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State enforcement of years-old raw milk ban blindsides pet food businesses

Published: Jul. 18, 2021 at 4:43 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 19, 2021 at 12:59 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Local pet food shops say they’ve felt blindsided by recent a state crackdown on raw, unpasteurized goat’s milk.

They’re being told to either dispose of all of their stock, or send it back to the vendors — both costly options for small local businesses.

Even though the items are clearly sold as pet food, in the eyes of the Hawaii Department of Health, it’s a public safety issue because it could be mishandled and consumed by humans. Illnesses could then spread to the wider population.

“Raw milk contains a lot of pathogens that can make you sick,” Peter Oshiro of the DOH’s Food Safety branch said. “This is not a freedom of choice issue. If you wanna go ahead and take risks with yourself and your health, that’s your choice. But in this case, we prohibit the sale of raw milk specifically to keep it out of commerce.”

At Calvin and Susie, a pet food shop in Kapahulu, signs informing customers of the ban are now taped to the refrigerator doors where the products were once available.

“Without any communication or reach out from the department, they just came here and basically raided us, is how it felt,” shop owner Alli Yamane said.

It’s money down the drain for other businesses like The Public Pet, who poured their raw milk products into the sink, bottle by bottle.

According to state law, the sale of unpasteurized milk has been banned since 1989. However, enforcement is only coming now after the DOH was made aware that pet supply stores were selling the products.

At the start of the month, more than 20 Oahu shops carried raw milk. Cease and desist orders were given, and the products were pulled.

“The law is very black and white on this, there’s no gray area,” Oshiro said. “In any shape or form, raw milk is not a good option.”

Both pet shop owners and the DOH agree that humans shouldn’t consume raw goat milk. But opinions differ when it comes to the safety of products for animal consumption.

Yamane says not all raw milk products are the same, and her shop only sold two brands with strict testing and fermentation procedures. She believes the products can help heal sick pets.

“We are very very picky pet owners here. And the people that come in here to shop here are very very picky, and we treat pets like a family member,” she said. “We want to make sure that our pets are getting clean foods without pathogens. And that’s why we only sell brands that have a very rigorous testing and hold program.”

Oshiro disagrees.

“I have not seen one veterinarian that said feeding your cat or dog any kind of raw goat milk is good for them. Yeah, it’s a hazardous practice, bad practice,” he said.

Raw milk laws vary from state to state, but most states allow it as animal food. Hawaii is among the few states that bans it completely.

Oshiro says all shops the DOH examined have since complied with the rules, and no one has been hit with the potential $10,000 fine.

“DOH should certainly go ahead, make sure everybody’s safe. But these products are already safe,” Yamane said.

Previous attempts to legalize the sale of raw milk in Hawaii have died in the state legislature

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