The Kansas Senate approved a bill requiring specific text be printed on container labels of unpasteurized goat or cow milk and on raw-milk dairy products sold directly from producers to consumers.

In response to public health concerns raised by the Kansas Department of Agriculture, the Republican-led Senate voted 37-3 to require dairy farmers engaged in on-farm retail sale of unprocessed milk to include a label reading, “This product contains raw milk that is not pasteurized.”

Senate Bill 308 was sent to the Kansas House for consideration.

Sen. Barbara Bollier, a Mission Hills Democrat and retired physician, proposed an amendment to the bill that would have required those selling raw milk to post signage declaring the product could contain bacteria causing food-borne illness. The Senate voted down her amendment.

“I firmly believe that we owe it to women, to immune-system-weak people, to those at risk to know the fact, and I think this is a very simple way to let those people know that information,” Bollier said.

Senators skeptical of her amendment viewed the broader labeling idea an excessive intrusion into the marketplace.

“The issue still is that it would be onerous for that small dairyman that might have two or three cows and is trying to get by,” said Sen. Edward Berger, R-Hutchinson.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people only consume pasteurized dairy products.

The Kansas Livestock Association had recommended a complete ban on sales of unpasteurized milk in Kansas, but small-scale producers managed to derail that sweeping prohibition.

KLA and the state Department of Agriculture also endorsed a labeling requirement on raw milk containers that would have been larger than the health warning on cigarette packs.

Opponents of the Senate bill were Sen. Richard Hilderbrand, R-Baxter Springs, Sen. Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha, and Bollier.

The legislation surfaced in the 2020 session after a Shawnee County District Court judge in November prohibited the state Department of Agriculture from enforcing laws and regulations limiting advertising for raw milk to a sign located on the dairy’s premises.

The 50-year-old law on raw milk advertising was challenged on First Amendment grounds by goat farmers Mark and Coraleen Bunner, operators of Shepherd’s Gate Dairy near Pfeifer. They successfully argued the statute violated the Bill of Rights of the Kansas Constitution.

The district court left in place a provision in state law restricting the distribution of raw, unpasteurized milk to sales at the producer’s farm directly to the final consumer.

Sen. Ed Berger, R-Hutchinson, voted for a Senate bill requiring dairy farmers selling raw milk to place a label on containers designating it as unpasteurized. He said more extensive labeling could be onerous to the state’s small dairy producers. [Sherman Smith/The Capital-Journal]