Milk Debate Touches Raw Nerve in California

Special interest groups are stopping Mariko Yamada's raw milk bill.

SACRAMENTO—While driving through the Mojave Desert a few years ago, I stopped at a small restaurant and had a meal that included raw oysters. Driving home, I worried about the wisdom of that decision given that desolate desert regions aren't the best-known places for fresh oysters.

Nothing bad ensued, but it reminded me of a lesson modern consumers often forget: There's certain risk in anything we eat. Bad oysters kill a few Americans each year, and serious E. coli outbreaks have been tied to such healthy-seeming products as bean sprouts and lettuce. Our food is remarkably safe, but food-borne illnesses remain fairly common.

A little perspective is necessary as we analyze food-safety debates, such as one that took place earlier this month in the state Assembly. Mariko Yamada (D-Davis) introduced A.B. 2505, that would allow hobby farms to share or sell raw, unpasteurized milk from cows and goats, but it was halted after the commercial dairy industry and food-safety advocates claimed the bill would cause a public-health "disaster." The bill's supporters suspect that the opposition was more about crushing competition than about protecting the public's health, although there's little question that pasteurized milk poses fewer safety risks than the raw variety.

The debate's politics are fascinating, given that some Democrats who are more apt to favor government regulation backed the bill as a means to help the small, niche farming industry that is sprouting up. Meanwhile, some Republicans, who usually decry government meddling, blasted the bill.

"If you want to drink unpasteurized milk, buy a cow, milk the cow and drink the milk," said Assemblyman Brian Dahle, a Republican from a rural northern California district, according to a Sacramento Bee report. "We don't like to get into what people do at home–that's your business–but when you start selling it, that's our business."

Not many people can actually buy a cow. And many Californians would like to be free to buy a product they believe to be tastier than the processed milk sold in grocery stores. The health issue is up for debate, but it's ironic when Republicans believe the state government is the one that should decide. And rarely do they question California's dairy industry, which has been known to flex their muscle to boost prices and keep out competition from other states.

It's legal to drink raw milk in California and even for some larger commercial dairies to sell it, but the ongoing sale ban for home dairies promotes some "work-arounds." Some people who want to buy and sell raw milk, for instance, simply sign waivers saying that it is not for human consumption. The bill, supporters say, would improve food safety by prodding these home dairies to comply with higher standards.

The bill would have allowed people with three lactating cows or 15 lactating goats or sheep to sell small amounts of milk to their neighbors or to strangers who come to their property to buy it. It adds inspections, tests and regulations – but does not require hobby farms with fresh pastures to comply with the same costly rules as commercial dairies with many cows who live in confinement.

Opponents of the bill said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration calls raw milk risky, especially for very young children. The hearing included testimony from a woman whose child became seriously ill after drinking it. It also included statements from those who support the legality of raw-milk sales.

"To suggest that raw milk is 'inherently dangerous' implies that all milk, without exception is 'tainted' with pathogens and unfit for consumption," argued Professor Cynthia Daley, who heads the dairy program at Chico State University's agriculture department, in her testimony before the committee. "There is a growing body of evidence to suggest these farm kids, raised on raw milk, are actually healthier."

The main threat from raw milk is if the animals are unhealthy or live in dirty conditions. Daley argues that these hobby farmers spend so much time tending to their small number of cows and goats that the milk tends to be very safe. My daughter raises Nubian dairy goats on our small acreage, and is part of a community of small hobby farmers who are fanatical about their animals and their barns. She doesn't sell the milk or drink it, but I suspect the people who want to buy raw milk tend to be highly informed consumers who understand the potential risks and benefits.

In 2011 in Venice, California, agents raided a health-food store and confiscated its raw milk, which gained attention as a seemingly heavyhanded approach given the nature of the "criminal" activity. Isn't it better to just let individuals make their own choices about a food that can't be much riskier than fresh oysters from the Mojave Desert?

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  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    Well, of course small government is a good thing but you can not have people selling uninspected raw milk, the next thing you know guys will be setting up banks in their garages.

  • trshmnster the terrible||

    . can't tell if being sarcastic or not

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    The former, it is a riff on a Romney quote

  • trshmnster the terrible||

    Ah must've missed that specific quote. Carry on!

  • rawmilkmike||

    In a cow share the farm is inspected by the consumers. The federal reserve is a private bank.

    “The woman whose child became seriously ill after drinking it.” has no evidence that “it” was the cause of her child’s illness.

    The state has never determined the minimum infectious dose for any of these so called pathogens.

    “In 2011 in Venice, California” the only "criminal activity" was the raid it's self.

