A Food Regulator's View of California's Raw Milk Mess, Part 1: Coliform Standard Could Be Revised Upward Next Year, OPDC's Regulatory Challenge
Before I got sidetracked with my Holocaust experience, I had a few things still to report from the Weston A. Price Foundation's Wise Traditions conference. One was a report on a lengthy conversation I had with a well-placed California food regulator about raw milk while in California last week.
I went into the interview expecting a hard-headed ideological attitude, and instead found someone who was more flexible and sensitive than I expected, even if her conclusions were at odds with my own and those of many others who read this blog. She agreed to speak with me on the condition I not reveal her identity on this blog (even whether it really was a "she").
Because she had so many interesting things to say, I am presenting the interview in two parts. In this first part, she assesses the California raw milk situation. In the second, to come sometime in the next few days, she talks more generally about the science around raw milk and disease.
She emphasized that she is not a decision maker, so her opinion is speculative. But she is in a position to observe many of the decision makers, so her predictions carry more weight than many others. The California Department of Food and Agriculture, the author of AB 1735, has been extremely non-communicative about the state's raw milk situation.
Here's what she has to say about California:
The standoff over raw milk in California is likely to be resolved next year via an upward revision in the ten-coliform-per-milliliter standard that is the heart of AB 1735.
"I predict next year there will be a change in the standard," she said. "It will be higher than ten. I don't think the CDFA will oppose it. The CDFA would rather not regulate this one."
Her reasoning? The CDFA never intended to put California's two raw milk producers out of business via AB 1735, despite the view of Organic Pastures' Mark McAfee that its enactment was "a sneak attack."
"I don't think it was a big conspiracy. I think they thought that we'll put it through. They were updating the standards. They wanted to make them all the same (with pasteurized milk). They were not looking to shut raw milk down."
She does acknowledge, though, that, "If that was a regulation that was going to affect big dairies, the CDFA would have been on the phone with the Western Dairy Council."
But, she adds, in a statement that seems almost designed to stir passions, "Mark (McAfee) keeps having problems" with illnesses and pathogens, "whereas Claravale has never had an outbreak."
To the argument that the 2006 outbreak of illnesses linked to Organic Pastures never turned up any E.coli 0157:H7 in his milking cows, she says, "You don't find E.coli in the cows three weeks or three months later. That's why epidemiology works so well. You find (pathogens) at a certain time at a certain place."
She argues that in each of the two California cases of illness attributed to raw milk--Organic Pastures in Sept. 2006 and a herdshare in July 2008--"there is a spike in the coliform counts and the SPC preceding the outbreaks." (The report from the Centers for Disease Control on the 2006 outbreak does note such a spike, but the California Department of Public Health report on the 2008 illnesses makes no such mention.)
Moreover, the tests for pathogen testing, which were a key component of SB 201, are not very reliable, she argues. "It's a lot of money to spend when there's a 50-50 chance you may have a false positive, or negative." Green onions a few years ago gave a false positive, and led to recalls, when it was really something else. "You can be feeling good and putting out a contaminated product."