California raw milk update: A new commission, instead of a reversal

The hopes of more than 700 California raw-milk supporters following last week’s seeming victory in Sacramento were dashed today in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. The issue of raw-milk safety and California bacteria standards — instead of being revoked — will now be taken up by a "blue ribbon" commission charged to research and recommend a new standard.

Last week, the Assembly Committee on Agriculture chaired by Nicole Parra had passed new “compromise” legislation that would have raised the current 10 coliform count per milliliter requirement to 50 coliform. Tests would have been in the bulk tank, rather than after bottling (a friendly move to California’s two raw-milk dairies). In front of hundreds of raw-milk drinkers, Parra made a plea to fellow committee members to amend the legislation even though it might appear that law makers were backing down on food safety.

“This is the right thing to do,” appealed Parra. (Her speech can be watched in a video posted on YouTube.)

Committee members voted unanimously in support of the compromise legislation, but Parra apparently pulled the legislation just before its journey to the Appropriations Committee today, instead convening the commission to study raw milk. Organic Pastures owner Mark McAfee reports that the commission "will make recommendations for a standard that [Parra] can sell to everyone in the food chain.”

A "blue ribbon commission" usually includes stakeholders and researchers from all sides of the issue charged with exploring solutions. McAfee assures us that this one will include strong raw milk supporters with scientific backgrounds. Parra will certainly include representatives from the larger pasteurized dairy industry as well, since most are based in her district.

Although this news does feel like a step back for raw-milk sales, during the commission’s research into bacteria counts, McAfee reports that Organic Pastures and Claravale dairies are filing an injunction against the 10-coliform standard next week. In the meantime, dairies must meet the 10-coliform standard on at least three of every five of their regular monthly inspections.

[The last paragraph of this post has been edited to correct an error about the status of the injunction.]


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