  • rawmilkmike||

    Bo Cara Esq.

    In a cow share the farm is inspected by the consumers. The federal reserve "is" a private bank.

  • RannedPall||

    Nice to see the legislature has their priorities in order in CA. Our monstrous unfunded pension liability? Well, we just have to let Moonbeam work his magic.

  • bassjoe||

    Eh, the agricultural industry is a big effing deal in the state (it provides a substantial portion of the country's food in the winter months). Legislation regarding the industry should be a priority.

    This is one of dozens of bills winding its way through the Legislature regarding farming and agriculture... and not the only one that will apparently die in committee. It just got pulled out of the heap by Reason since its editors have a fetish about raw milk (there used to be a raw milk store closish to Reason's LA offices that was closed down a couple years back).

  • Sevo||

    "It just got pulled out of the heap by Reason since its editors have a fetish about raw milk"

    Or maybe a 'fetish' about worthless government regulations and cronyism.

  • gimmeasammich||

    Legislation regarding the industry should be a priority.

    Citation needed.

  • Eric Bana||

    Is there any reason NOT to write about people being barred from buying and selling raw milk legally?

  • rawmilkmike||

    “Eh, the agricultural industry is a big effing deal in the state (it provides a substantial portion of the country's” processed food. Raw milk is real food and is much more important.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    The bill's supporters suspect that the opposition was more about crushing competition than about protecting the public's health

    IMPOSSEROUS!

  • BakedPenguin||

    I wonder if they could form co-ops or some other organization that would skirt the law. "Hey, you said we could drink milk from our farm, and it's our farm."

  • bassjoe||

    A store in Venice, CA actually tried that approach. All customers were "owners" of the farm and they signed ridiculously broad waivers as a condition for shopping there.

    It was shut down in late 2011 allegedly because the managers weren't properly managing who bought the raw milk. The owner also seems a bit... crazy... which probably didn't help things. http://www.foodsafetynews.com/.....1FajuZdV-8

  • gimmeasammich||

    It was shut down in late 2011 allegedly because the managers weren't properly managing who bought the raw milk FYTW.
  • gimmeasammich||

    I didn't know seeming "a bit crazy" was a valid reason that could be added to a list of things that could get you shut down.

  • bassjoe||

    Never said it was. It just doesn't help things when you're dealing with overzealous government agencies.

  • Dances-with-Trolls||

    The bill's supporters suspect that the opposition was more about crushing competition than about protecting the public's health

    If you mean one Team playing defense whenever the other Team is trying to score you are perfectly correct.

  • gimmeasammich||

    And many Californians would like to be free

    I think this has been proven many, many times to be false.

  • Brett L||

    "Many" is not necessarily a majority or even a plurality. It is very possible that several hundred thousand Californians would like to be free of any particular government policy.

  • gimmeasammich||

    Agreed. I was just being facetious.

  • Brett L||

    Just trying to give you the polite version, before Epi gets all pissy about collectivizing groups.

  • gimmeasammich||

    I appreciate that. I'm a big boy though; I can handle it.

    It is very possible that several hundred thousand Californians would like to be free of any particular government policy.

    Ain't democracy great? Mumble mumble two wolves and a sheep mumble.

  • Brett L||

    You say you can handle it, but its worse than Warty's basement.

  • gimmeasammich||

    Obviously you've never been. Nothing is worse than Warty's basement. If you can make it out with all of your memories intact that is.

  • trshmnster the terrible||

    As Warty says (or said, or will say... this whole time travel thing confuses me)"Revenge is a dish best served without lube"

  • califernian||

    God forbid that adults be allowed to make their own choices about their own fucking food.

  • gimmeasammich||

    This sounds a lot like the beer and alcohol distributors bitching that they aren't getting their "fair share" of the profits when breweries and distilleries want to sell their own product that has never left their premises.

  • gimmeasammich||

    Or conversely, they are bitching that the producers aren't paying their "fair share."

  • Robert||

    I'd like some numbers on Democrats' & Republicans' (both legislators and gen'l public) support & oppos'n to the bill, just to see if partisanship is as arbitrary as it sometimes appears.

  • bassjoe||

    In this case, I think there will be a starker urban/rural divide than partisan one. Urbanites are more likely to support a loosening of the regulations to have more food choice while rural ones want to protect established farms.

    Republicans, however, are so weak in California and generally limited to rural areas that it might seem like Republicans are only on one side of the issue. Some Democrats will also be "anti" because they blindly follow "consumer protection" groups.

