Raw, raw, raw milk!: Hundreds of people showed up in Sacramento Wednesday to support the rolling back or amending of AB 1735, the sneaky amendment to the California code that would likely have put the state's two raw-milk suppliers out of business. Most encouragingly, the Assembly Agriculture Committee voted unanimously for Assembly Bill AB 1604. The bill halts all coliform (bacterial) testing for six months; allows for additional hearings to review the science around coliform levels; and sets a less-than-50 coliform per ml standard for “the first bulk tank” starting July 2008. Organic Pastures, the biggest raw-milk producer, calls this standard "achievable and fair."
(Photo of Organic Pastures' Mark McAfee and raw-milk supporters in Sacramento from the slideshow on OP website.)
Fascinatingly, Assemblywoman Nicole Parra (in whose county Organic Pastures is located), the Democrat who supported the new limits last year, told the Chronicle that the dairies "got rolled by a state agency." According to the account on Organic Pastures' website, during the hearings Parra admonished the California Department of Food & Agriculture "for its deceitful attack on the democratic process, and for misleading the legislature, saying such a process 'will not stand.'" (The original bill had been put on the consent agenda, meant for bills with no opposition, and passed without hearing or debate.) She also said she would fight tooth and nail for AB 1604, the revision to AB 1735.
In addition to hundreds of raw-milk drinkers, I was pleased to see that Walter Robb, the co-president of Whole Foods, came along to testify on raw milk's behalf. "Raw milk is a small part of our dairy case, but a significant choice," Robb said in the Sacramento Bee. (I interviewed Robb in Jan. 2007.)
The fight is looking good but is not yet over. AB 1604 still has to pass the Assembly and Senate by a two-thirds majority as an urgency bill. That means more phone calls, letters, and faxes to your Assemblyperson and state senator are needed telling them to vote for AB 1604. (Find your representatives here.)
And a small victory against VoldeMonsanto: Also on January 16, the California Ag Committee unanimously passed AB 541, which could become California's first state law protecting farmers from the hazards of genetically engineered crops.
An email (not online) from Californians for GE-Free Agriculture states that although the bill has been watered down considerably since it was first introduced — it now has the support of the California Farm Bureau and other conventional agriculture organizations — it does two important things. First, it protects farmers from patent infringement lawsuits if they are unknowingly contaminated by GE crops, and second, it establishes a mandatory crop-sampling protocol to be used by biotech companies when investigating farmers they believe may have violated patents or seed contracts. They will have to get the farmer's written permission for sampling, and a state agriculture official must accompany the patent holder during the sampling and collect duplicate samples for independent verification if requested by either party.
AB 541 is also well worth bugging your California reps to support.