AUGUSTA — Despite being passed by lawmakers in June, a bill to deregulate small-scale production of raw milk will not become law after the Legislature failed Tuesday to muster the necessary votes to override Gov. Paul LePage’s veto.
LePage vetoed the bill, An Act to Help Small Farmers in Selling Raw Milk Products, Monday night. On Tuesday afternoon, the Senate voted 17-16 in favor of overturning the veto, but it wasn’t enough to meet the two-thirds necessary to override.
The bill would have exempted from licensing and inspection farmers whose daily production of raw milk is 20 gallons or less. Advocates for the bill said the deregulation was necessary to promote small-scale dairies that could not afford the infrastructure requirements necessary to pass state inspection.
Opponents, including dairy industry groups and some licensed raw milk producers, said the regulation was necessary to protect consumers from the dangers they say are associated with unpasteurized or “raw” milk.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration looks down upon the consumption of raw milk. Maine is one of 30 states to allow for any sale of raw milk, and one of only 12 states that allow its retail sale.
The Legislature approved the measure in June after the bill was amended to require raw milk producers operating under the exemption to regularly test their milk under the oversight of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.
In a statement about the veto, LePage said he agreed with the spirit of the bill, if not the letter.
The governor took issue with the bill allowing unlicensed raw milk producers to sell their products at farmers’ markets. He said he would support an amended bill that restricted sales to take place only at the producer’s farm.
“The ‘on farm only’ approach would reduce risk to overall public health because consumers would know the farmer who produced the milk, see and inspect the farm and hold the producer accountable for foodborne illnesses that are associated with unpasteurized milk,” LePage said.