PORTLAND — Customers at the city’s farmers markets may soon be able to buy unpasteurized local milk, hard cider, beer and wine to go with their fresh vegetables, meats and baked goods.
City Councilors John Anton and Cheryl Leeman are sponsoring an amendment to the city’s rules that would allow licensed market vendors to add fermented beverages, raw milk and raw milk products, such as cheese, to their wares.
“This is something that was initiated by citizen requests,” Anton said.
State laws that regulate farmers markets allow vendors to sell unpasteurized milk as long as it is clearly labeled. The proposed amendment to the Portland rules would also require vendors to have a laminated placard prominently displayed at their stands that explains the risks of consuming unpasteurized milk.
According the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who drink raw milk are at a higher risk of food-borne illnesses because pathogens that could be living in the milk are not killed during processing.
But raw milk advocates say drinking unpasteurized milk has positive health effects, and that the pasteurization process destroys some of milk’s health benefits.
Anton said he opposes the placard requirement and that he plans to offer an amendment eliminating it at the next City Council meeting on Feb. 6.
He said it isn’t that he is disregarding the health risks, but that requiring market vendors to display the placard is unfair as long as other businesses that sell raw milk are not required to do so.
“The state law does require that it be clearly labeled as unpasteurized,” Anton said. “I’m comfortable that is sufficient consumer protection.”
The proposed change would also bring the city in line with the state laws, which were updated last summer to allow those with a special liquor license to sell malt liquor and wine at farmers markets. The state law does not mention hard cider , but the Portland law would specifically allow the fermented cider.
David Buchanan, who sells regular cider, fruit smoothies, nursery plans and flowers at the markets, said he has contracted with the Urban Farm Fermentory to make hard cider using a variety of heirloom apples he grows in Cape Elizabeth.
“I feel like the (hard cider) market could use some diversity,” Buchanan said. “There’s a huge potential market. People don’t know how good hard cider can be.”
Buchanan said that if the council approves this ordinance amendment, he will be selling his hard cider at the Deering Oaks farmers markets this year.
Anton said he’d like to see the city’s rules governing what can be sold at farmers markets point directly to the state statute, rather than having to update the city ordinance every time the state changes its requirements.
“If we simply followed the state,” he said, “I think we’d be OK.”