decided to pass the Herd Share Bill, H.B. 4273. The bill would allow people in West Virginia to access raw milk by participating in sharing agreements with local farmers.

"If people are able to raise their own beef and butcher their own beef and eat it, they ought to be able to raise their own cows and drink the milk," said Randy Swartzmiller, D-Hancock, who also is House Speaker Pro Tempore.

The bill also was referred to the House Health Committee and a waiver was requested to skip that step to send the bill directly to the full House of Delegates for its consideration.

The Agriculture Committee ran out of time before its members had an opportunity to discuss the other bill, H.B. 4274, that would permit the sale of raw milk.  

"There are more and more people going to the farmers markets," said Delegate Carol Miller, R-Cabell. "There are more and more people who want to know where their food comes from."

"I've had more people asking me in the last couple of years and saying they want to buy raw milk."

While Wednesday's activity was encouraging for the group of raw milk advocates, they know there is a long way to go before people in West Virginia will have access to milk that has not been pasteurized.  

"Everybody wants to feed healthier these days and to do so you need to drink raw milk," said Marilyn Grossman.

She has dairy goats at her home. She received permission to legally sell milk from the goats for use in making soaps. She hopes to someday sell the milk for people to consume.

While the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health is strongly against the legalization of raw milk sales and herd shares, the West Virginia Department of Agriculture is remaining neutral on the matter. That is a concern for some lawmakers.

"I would feel more comfortable with that bill if we had some agreement among the Department of Agriculture and the Bureau for Public Health," said Delegate Nancy Peoples Guthrie, D-Kanawha.

West Virginia currently has some of the most limiting laws in the country relating to raw milk access. But Moles said she and other advocates are up for the challenge.

"We are preparing at our farm just in case this does pass and is signed in to law," Moles said. "I think it is exciting."