Madison - Following months of debate between public health agencies and people who believe that raw milk is a healthy food, the state Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly approved legislation that would legalize sales of unpasteurized milk to the public.
They passed the measure 25-8, sending it to the Assembly, which could take it up next week.
Senators in favor of the legislation said consumers should have the right to decide whether they want to buy raw milk direct from farms licensed by the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
Senators against the legislation said they did not want to pass a law without first addressing safety issues.
Sen. Pat Kreitlow (D-Chippewa Falls), an author of the bill, said it would help a small number of farmers who have decided to sell raw milk. They will be committed to making sure they have clean facilities "because it's their life and their livelihood on the line," he said.
But Sen. Judy Robson (D-Beloit), a retired nurse, said the bill would put the public at risk.
"We don't appreciate public health until we don't have it," she said.
The legislation now goes to the state Assembly, which must pass it next week for it to forward it to Gov. Jim Doyle before the regular legislative session ends. Its fate is unclear in the Assembly; Doyle has said he would sign a raw milk bill into law under the right circumstances.
Twenty-five states allow some form of unpasteurized milk sales. Advocates say the Dairy State's handling of the issue will send an important signal to the rest of the nation, including other states that are considering legalizing raw milk sales.
Advocates say milk straight from the cow's udder contains nutrients, enzymes, and bacteria that boost the immune system and can cure a plethora of ailments including tuberculosis, heart failure, high blood pressure, prostate disease, diabetes, kidney disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, asthma and obesity.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says the risks of unpasteurized milk greatly outweigh any purported benefits because of the harmful bacteria it may carry.
Drinking raw milk or eating raw milk products is like playing Russian roulette with your health, the FDA says on its Web site.