Schwarzenegger goaded into raw milk veto, dairies may have to lose to win

Interest groups across California got their feathers ruffled this week as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger systematically vetoed a record number of bills — including the Farm Fresh Milk Act.

Authored by food-safety-conscious Senator Dean Florez, and the bill would have allowed dairies to adopt Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans in lieu of abiding by the draconian coliform standard signed by the Governor one year ago.

Schwarzenegger wrote generic messages for most of the 400-plus bills he vetoed. The raw milk bill stands out among the crowd: it received custom disapproval by the governor. Schwarzenegger stated in his SB 201 veto message:

This bill weakens food safety standards in California, something I cannot support.… Based on fears with no basis in fact, the proponents of SB 201 seek to replace California’s unambiguous food safety standards for raw milk. Instead they have created a convoluted and undefined regulatory process with no enforcement authority or clear standards to protect public health.

The Governor’s comments echo concerns expressed by food-safety lawyer Bill Marler in late August as the legislation moved from the Assembly into the Senate. The bill passed with unanimous support in the Assembly and passed the Senate with only four votes in the opposition. I speculated in August that Marler’s opposition was critical in the fate of the legislation.

With a veto, there is a chance of a legislative override, but I put those chances at between slim and none, expecting strong partisan votes if the raw milk bill goes back to the legislature.

It might come as a surprise that a bill could have such strong support in the legislature and get chopped by the governor. The fact is, the Governor has been the least likely supporter of this bill since its inception, and bill supporters have done nothing to persuade him in the past year.

Raw milk movement goads governor

In January of this year, the governor’s office sent a letter to raw milk consumers disgruntled with the AB 1735 coliform requirement. The letter stated:

Raw milk has been known to be a source of foodborne illness for decades. For example, in September 2006, the California Department of Public Health linked six cases of infection with the deadly E. coli 0157:H7 to the consumption of raw milk…The standard does not ban raw milk but serves as an indicator of cleanliness and sanitation on facilities that produce and distribute the product to California consumers.

In response to the Governor’s letter, the Weston Price Foundation issued a press release with the headline “California Government Official Lies About Milk.” According to WAPF, the key “lie” in the letter was that the 2006 outbreak cited in the letter was “definitively tied to spinach,” not raw milk.

When the press release crossed my desk in January, I contacted Organic Pastures Dairy Owner Mark McAfee and WAPF President Sally Fallon and suggested that antagonizing the governor’s office was not the most politically savvy strategy. The release had not reached the wires and there was time for a rewrite. I pointed out the problem statement that the Sept. 2006 outbreak was “definitively tied to spinach” when, in fact, not all the affected children consumed spinach and none consumed the spinach recalled at the time. The response: “The outbreak was traced to spinach, but not necessarily in all cases.” And thus the press release marched forward and did not help the movement’s cause.

Senator goads governor

By the spring of 2008, California Senator Dean Florez was on the cause, inspired by raw milk lobbyist Rusty Areias, and organized what the raw milk side called a “Raw Milk Showdown.” The big guns of raw milk testified before the Senate Select Committee on Food-Borne Illness.  Days before the hearing it became apparent that government staff in the California Department of Food & Agriculture (CDFA), through whose back-door efforts the new coliform requirement had been slipped into law, would not appear at the event.

Senator Florez issued a scathing letter to the departments calling for their attendance, along with an accompanying press release. His letter was addressed to CDFA Secretary and Schwarzenegger appointee A.G. Kawamura. There are in fact more delicate ways to seek input from the CDFA, and yet Florez asked the raw milk community to publicize the letter, further irking the government, reminiscent of the January press release by the WAPF.

The CDFA never commented on the Florez letter and did not attend the April 15 hearing. It also appears that the CDFA was never consulted in the drafting of SB 201 by the bill’s authors. Certainly no consultation was made public. Sure, CDFA had every opportunity to be involved, but they supported the current law of the land — they had no incentive to attend hearings. But bringing them in was critical to this legislation passing and yet there were no apparent attempts to bring them in, save the public letters and press release. Nor were there any attempts to strengthen the legislation. Heck, I have not even received a response about my outsourcing letter (PDF), even though I am one of the handful of Democrats in Senator Florez’s district.

Schwarzenegger has done some goading himself. The governor made a nasty little comment about rural legislators that ticked off Florez, who is in the run-up to a campaign for Lieutenant Governor: "They come from those little towns, and they don’t have that vision yet of an airport or of a highway that maybe has 10 lanes."

So who actually wanted this legislation to pass? Florez didn’t have a snow ball’s chance of his bill passing without communication with the CDFA. Now that the bill has been vetoed, he can blame Schwarzenegger for being close-minded on food safety and, frankly, he will be able to avoid the implementation problems that were inherent in his raw milk legislation in the first place. It sounds like a win to me.