  • Sylvie1||

    I'm not sure you are right about the urban/rural thing - we have a house in a very small New England town, lots of farming, but most of it is small, family farms, the community is very vocaland active against regulations that prioritize agri-business over true agriculture; we have raw milk available from several farms, cheese made from that milk, etc.

  • Sevo||

    "We don't like to get into what people do at home–that's your business–but when you start selling it, that's our business."

    Non-sequitur, but I'm sure it doesn't matter to this shitstain. If some got flushed down the drain, he's use that as an excuse.

  • Despiser||

    Not if YOU dont buy from them.

  • Despiser||

    Both Parties have the American Citizen bent over and both scream at us "NO VASELINE FOR YOU"...

  • prolefeed||

    It's not like the Mojave Desert is far from the coast, or that refrigerated trucks don't exist. It would be possible for that desert cafe to sell oysters that were harvested the previous day, or even the same day if the owners got up really early in the morning.

  • XM||

    Yamada knows that sashimi and sushi won't be safe if the movement against raw food becomes bigger than it is.

    Health regulations on food will likely affect Asian businesses. It became illegal for some noodle houses to hang noodles and other foods outside. Some Korean vendors got in trouble for putting raw oysters in Kimchi.

    And in Cali, shark fin soup and handling food without gloves are banned. But thankfully the place is "shadow economy" central where many places allow patron to smoke. The PC establishment don't like to bust even anchor baby hotels frequented by the Chinese. I've eaten a number of "exotic" anmials in LA. I can never be a Jew or a Muslim.

  • buybuydandavis||

    "Isn't it better to just let individuals make their own choices...?"

    hahahahahahahaha

    If you can ask that with a straight face, you simply don't understand the people we're up against.

    In response to that question, a reply wells up in their souls "NO NO NO NO. You are MY PROPERTY and will do as I SAY. KNEEL before me and BEG for your life, and I may be merciful. Lick my boots clean, SLAVE."

  • rawmilkmike||

    These raw milk bills are Trojan horses. Their intent is to make raw milk more difficult to get.

    Raw milk has a negative risk factor. It's consumption reduces your chance of contracting a so called food-borne illness.

    Pasteurized milk is more toxic than soda. It is associated with many deaths even though 60% of American adults can't even drink it. Raw milk has never been associated with a single death even though at least 10 million Americans drink it.

    This is not a debate. Consumers want raw milk. Regulations are suppose to ensure consumers get the products they are looking for. The only people speaking out against raw milk are it's competitors.

    When you prevent the sale of fresh milk you are in effect banning it. This is not legal in most countries and certainly is not legal in America.

    If we were looking for taste we'd simply buy chocolate milk. Anyone who has switched to raw milk knows it's health benefits in a matter of weeks. It's safety is proven in a matter of months. The average American gets this dreaded illness every 3 months.

    Raw milk consumers have much higher standards than the state. But eliminating milk processing, regardless of the milk's quality, can't help but “improve food safety”.

    The bill would have prevented people with more than 3 cows from selling fresh milk and would have also prevented them from selling any measurable amount of milk.

  • Sevo||

    rawmilkmike|4.18.14 @ 11:15PM|#
    ..."Raw milk has a negative risk factor. It's consumption reduces your chance of contracting a so called food-borne illness.
    Pasteurized milk is more toxic than soda. It is associated with many deaths even though 60% of American adults can't even drink it. Raw milk has never been associated with a single death even though at least 10 million Americans drink it."

    Mike, don't bother with the utopian dreams and BS.
    Most of us here are familiar with the advantages of pasteurization, so you're not going to win converts with noise.
    Suffice to say, it is your choice, and you get to live with what you get.

  • Sylvie1||

    Sevo, while pasteurization was once a miracle for improving safety, it is not necessary for milk from a clean, well-tended dairy. Raw milk does taste a lot better, I do find it much easier on the stomach, and - brace yourself - it stays fresh much longer.

  • rawmilkmike||

    Sylvie1, there's no reason to stipulate to any of their propaganda. Pasteurization has always been a scourge to mankind. It never prevented illness or increased safety. Raw milk has always had a negative risk factor. It sounds like you have all ready experience one of it's health benefits. Have you noticed any others?

  • rawmilkmike||

    Sevo, if it were my choice I wouldn't be posting here. I don't even try to convince sick family members. So I'm certainly not trying to convince you to drink raw milk. I'm just trying to convince you to leave us alone.

  • rawmilkmike||

    Sevo, you call it noise because you don't want to hear it and you don't want to hear it because you know it's true.

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
    ― Upton Sinclair

    “Never ask a barber if you need a haircut.”
    ― Warren Buffett

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