Youve heard of Chinese water torture. Interrogators determined to obtain cooperation from a prisoner subject him or her to the drip, drip, drip of water on the foreheaduntil it drives the prisoner crazy.

Thats sort of whats been happening to Organic Pastures Dairy Co. and Claravale Farm, the states two raw milk producers. Once again, there have been degradessituations where the dairies are found by California’s Department of Food and Agriculture to exceed the ten-coliform-per-milliliter standard of AB 1735, which remains as the law in California, following the veto of SB 201 last month.

The two dairies just put out a joint press release stating, This year the two CA raw milk dairies have been shut down several times by what is a called a CDFA degrade. During a degrade, a product is cut off from retail sale and cannot be sold until it passes certain coliform test standards. This is not the same as a product recall, where an unsafe product is removed from sale for safety reasons. Degrades do not remove product from shelves, instead they prohibit the delivery of new fresh product to the stores. This amounts to a financially crushing blow to the dairy and eliminates consumer choice in fresh raw milk for many days at a time even though no pathogens are present in the perfectly good raw milk. During the week of October 6-10, no fresh dated Claravale raw skim or OPDC raw cream was sold to stores. They were degraded by CDFA even though perfectly safe.

The veto of SB 201 by the governor has reduced the ability of Claravale and OPDC to produce raw milk and have it available on a routine basis in California for consumers wishing to drink raw milk.

Ive been aware of several of these degrades, and generally have avoided writing about them, since they have always been just for a few days, and Ive learned about them after the fact. Minor stuff individually, except that, taken together, the two dairies really do face a serious business problem. Few small businesses can afford to be shut down unpredictably by government authorities, and thrive over the long term.

I think that what were witnessing is something akin to the electricity situation in New Delhi. Without warning, you wont have it for an afternoon, or a day or two. And then, suddenly, it is back.

While electric companies dont have to worry about lost revenue from such episodes, since they are usually owned by the government or large corporations, small raw milk dairies do.

Aside from the debilitating impact, there are indications that the testing for coliforms is far from precise and accurate. Diane Reifschneider, a raw milk advocate who has posted comments on this site, has written Mark McAfee urging him to do a study comparing a private labs coliform measurements with CDFAs.

She bases her suggestion on a posting I did last January pointing out that a CDFA coliform measurement showed 28 coliforms per milliliter, versus Marks measurement of 12 coliforms from the same batch of raw milk. She argues that because such discrepances are larger than the maximum value allowed under law (10 coliforms per milliliter), they are inherently invalid.

It is scientifically illogical to use a measurement method where the numerical error associated with that measurement is larger than the total numerical value of the target measurement itself, she said in a note to Mark that she shared with me.

She says an associate of hers, who is a Ph.D. in chemistry, challenged a CDFA official about the discrepancies last January, but was told, essentially, that the only measurement that counts is the CDFAs.

Mark has expressed upset about the test discrepancies in the past, noting that sometimes they work for him, and sometimes against him. He doesnt want to speculate on where he might go legally with the problem.

In the meantime, its drip, drip, drip. If youre a California raw milk shopper, you may want to buy a quart or two beyond your usual purchase, just to have a little extra on hand for the next degrade. Its not a matter of if, but when.