The raw milk dairies have gotten a good deal of publicity as a result of this proposed legislation. Even though they would have preferred for the bill to pass, they are quite likely better off this year than they were a year ago if they can meet the new bacteria standard. The new standard is, of course, the rub.

The coming year, the new coliform standard

Since the coliform standard passed a year ago, the big debate has centered around whether dairies can actually comply. In an initial press release, the CDFA claimed that the raw dairies themselves had actually been meeting the standard 75% of the time before the law was passed. Inspectors tested for coliforms in anticipation of the legislation passing. Furthermore, the CDFA cited a Journal of Dairy Science article saying that 20% of samples in bulk tank milk (from generic dairies, not those involved here) would meet the strict coliform requirement. The raw dairy side (including us) cited the same article saying, “See, only 20% of milk would pass.”

Other states have other coliform requirements. Whether those requirements are met or enforced depend on who you ask. Whether it matters if product is tested in the bulk tank or bottle depends on who you ask. Whether a large dairy will have a more difficult time than a small dairy depends on who you ask.

Under California's coliform requirement, fluid dairy products must test in the bottled product at 10 coliform per mL or fewer, in three out of five tests. Tests are generally done monthly. Of the two raw dairies in California, both have tested higher than the 10 coliform limit, but Claravale Farms has managed to meet the 3 out of 5 requirement since January. Organic Pastures product was degraded in March and again in the summer. Its product was withheld from store shelves until it met the standard again.

Dairies will be challenged in the coming year to meet the new standard in order to stay in business. The political irony is that if they are successful in meeting the standard, they will have little leverage in introducing new legislation. The primary argument on the raw dairy side has been that the new standard is impossible to meet. I made the argument a year ago and I am downright curious if it has any basis. If the dairies cannot meet the standard, they will suffer loss of sales, but they may have a stronger argument for new legislation in the upcoming legislative session. They may have to lose to win.

As California raw dairies move forward and seek a resolution to AB 1735, I have a bit of advice: Play nice with public officials, at least publicly. Push them off the monkey bars when there is a big group of kids around. Point to the boy who looks like a bully. Shout, “HE DID IT!”  Don’t throw sand in their eyes via e-mail. Don’t throw sand via press releases. And if you must throw sand, hire a fact checker.

10 Responsesto “Schwarzenegger goaded into raw milk veto, dairies may have to lose to win”

  1. If the dairies cannot meet the standard and they cannot sell their milk, they will cease to exist.  There will be no hoping for a new legislative session next year, they will be gone.  Claravale spent over 1 million dollars building their new state-of-the-art facility that CDFA approved, only to have CDFA change the rules through backdoor legislation barely a month after Claravale began using their new facility.  They have a giant mortgage and construction loans to pay.  I'm not sure the author of this article understands the gravity of the situation and how precarious the future of raw milk is.  I can fully understand why WAPF, Florez and others have not "played nice" as you put it- the two little raw milk dairies have been shafted while E.coli continues to run rampant in feedlots and leafy green fields across the state that enjoy only voluntary compliance measures to reduce their food safety risks.

  2. Amanda Rose says:

    I think it's terrible, Rebecca, that Claravale did not know in advance about the change and that they could have made changes while building a new facility. But they have worked to reduce the coliform count in their product and, so far, it's paid off. They haven't been degraded. We'll see what the future holds for them, but that's the story of the past nine months. The OP cream was off the shelf for about ten days in March and it had some products off the shelf for a few days this summer.
    Florez's play has nothing to do with raw milk. He and the dairies could have worked a whole lot harder to veto-proof this legislation and, for some reason, they chose not to do so.
    The WAPF press release was either irresponsible or shows a great deal of political naivete. There was no reason for it and it only hurt the cause. If you're going to play dirty, be smart about it for goodness sake.
    It is certainly possible that "the author of this article" doesn't understand the situation at all, but you may not be aware, Rebecca, that the author of this article was also the author of the OP press release on AB 1735 one year ago and just may know a little bit about the situation. I am glad to see that you read the materials from back then and are singing the song. My favorite is the "backdoor" legislation. If you're in a political business, you better be willing to play. If you don't have a lobbyist to watch what's moving through Sacramento, you best do it yourself because crazy stuff passes all the time and it is nobody's job to find it but your own.  Of course, if I got caught ass backwards on a new law and it passed with no one in my interest group even knowing about it, you better believe I'd make a big issue out of the bureaucratic conspiracy behind the legislation. (Oh right, I did.) I would also start watching pending bills.
    I have no doubt that there were regulators one year ago doing a happy dance when AB 1735 passed. The raw milk/regulator conflict makes it that much more important to proceed with saavy.
    Hey, someone's got to say it.
    Amanda

  3. I am referring to not understanding Claravale's situation.  Since there are only two legal raw milk dairies in California, it would be fairly easy to get their (Claravale's) perspective for this article.  Although they have not been degraded yet, they think it is only a matter of time before CDFA pulls the plug on them.  I get my current information straight from my friends Ron and Collette's mouth, not old articles off the internet.
    I also don't really think your article's tone is right for Ethicurean.  I mean, come on, "interest groups got their feather's ruffled"?  You mean the friends and families of the two dairies and ardent raw milk drinkers around California?  I would hardly call us an interest group.  Sounds like the same label that the Governator gives to any group he disagrees with, but yet groups like the Farm Bureau and Milk Board never get slapped with this label.

