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Letter To Editor:
Raw Deal: California’s ‘Farm To Fridge’ Bill
The “Farm to Fridge” bill, which proposed the legal sale of raw milk in California by unlicensed small home dairies (not more than three cows or 15 goats), did not advance at the Assembly Committee on Agriculture hearing in Sacramento on April 9.
Selling Grade A raw milk to retail in the state of California is legal, if you are licensed to do so. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s website, currently only two licensed dairies are doing it. Outside of that, if somebody wants to sell their raw milk to the public, it’s illegal.
Many small home dairies are making the case that they have excess milk going to waste and they need a legal way to get rid of it. More than likely though, if a small family dairy is providing raw milk for their family alone, there shouldn’t be that much excess.
If there is, in the instance of owning and milking more than one cow, it appears there is intent to sell. If there’s intent to sell, the home dairy should have to be licensed in order to distribute the raw milk.
The “Farm to Fridge” bill, as it was at the hearing, set forth that a small home dairy could legally sell raw milk from their farm without a plant or milk handler’s license if they met standards through inspections (which are without fee and conducted by their county health department instead of the CDFA’s licensed dairy inspectors).
This is something I find particularly odd. Why would you want a county health department inspector, frequently biased against agriculture, inspecting your animals and farm in the first place? They’re not even trained in the standards and practices of the dairy industry (like the CDFA’s people are.)
Moreover, scheduling these inspections would be the sole responsibility of the farmer as opposed to the quarterly unannounced inspections licensed dairies adhere to. Keeping records of their milk sales also appeared somewhat optional.
Therein lies the problem. It is these elements of the bill that present a public health risk with the potential to manifest into something nobody in the dairy business wants to experience.
So far, 16 states have passed similar legislation and with so many steadfast proponents in California, it won’t be long before another version of this bill is presented. At the hearing, I learned that there are between 1,000-2,000 small home dairies in the state, far more than I would have guessed.
This means thousands of cows exist that could potentially be producing raw milk for sale if the bill were to pass. Selling food to the public requires that every producer within a category be subject to the same amount of oversight and the dairy category should be no exception. Each small dairy wishing to participate in the sale of their raw milk needs to be licensed with the CDFA and undergo a paid and proper unannounced inspection at least twice a year.
Oftentimes, illegal milk sales in the state are not even pursued by the CDFA in select counties because their district attorneys refuse to file charges. Sympathy doesn’t trump the law. Clearly, there is a demand for raw milk along with farmers willing to meet this demand but permitting the illegal sale of deregulated raw milk is not the answer. So what is?
This item of legislation in its current form is only a fast fix which leaves room for a myriad of unintended consequences to ruin dairy businesses in California. If it fails to provide more stringent regulation, it could be disastrous for our farmstead and artisan dairy operations, beginning with people publicly protesting its leniency once it makes it to the California State Legislature.
To be sure, I am an advocate for raw milk and for people exercising and protecting their right to choose their own food, as they should, but farm sales of raw milk need to be legal in the same way that all others are.
Let’s start a dialogue and come up with a more comprehensive piece of legislation that includes licensing, properly executed biosecurity measures, and consideration for the livelihoods of other dairy farmers in California and across the nation.
Pedrozo Dairy and Cheese Co
Tim Pedrozo grew up in the dairy business and is now the owner of a farmstead cheese company, Pedrozo Dairy and Cheese Co., producing cheese made from 100 percent grass-fed raw milk.
The bill to which Pedrozo refers, AB 2505, defines a home dairy farm (HDF) as having three or less lactating cows or water buffalo or 15 or less goats, sheep or other hooved animals.
The bill would allow a HDF to
sell, on site, excess raw milk produced by the HDF. A HDF would be exempt from current dairy farm law, and instead have new, but similar, health and safety standards, according to an analysis of the bill posted on the California state legislature’s website.
According to that analysis, the bill is opposed by Milk Producers Council, Western United Dairymen, California Dairies, Inc., Dairy Farmers of America, Land O’Lakes, Inc., California Farm Bureau Federation, Agricultural Council of California, California Medical Association, Health Officers Association of California, International Dairy Foods Association and National Milk Producers Federation.
Those registered in support of the bill include California Farmers Union, California State Grange, Community Alliance with Family Farmers, Sustainable Economies Law Center, and Adkins Felch LLP.
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