Health conscious California consumers may be in for a less healthy 2008 due to a new state law, signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on October 8, 2007. According to the language in AB1735, raw milk must now -- for the first time -- conform to strict limits for coliform bacteria.
Mark McAfee, managing partner of Organic Pastures Dairy in Fresno, which produces most of the raw milk sold in California, said, "It basically prohibits raw milk in California." He sees the standard as a stealth attempt to ban raw milk.
The problem stems from one line inserted into the new bill (marked in red), which now calls for a coliform bacteria limit of 10 coliform bacteria per ml:
35891. Grade A raw milk is market milk which conforms to all the
following minimum requirements:
(a) The health of the cows and goats shall be determined at least
once in two months by an official representative of an approved milk
inspection service, or a milk inspection service which is established
by the director.
(b) It shall be produced on dairy farms that score not less than
85 percent on the dairy farm scorecard.
(c) It shall be cooled immediately after being drawn from the cow
or goat to 50 degrees Fahrenheit or less, and so maintained until
delivered to the consumer, at which time it shall contain not more
than 15,000 bacteria per milliliter, and/or not more than 10 coliform bacteria per milliliter.
However, both raw milk advocates and milk safety authorities agree that only a few of the coliform bacteria strains actually cause illness, such as:
These pathogenic forms of E.coli are already tested separately by the state, to ensure that none is present.
Previous standards have never included a limit on coliform bacteria, since they are in fact “good bacteria,” and one of the main reasons behind raw milk’s astounding health benefits. These beneficial bacteria help build your immune system, reduce allergies and asthma, and they actually inhibit the production of bad bacteria in raw milk.
In a letter to the members of the Agriculture Committee, Mark McAfee points out that this new requirement actually makes raw milk LESS safe, as less coliform bacteria means that more pathogens can thrive in the milk.
No illnesses have been connected to consumption of raw milk in the past 40 years, although bill AB1735 was most likely created in a knee-jerk reaction to four E.coli cases that were originally thought to have originated from Organic Pastures Dairy. McAfee was completely cleared and allowed to resume production when, after a three-week investigation, no evidence of contamination was found.
Neither McAfee nor the Claravale Dairy were consulted for this bill, even though they are the only dairies in California producing raw milk for human consumption.
The new law also makes non-compliance punishable by criminal action, rather than infractions.