Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures may have thought his Monday Sacramento meeting designed to overturn AB 1735 went well, but two days later, the most important legislative target in his campaign remains unconvinced.
In an email to individuals who wrote her protesting the legislation, the chairperson of the California Assembly Agriculture Committee, Nicole Parra (pictured at right) today defends the 10-coliform-per-milliliter maximum for raw milk, describing it in terms that only bureaucrats could love—a fulfillment of the legislature’s duty to “protect” the public health. Here’s the heart of her note:
“Unfortunately, recent information falsely asserts that AB 1735 will ban raw milk sales in the State of California. You will be pleased to learn that, contrary to misconceptions, AB 1735 does not ban the sale of raw milk in California.
“AB 1735 requires a coliform count of less than 10 per milliliter for raw fluid milk intended for direct human consumption. This standard has been implemented in a number of other states, and as their experience suggests, the standard set by AB 1735 will not affect the availability of raw milk in California. The State of Washington, which has had this standard in place for several years, has approximately 20 producers who continue to provide raw milk to consumers.
“Passing AB 1735 was a way for the Legislature to fulfill our responsibility to help protect the public health, while acknowledging the needs of those who produce and drink raw milk.”
I have a sneaking suspicion that not many California raw milk drinkers "will be pleased to learn" of this legislator’s reassurance about the availability of raw milk. Nor will they welcome her refrain about "our responsibility to help protect the public health." (You can email the Assembly member at Assemblymember.Parra@assembly.ca.gov.)
They know that anywhere from 25% (the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s estimate) to 80% (Organic Pastures’ estimate) of California raw milk won’t meet the standard. With raw milk already in high demand, it’s reasonable to assume that many current customers will be shut out. Moreover, at least some dairy farmers in Washington are getting their milk to market without meeting the coliform standard, because of lax enforcement. With all the publicity, CDFA can be expected to strictly enforce the new standard next year.
Ironically, Assemblywoman Parra’s territory includes Organic Pastures’ base, Fresno County. Probably more significant, when a committee chairperson decides to go one way on a piece of legislation, other committee members tend to follow along.
Clearly, the decibel level of protests isn’t yet loud enough for the legislators to hear.
One person trying to raise it is Aajonus Vonderplanitz, a raw-food advocate who successfully fought a ban of raw milk by Los Angeles County in 1999.
He promises to file for a court injunction against enforcement of AB1735, and, “Then, we need to establish a class action suit against CA Agriculture Committee members, Governor, Surgeon General and many John Does in the CDHS who were responsible for submitting the discriminatory, unscientifically unwarranted dairy changes to CA law. Also notice that they made the new laws punishable by criminal action rather than infractions. I will need everyone who is willing to join the class action suit. It would be very effective if 10,000 California residents were plaintiffs.”
If you are interested in joining the class action suit, email Theo Copley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Request a class action form, along with information on donating to a legal fund.
Aajonus also provides suggested alternative legislation that is more flexible in required bacteria counts. (You can request the text as well.)
Given the assemblywoman’s email, I’m wondering how “stealth” the CDFA was in getting the new standard passed. Either she’s covering her rear end in not wanting to admit she wasn’t minding the store as chairperson of the agriculture committee in appreciating the importance of AB 1735, or else she really believes in it.
Either way, this situation is shaping up as a major test of wills in the battle over raw milk, with huge long-term consequences.