Earlier this month, the N.C. Board of Agriculture voted unanimously to adopt a rule that requires the addition of gray dye to all unpasteurized milk sold in the state. Currently, unprocessed milk can be legally sold in North Carolina only if it is labeled “pet milk.”

Fresh, unprocessed milk is legally sold in a number of states, including South Carolina, and a growing cadre of fans tout its health attributes, but the state health and agriculture departments both adamantly oppose its sale. An underground market has developed to procure it directly from farmers, many of whom label it “pet milk” to stay within the letter of the law. (See “Drink it raw,” June 20.)

Assistant Commissioner of Agriculture David McLeod said the rule was designed to discourage that practice.

Unless it is successfully challenged, the rule will go into effect on Nov. 1. Raw milk advocates have been collecting citizen letters to push the rulemaking into legislative review, which would delay adoption of the rule until lawmakers would have a chance to block it next spring.

That’s also when the House is likely to take up a bill to legalize what are known as “dairy shares,” whereby individuals pay the farmer the agriculture equivalent of room and board and then have a right to their own cow’s milk. Such contractual agreements were legal in North Carolina until 2004. The Senate passed legislation to re-legalize dairy shares by a vote of 39-9 in May.