On Wednesday, January 16, at 1:30 p.m. in Room 4202 of the State Capitol Building, the California state legislature will consider reversing — or at least amending — AB 1735. (That's the sneaky Oct. 8 change to California's Food and Agricultural Code that would basically shut down the production of raw-milk in the state by mandating a wholly arbitrary limit of 10 coliform bacteria per milliliter. For more background, read this Chronicle story. I hear the paper will have an update Monday.)
"It is absolutely critical that everyone who cares about real food show up," Collette Cassidy, co-owner of tiny Claravale Farm (one of the state's two raw-milk providers; the other is much larger Organic Pastures), who called me late last night to ask the Ethicurean to make this announcement. "It is not a foregone conclusion at all. We need every single person who can come to be there."
Aside from our rights as consumers, Claravale's very existence is at stake. The dairy, which has just 55 milking cows, recently moved from Santa Cruz County to San Benito County in order to expand. Cassidy and her partner Ronald Garthwaite invested over $1 million in the new facility, all with the knowledge and approval of the state's Department of Food and Agriculture. That would be the same department that persuaded the chair of the Assembly's Agriculture Committee, Nicole Parra, to propose the 10-coliform amendment to the existing law. Parra wrote in an email to protesters that 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." Strangely, she forgot to consult either Claravale or Organic Pastures — or any of the state's estimated 40,000 raw-milk drinkers — when she was "acknowledging" those needs.
And that is what stinks worse than spoiled milk. This change was made without any public debate. It was done as a back-door attempt to force these two small dairies to pasteurize their product or get out of the dairy business. I don't care what this guy or this guy says. Drinking raw milk is statistically and scientifically far safer that eating ground beef in this country. Public health officials could save so many more lives if they would devote just a fraction of the attention they spend on raw milk to scrutinizing the beef industry's E. coli levels. Just because raw-milk doesn't have a million-dollar lobbying association does not mean that it should keep getting pushed around by overzealous state officials. We raw-milk consumers do not want or need their "help."
Rumor has it that thanks to an avalanche of angry letters, calls, and emails, Parra is actually sponsoring proposed legislation Wednesday that will "undo" AB 1735. Parra has not returned calls from the Chronicle to confirm this, and Cassidy says the vote is still not assured. Organic Pastures' website has all the details of the meeting. Owner Mark McAfee asks supporters to "do whatever is necessary to be there. Take off work, school, reschedule appointments, make it a field trip for your kids."*
Whether you can come or not, all you California residents can also make a difference by calling each of the members of the committee on agriculture. After the jump, their phone numbers, and some talking points provided by Organic Pastures.
California State Assembly Committee on Agriculture
Nicole Parra - Chair (916) 319-2030
Doug La Malfa - Vice Chair (916) 319-2002
Tom Berryhill (916) 319-2025
Mervyn M. Dymally (916) 319-2052
Jean Fuller (916) 319-2032
Cathleen Galgiani (916) 319-2017
Dave Jones (916) 319-2009
Tony Mendoza (916) 319-2056
*I am going to try my best to make it, but since late December I have had a pinched nerve that makes sitting for long painful, and driving itself almost impossible.