Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015 | 2 a.m.
Got raw milk?
The question is a politically contentious one in Nevada, with advocates on both sides arguing over the safety of unpasteurized dairy products. The answer to the question could change in the coming months, at least in the Las Vegas area, after the Clark County Commission took steps this week to establish a dairy commission to oversee raw milk products.
But the commission's plans at this point only include legalizing raw milk from goats, not from cows, a distinction that might not sit well with raw milk supporters.
Establishing a county-level dairy commission that would regulate the quality of raw milk is one of the major requirements under state law before the product can be sold to consumers.
The board, which would be made up of a doctor, a veterinarian and a member of the public, is responsible for setting the rules governing the production, distribution and sale of raw dairy products. This could include everything from setting standards on bacterial counts in milk products to overseeing investigators who test and analyze raw milk products before they're approved for sale. Nye County established a dairy board in 2012, but in Clark County the sale of raw milk products is currently illegal. That still hasn't stopped Las Vegans from purchasing raw milk, cream and cheese in clandestine transactions made out of the trunks of cars.
Raw milk supporters say the product has the same health-conscious appeal as eating raw vegetables or raw fish. It also tastes better and has positive health benefits, they say.
But numerous federal agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Protection, the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, warn that raw dairy contains potentially harmful bacteria can make people sick or even kill them. The safest approach, raw-milk opponents say, is pasteurization.
By focusing only on goat milk, the county commission seems to be sidestepping some of the controversy surrounding the more in-demand raw cow milk.
Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins, who requested an ordinance creating the dairy commission, said only goat milk would be included to provide an alternative to people who can't drink cow's milk for health reasons.
Collins said he wouldn't support legalizing raw cow milk because of the potential damage to Las Vegas' reputation.
"If somebody gets sick on a bowl of raw milk ice cream in Las Vegas, it would impact the whole dairy industry in the state," Collins said.
The commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing and vote on whether to create the diary commission at their March 3 meeting.
Brett Ottolenghi, president of Las Vegas business Artisanal Foods and a raw milk advocate, said legalizing only raw goat milk in Clark County could prove tricky because most of the state's dairy laws deal with cows.
"I think whoever tries to go down that path is going to hit a lot of roadblocks," he said.
Further complicating matters is a state rule requiring all raw milk sold in a county to be produced in that county. Ottolenghi tried to change the law to allow raw milk to be transported for sale between Nevada counties, but the bill was vetoed by Gov. Brian Sandoval in 2013.
Still, Ottolenghi said legalizing just goat milk would be a step in the right direction in the fight toward full legalization.
"If that's done then how can anybody make a serious argument not to do cow dairy milk?" he said.