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California Closer to Raw Milk Reform

The California Assembly has unanimously approved changes in state regulations of raw milk – the kind that is not pasteurized.

If it makes it into law, Senate Bill 201 would rollback a requirement that raw milk should be held to the same bacteria standards as pasteurized milk – 10 coliform bacteria per milliter – without taking into account the healthy bacteria that remain in milk that is not pasteurized.

Senate Bill 201 passed the California State Assembly by a vote of 63-0. It is now in the state Senate.

Last year regulations were put in place to hold raw milk to the same bacteria standards as pasteurized milk – 10 coliform bacteria per milliter. But that raised opposition from consumers and the two dairies that produce raw milk, according to an impartial legislative staff analysis.

In March, the state's two raw milk dairy operators, Claravale Dairy Inc. of Paicines in San Benito County, and Organic Pastures Dairy Company LLC in Fresno County, obtained a temporary restraining order stopping the California Department of Food and Agriculture from using the 10 coliform count as a measure in raw milk production based on arguments that the new standard is unnecessary and raw milk naturally contains helpful bacteria that neutralize harmful bacteria.

But in May, the dairy operators' request for a preliminary injunction to continue prohibiting the state from enforcing the 10 coliform standard for raw milk was denied after the state argued that it had a rational basis for establishing the standard in AB 1735 in order to protect the public from food-related illness, the analysis says.

Supporters of raw milk have a passion for it. Some of them have bought into a “cow share” or collective program, since it is legal and unregulated to drink milk from your own cow.

“There are thousands of Californians who swear by the health benefits of raw milk, and their personal testimonials are quite compelling,” says state Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter and author of the current raw milk bill.

“We have a responsibility to protect consumer choice while also protecting the public health, and this measure gives us that balance,” Mr. Florez says.

He says Senate Bill 201 gives raw milk dairies the alternative of producing a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan for each critical process in the production of raw milk on the dairy farm. The plan would have to be approved by the Department of Food and Agriculture and the State Department of Public Health (DPH).

A dairy producing raw milk under such an alternative HACCP plan would have to have its raw milk tested twice per week by a state accredited laboratory for certain bacteria with results reported to CDFA, and DPH upon request, Mr. Florez says. The raw milk must also be tested monthly for pathogens. A raw milk dairy under a HACCP agreement with the state would be prohibited from receiving raw milk for processing from any outside source.

Critics say getting certified under HACCP could take years.

"SB 201 actually creates a detour around the regulation of raw milk, and must be re-written before the bill is ready,” says William Marler, food safety advocate and attorney. “There are children on life support because of raw milk tainted with E. coli and other toxic bacteria, and there will be more of them in California--and nationwide--unless changes are made to this legislation."


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