I’ve been feeling some uncertainty and discomfort about my two most recent posts.

1. On the uncertainty front, I’ve found myself thinking about the private lab tests in ways that never occurred to me previously. In my Jan. 29 post, I made this point: “There is definitely a valid ethical question deserving consideration about the responsibility of farmers and food producers to warn consumers and possibly recall product if private lab tests show pathogens.” But I didn’t explain further.

So I found myself wondering: Suppose a raw dairy conducting its own private lab tests learned a milk sample contained a pathogen. Or even further out there, suppose a raw dairy did a split sample test with the state, and the state’s report came back negative, and the private lab report came back positive?

What would/should the dairy’s response in such a situation be? I’ve never considered such possibilities because the reality over the last couple years has been that of state labs coming up with positive pathogen tests—especially in Pennsylvania and New York—and private labs coming up empty. But reading a commentary Lynn McGaha linked to gave me pause.

I had never even thought of such questions until this past week, when the Peanut Corp. of America scandal broke, and we learned this company didn’t recall product after a dozen private tests showed salmonella. And then Lykke, in comments on the Dennis Wenger and peanut posts, raised a number of serious questions about how food producers should approach lab testing.

It’s tempting (at least for me) to think that raw dairies tend to be small and scrupulous enough that they don’t have pathogen problems to begin with and, if they do, their customers have built up sufficient immunity that occasional contamination wouldn’t be a problem in any event. Moreover, the knowledge that a screwup would be much more costly than for any corporate food producer is a huge incentive to self police. But, as I said, I have this bit of uncertainty…

2. On the discomfort front, there is my previous posting about Sharon Palmer.

I was angry when I wrote my post—not always the best way to be writing. Robert Monahan in his comment makes the point better than I did: The search warrant was likely written the way it was to conform to legal requirements, and avoid mistaken identity. More important, he questions why California is doing sending “agriculture police” around to make trouble at small sustainable farms.

I did a little more checking and it turns out the reason a search warrant was even issued by a judge in this case was because the potential violations of law here are felonies. California, unlike other states like New York, doesn’t allow so-called administrative search warrants, such as the kind used to abuse Barb and Steve Smith of Meadowsweet Dairy.

Robert points out that the affidavit from the officers to the judge should provide more information. Unfortunately, in this particular case, the affidavit appears to be “sealed”—at least, I haven’t been able to track it down via the courts as yet, and sealing is accepted protocol in California felony investigations.

The problem for Sharon Palmer is that being found guilty of producing raw milk without a license and pasteurized milk products from an unlicensed facility are both felonies in California, punishable by anywhere from a year to three years in jail on each count. We’re talking a serious case here. Yes, a judge can decide to suspend the jail time and apply probation for a first-time offender. But you have to hope for a lenient judge—not the ideal legal position to be in.

The bigger question is this: Why are the authorities using extreme force to go after someone like Sharon Palmer, and on felony charges, no less? Part of my discomfort is about the argument I’ve heard from a few people: The sheriff has access to more information than I do, and I could wind up eating my words in defending Sharon, or anyone else. If we didn’t have the accumulation of other cases (Mark Nolt, Manna Storehouse) illustrating how the authorities use and abuse our legal guarantees to their advantage, I might be even more uncomfortable.

Okay, got those things off my chest.