In the United States, milk is governed through a series of state rules and regulations based on the federal Pasteurized Milk Ordinance, or PMO. This ordinance guides the state programs to ensure that no major milk-borne disease outbreaks occur.
Forty-six states have adopted many or all of the provisions of the PMO. California, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania have not adopted the PMO, but have their enacted their own strict milk safety laws. The PMO provides for national standards regarding the production, processing, packaging and sale of Grade “A” milk and milk products, a program in which every state and the District of Columbia participate.
States oversee all milk products produced and sold in their state Milk products sold over state lines are subject to federal oversight, which will accept state PMO certification.
Raw Milk Exceptions
The federal government, through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), does not permit the sale of raw (unpasteurized milk) milk for human consumption, and advises states not to permit the sale of raw milk. Since the FDA does not regulate raw milk, it can be sold only in the state where it was purchased and cannot be sold across state lines or internationally. It also forbids states from permitting the sale of products made from raw milk, such as yogurt, cottage cheese, butter and ice cream. Some hard cheeses, such as cheddar and Swiss, can be made from raw milk.
Even though the federal government allows only Grade A pasteurized milk to be sold to consumers, 30 states allow for consumers to purchase raw milk directly. In many states, raw milk can be only purchased at the farm, at farmers’ markets or through a "cow-share" program, where consumers combine resources to purchase a dairy cow. In 12 states, however, consumers can purchase raw milk at retail stores.
In the remaining 20 states, the sale of raw milk to consumers is prohibited. Raw milk, however, can be purchased for animal consumption.
States legalizing raw milk sales or distribution have done so through:
- Statute. Any state statute conflicting with Section 9 of the PMO overrides the PMO.
- Administrative rule or regulation. Any state regulation conflicting with Section 9 of the PMO overrides the PMO.
- Policy. This would include cow share programs in states where, even though there is a prohibition on the sale of raw milk, state regulatory agencies have made a policy decision not to shut down cow share programs they know of that comply with state guidelines. State policy sometimes does conflict with and override state statutes, administrative rules or other written guidelines in the regulation of milk and milk products.
Raw milk sales for animal consumption are at least potentially legal in all states but under commercial feed licensing laws. Except for Michigan, not a single state law expressly prohibits the sale of raw milk for animal consumption. The variables are the states' willingness to grant licenses to producers of raw milk for animal feed and how strictly state agencies would monitor licensees to make sure that raw milk sales did only go for animal consumption. The PMO regulations do not apply to the sale of raw milk for animal feed.
The state milk law summaries are based on research of the state statutory and administrative codes and conversations with farmers and state dairy officials.