The California raw milk situation is on the verge of becoming as dire as the state’s two producers predicted it would since they learned about AB1735 at the end of last year.

Now the stage is set—Wednesday afternoon, 1:30 p.m., in California’s San Benito County Superior Court in Hollister—for a judge to hear a request from Organic Pastures Dairy Co. and Claravale Farms to issue a temporary restraining order barring enforcement of AB1735 and its coliform standard.

The farms are seeking the TRO after Organic Pastures had its cream taken off the market for failing its third straight test, limiting coliforms to no more than ten per milliliter.

In an affidavit filed along with the request, Mark McAfee states, “On February 28, 2008, I failed my third test and have had to stop the sale of cream products. This action will cost me $10,000 per week in lost cream sales.”

He adds that he’s on the verge of having to discontinue raw milk sales: “Since January 1, 2008, I have failed two raw milk tests for AB 1735 coliform bacteria levels and passed two. If I fail a third test for my raw/whole milk, I will have to cease selling raw/whole milk and my business will collapse.”

Ron Garthwaite, owner of Claravale Farms, says his situation is only slightly less dire: “To date, we have been tested twice and our whole milk met the requirements of AB1735 once and failed it once, yet our cream and non-fat have failed it both times. A third failure for our cream and skim milk would force us to stop selling those products.”

Also submitting an affidavit in support of the TRO request is Ted Beals, the Michigan pathologist, who states, “The purpose of the coliform test is not to detect the presence of pathogens that cause illness to humans.” Rather, he says, “A coliform test is more of a quality analysis/quality control general monitor for changes in the extent of contaminants.”

He concludes “that the standard for coliforms in AB1735 is arbitrary and does not protect human health” and “lacks the necessary scientific foundation to be supportable as a requirement for food safety.”

The court filings by Organic Pastures and Claravale also include a request for a preliminary injunction. According to Gary Cox of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, if the judge grants the dairies’ request for a TRO, AB1735 will be stayed until the court schedules a hearing on the preliminary injunction. If the court denies the TRO request, then the dairies will proceed to a preliminary injunction hearing—but until that is scheduled and heard, AB1735 will remain in effect.

It’s a high-stakes game here for California’s estimated 40,000 raw milk consumers. As the request for preliminary injunction states: “Although Plaintiffs will be forced out of business, the State of California will not suffer any injuries by restoring the status quo.”

California’s Attorney General’s office will be arguing against the request for a TRO, and its simple presence in front of a judge reduces the odds for success. Lots of people will be holding their collective breaths.

And then, at some time in the distant future, there could be a trial over the actual suit challenging AB1735, which I described in a previous post.