Mark McAfee knew the political vibes had turned bad four or five days ago. Thats when inspectors from the California Department of Food and Agriculture began coming down hard on his Organic Pastures Dairy Co.

They said a window in a bathroom of our mobile milk barn wasnt big enough. So they wanted an electrical exhaust fan. They wanted us to insulate the rafters. It has nothing to do with the milking. In addition, They said there were spider webs in our eves. We had done a complete cleaning two weeks before.

The Fresno County Health Department joined in as well. They want us to submit new plans for the authorization of our mobile milk barn, says Mark. It was officiallly authorized eight years ago.

This is a concerted effort. A little like what happens in a prison after the inmates rebel: the warden takes his revenge.

The regulators likely knew what was going to happen a few days before yesterday, when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger put his veto to SB 201, the legislation that passed both houses of the California legislature nearly unanimously. After all, the governors statement accompanying the veto was likely written by the CDFA when it argued that life under AB 1735 is just wonderful for the states two raw milk dairies:

Looking past the lobbying techniques, public relations campaign, and legal maneuvering in the courts, one conclusion is inescapably clear: the standard in place has kept harmful products off the shelves and Californias raw milk dairies have been operating successfully under it for the entirety of 2008.

Yes, the ten-coliform-per-milliliter standard has been operating so successfully that both Organic Pastures and Claravale Farm have been essentially balancing on the edge of a proverbial cliff to avoid being shut down. Each must pass a series of three of five tests on each of its dairy products. Failure to pass three of five means they are downgraded,” or prohibited from sellinguntil they pass. Each has been downgraded or nearly downgraded on various products since the new coliform standard took effect last January, only to pass a new test that allowed them to resume shipping within a few days.

But those tests were administered when the CDFA was presumably pulling its punchestrying to avoid highly public shutdowns. Now that SB 201 has been trashed, well, it is presumably free to assert its authority, with no oversight. One of these days, one or both dairies won’t pass, and the milk will cease flowing. The sponsor of SB 201. Sen. Dean Florez, nearly said as much today, arguing that the veto “can be taken as an attempt to regulate Californias two raw milk
dairies out of business.”

At the rally attended by actor Martin Sheen in early September, one of Claravales owners, Collette Cassidy, told attendees that failure to pass SB 201 could put her dairy, which accounts for 10-20% of California’s raw milk, out of business.

Mark McAfee says he is “saddened, but not surprised.” The sad part, he said, is that “CDFA knew they could by-pass the entire (legislative) process…and just pull the strings at the last minute to get it vetoed”–for example, ignore the requests of Sen. Dean Florez to testify at hearings last spring on SB 201. That despite thousands of emails and calls to the governor’s office in support of SB 201, and the efforts of some of his celebrity friends, like Charlie Sheen and long-time health enthusiast Jack Lalanne.

Raw milk supporters now have two options to pursue. One is a re-vote on SB 201. If it passed by the same lopsided majorities as before, the veto could be overturned. But on re-votes, Republicans often support the governor, so the dynamics could change. And Sen. Florez in his statement today referred only to “putting forther legislation next year to move the ball forward on this important issue.” 

Also, the suit filed last spring by the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund is still pending, and will likely be pushed to the forefront. That suit, by OPDC and Claravale, had led to a state judge imposing a temporary restraining order on enforcement of the ten-coliform standard last spring, but the order was eventually lifted by the state judge.

The immediate question seems to be this: can California’s raw milk suppliers survive the wrath of the wardens?