Ron Garthwaite and his wife, Collette Cassidy, tend to calves at Claravale Farm in Panoche, CA.As he contemplated a possible December trial of the 2008 suit against California agriculture officials in connection with AB 1735 and its tough coliform standard, Claravale Farm’s Ron Garthwaite could see nothing but negatives.

“We just couldn’t see any positive outcome in going ahead,” Ron told me this evening.

In the highly unlikely event of a victory, he saw the pending federal food safety legislation, in the current form of HB 2479 which recently passed the U.S. House, as negating any benefits. The federal government will simply substitute for the California Department of Food and Agriculture in looking over the dairy’s shoulder for processed products like cheese and yogurt.

Moreover, a victory by the raw dairy plaintiffs would also prompt the state to seek vengeance. “Even if we do win, we have a bunch of vindictive bureaucrats after us,” he said. “It’s an incredibly distasteful thing…We have a bunch of Twinkies eaters who have a say over what people should eat.”

But he had seen enough with the state judge’s ruling in May 2008 against him and the other plaintiff, Organic Pastures Dairy Co., to convince him that the chances of winning were essentially nil. “The judges are not going to rule against the state,” he said. “We created a great case, the state didn’t say anything, and they won” in the spring of 2008. “They’ve got all the time in the world and all the money in the world” to destroy a small business like Claravale, he noted.

Ron Garthwaite is a very unassuming individual, someone who doesn’t care to be in the spotlight of legislative hearings, or be cross-examined in a courtroom, so I wondered: Is he relieved to be finished with the court suit? “Definitely not,” he said. “It’s not a relief. We’re still operating under that law (AB 1735) that’s hell. We produce a product that is a good product, has been safe for the last 80 years. Everyone wants it. Then we’re having these ignoramus arbitrary clowns having power over our food…There is no recourse in this country.” While Claravale has had only two “de-grades” of skim milk, whereby production is halted until the coliform count comes down in further testing, Ron worries. “They could shut us down at any time.”

He intends, if the federal food safety legislation passes and is signed into law, to shift raw milk sales to private direct sales—via farmers markets, CSAs, and buying clubs—to take advantage of an expected exemption in the new federal regulations for farms selling directly to consumers.

While the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund could have continued the case with Organic Pastures as the sole plaintiff, it decided that Claravale’s withdrawal weakened the case, and the organization is now formally withdrawing the case. The collapse of the AB 1735 case in effect concludes a long and tumultuous battle over raw milk in the state, nearly three years to the day from when it officially started in September 2006. That’s when six children became ill from E.coli O157:H7,and the illnesses were blamed on raw milk. Those illnesses and a week-long quarantine of Organic Pastures Dairy Co. led nearly immediately to the drafting of AB 1735 by top dairy official Stephen Beam of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Now, a long  phase in the battle seems finally to be concluding.