Amendment would pour raw milk into Constitution

Kenric Ward
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Posted: Dec 29, 2014 4:00 AM
Amendment would pour raw milk into Constitution

COME AND GET IT: John Coles distributed raw milk goat cheese for free at the Charlottesville Farmers Market after the state imposed cheese-making regulations.

By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau

RICHMOND, Va. — The 2015 General Assembly will debate a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to buy homegrown food items at Virginia farms.

According to the amendment: “The people shall have the right to acquire for their own consumption farm-produced food directly at the farm with agreement from the farmer who produced it.”

“Right now, you have right to purchase food of your choice – but regulations prevent the right (of farmers) to sell them. This amendment gives consumers standing in court,” says Lois Smith, president of the Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association.

A similar reform was offered at the 2014 session by Delegate Ben Cline, R-Lexington. After it failed to pass, Delegate Richard Morris, R-Carrollton, picked up the idea.

Several co-signers and a Senate sponsor are expected to come forward before the General Assembly convenes Jan. 14.

The Virginia Farm Bureau has not taken an official position on Morris’ measure, but it opposed Cline’s effort last session. State officials have also testified against the idea, citing health concerns.

Christine Solem of Charlottesville says Virginia would be the first state to pass such a constitutional amendment.

“This is a fundamental right,” she told Watchdog in an interview. “It’s not a health issue — it’s a matter of personal liberty.”

Solem, who used to raise goats for goat milk, cites the example of raw milk, whose sale is prohibited in Virginia but allowed in 29 other states.

Only through “herd-sharing” contracts — in which a “share” of a dairy cow is purchased — can a person legally buy raw milk in Virginia.

“They’re essentially paying the farmer to milk the cow,” says Matthew French, a free-range farmer in Bland, Va.

Solem notes that VICFA’s measure precludes Internet purchases or sales at farmers markets. The amendment covers only farm-based transactions with individuals.

Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farms in Swoope, Va., sees the constitutional amendment “as remediation for a centuries-old oversight to a fundamental human right that the framers of the original Bill of Rights could not have foreseen. They could not have imagined that a day would come when it would be illegal for someone to sell a glass of raw milk to a neighbor.”

“Similarly, they could not have foreseen a time when people would be largely denied the freedom to purchase foods of their choice — or at least make it so difficult it constitutes insurmountable hurdles. Inasmuch as this extends to all people, (the amendment) is inherently free from special interest.”

To become law, the amendment must pass two consecutive General Assemblies and be ratified by voters in a statewide referendum.

Kenric Ward is a national reporter for Watchdog.org and chief of the Virginia Bureau. Contact him at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward