A few updates from the legislative and market fronts on raw milk:

–Connecticut appears to have backed away from a legislative ban on retail sales. Legislation pushed by the Connecticut Department of Agriculture would have pulled raw milk from state grocery and health food stores, and restricted sales to raw dairies. The legislation failed to make it out of the General Assembly’s Environmental Committee, says Pete Kennedy, head of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, who has been monitoring the legislation.

–When last we heard about the coliform standard for California raw milk—last November, when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed SB 201 and thus allowed the ongoing implementation of AB 1735 and its ten-coliform-per-milliliter limit—it seemed as if California’s raw milk drinkers faced a crisis. I suggested as much in my report on the veto, anticipating reprisals by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Well, no obvious crisis has developed. AB 1735 is being enforced, and the two dairies that produce raw milk continue to turn out product. That doesn’t mean nothing is happening. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, California’s two raw dairies have experienced a total of half a dozen production interruptions, lasting from three to eleven days, over the last 15 months, since AB 1735 was implemented.

Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures Dairy Co. says that the interruptions have generally gone unnoticed by consumers because they don’t involve any recalls of existing product on store shelves, and affect only one of several product lines at any time. Thus, there might be a halt in skim milk sales, but regular milk and cream is unaffected. “The details of the protocol are not as gruesome as you might expect,” says McAfee.

However, he still bridles at the regulation. “It’s a pain,” he says. “And it’s not about food safety.” What bothers him most much is that AB 1735 was pushed through secretly. CDFA “lied and misled our legislators,” he says. The question of the legality of AB 1735 is still in court, based on a suit by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, and the a trial could occur this summer.

–The regulatory and enforcement pressures on raw milk producers are having a predictable effect: they’re throwing more sales underground. A new article, which appears to be well researched, on MSN.com, says that raw milk “may be the most briskly traded underground commodity traded in the United States.” It says that private, sometimes secretive, buyers groups have sprung up, and that consumers “keep very, very quiet about their sources.”

You squeeze legitimate producers enough, and they go underground. Doesn’t that theoretically increase the danger? After all, the underground sources presumably aren’t being tested or otherwise monitored by regulators. Dairy czar John Sheehan of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and his minions in state ag and public health agencies should consider the implications: If this growing volume of unregulated raw milk doesn’t create an uptick in food-borne illness, might not ever more consumers ask themselves a dangerous question: What’s the big deal about raw milk?