  4. Amanda Rose says:

    The Farm Bureau is never called an interest group? Really? "Interest group" isn't even pejorative. It's just what we all are when we join together on a common cause. Yes, the raw milk interest group got its feathers ruffled, along with members of many other interest groups in California this week.
     
    Should the raw milk movement be called something other than the politically neutral term "interest group"? Is it so unique and special that it requires a different label? Does its uniqueness suggest that it also should pay no attention to common political wisdom? Should it just play the "poor farmer" card for the rest of its existence? That card is a good one, but add a little more savvy to it for goodness sake.
     
    I agree with Claravale owners. Raw dairy is in the cross hairs of regulators. I would add that their focus is on dairies associated with outbreaks which, luckily for your friends at Claravale, does not include them.
     
    I like raw milk. I drink it. But I didn't just fall off the proverbial political turnip truck. It's time to get smart about the game. Consider this article, Rebecca, to be my goading the movement into doing just that.
    Amanda

  5. Jed "the country bumpkin" says:

    Amanda's logic would suggest that all innovative, sustainable farmers and ranchers should be required to play the political game because, as she says, they chose a political business.  If they aren't political savvy themselves, well they better have the money to hire a lobbyist to watch their back in Sacramento.  So I guess the owners of Claravale, a dairy that has been around since 1927, should have considered this when they purchased the raw milk dairy some 20-30 years ago.  Maybe if they just stuck with conventional dairying, pasteurization, etc. they could have stayed out of politics, but instead they choose to continue Claravale's tradition of raw, natural milk.  You sillies!

  6. Amanda Rose says:

    Jed,

    In my opinion, it's only necessary to be political savvy if you want to impact politics. It's certainly possibly to impact it without savvy, but that's more luck than anything else.
    FTR, conventional dairymen are extremely political active and highly organized. Furthermore, the raw milk side hired a lobbyist on this campaign.
    Amanda

  7. Amanda Rose says:

    One more thing Jed. The example I gave of the raw milk side "goading" the governor came from an organization with over a million bucks in member dues. This is really not a "poor farmer doesn't know about Sacramento (and should)" story.
    Amanda

  8. Christine says:

    Your comments in this post bring to mind the old saying, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."  I hope it is helpful to you on your road to recovery from depression to spend your time criticizing the efforts of others in the raw milk movement in CA over the last year.  I have personally spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours on the SB 201 video, online newsletters, tshirts, lobbying efforts in Sacramento, and other activities for this cause.   I fell into this fight accidentally, with no experience whatsoever in politics, nor desire to obtain any.  It quite literally took over my life at one point and I don't recall you or anyone else stepping up at this level to help.   My husband and 3 young children have also made major  sacrifices for me to do this, and it has all been well worth it because our bill made it as far as it will ever go until there are personnel changes within the CDFA.  I have been privy to conversations, emails, and events among both dairies, politicians, lobbyists, scientists, and others that you obviously have not, so for you to make judgements on what we could have done differently only demonstrates how ignorant you are of what has really happened and what goes on in the real world of politics.  Clearly you are an articulate, educated person and if you would like to use your talents in a more productive manner, I do welcome your assistance.   We will take this issue up again in the next Legislative session.

  9. Bonnie P. says:

    I am not sure how or why this discussion turned into a referendum on Amanda's personal efforts for or against the raw-milk legislation. She is as equipped as any commentator in the blogosphere to discuss why Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill.

    Raw milk is, without a doubt, the issue that for some reason inspires the most passion on both sides of the debate. However, even though we here at the Ethicurean completely support the right of dairies to sell raw milk and people (like me) to drink it (and I agree that Claravale has been screwed bigtime), there has to be room for criticism of how the various groups have gone about trying to get the CDFA's shameful legislative action reversed. I guess it's one thing to preach to the choir, but it's obviously another to dare mention you don't think the choir is completely in tune.

  10. Amanda Rose says:

    Dear Christine,
    It is not entirely clear to me what your point is. Are you saying that you think that the governor's staff who wrote the January letter should be called "liars"? Should we continue to say that the outbreak was "definitively" tied to spinach? Was there some insider discussion that would shed light on why these seemingly strange actions were necessary? (I was involved in those discussions, by the way, until early in 2008.)
    I've gotten the "if you're not with us, you're against us" before when I posted about OP outsourcing from a confinement dairy on my blog. Working through that little investigation helped me see that the world is not a simple black-and-white place. Good for you that it still is. It makes life a lot more simple.
    Amanda