ORLAND, Calif. — Dairyman Tim Pedrozo has found himself in the awkward position of opposing some of his fellow advocates for the legal sale of raw milk.
Pedrozo, who makes farmstead cheese from the raw milk from his roughly 30 cows, is concerned about persistent attempts to exempt the smallest dairy farms from certain state requirements for selling the milk to neighbors and others.
Despite his small operation, Pedrozo has to undergo the same quarterly inspections by the California Department of Food and Agriculture as any dairy, and had to invest several million dollars in his facility to keep it up to standards, he said.
If an illness outbreak were to occur from a farm allowed to bypass the state’s rules, it could harm all raw milk producers, he said.
“I’m one of them in reality,” Pedrozo said of proponents of the exemptions. “I only milk 30 cows in a state where the average herd size is 1,100 milking cows, but I have to raise my bar as high as any milk producer in the state of California, maybe higher … I have to do everything.
“I guess my concern is they’re saying, ‘We just want to be able to cover our costs,’” he said. “Well dang it, for the last three years every dairyman in the United State has just wanted to cover their costs.”
Pedrozo is sounding off after the state Assembly’s agriculture committee recently rejected Assembly Bill 2505, which would have allowed home dairies with three or fewer cows or 15 or fewer lactating goats or sheep to sell or share excess milk without having to meet the requirements of a commercial dairy.
It was the second unsuccessful attempt by proponents, who said they’ll try again.
“We will be back next year,” San Mateo County grass-fed cattle owner Doniga Markegard said in a statement.
In California, working dairies must obtain a permit, build special infrastructures such as milking rooms and pay for regular inspection fees and grading of milk, an Assembly bill analysis explains. The fees and other measures are too cost prohibitive for families that produce milk mainly for personal use and have no other means of disposing of excess milk other than throwing it away, asserted David Runsten, policy director for the Davis-based California Alliance with Family Farmers.
“People say there’s 1,000 to 2,000 farms out there basically breaking the law by either giving away or selling small quantities of raw milk,” said Runsten, whose organization supported the bill. “That seems like a problem in search of a solution … We still have the same problem. We haven’t solved it.”
Commercial raw milk sales are legal in California as well as Idaho and Washington. Licensed Oregon producers with a bottling plant on site can sell raw goat or sheep milk, but raw milk sales are limited to on the farm where the farmer has no more than three producing cows.
Under Idaho’s small herd exemption, commercial sales are allowed for producers with no more than three cows or seven goats or sheep without having to meet Grade A standards. Routine testing of small herds is required.
Customers of these farms insist raw milk tastes better and contains natural cultures and nutrients that help with everything from asthma to autism. Mainstream milk industry officials refute such claims and believe raw milk poses an increased risk of spreading food-borne illness.
Chris Galen, a spokesman for the National Milk Producers Federation in Arlington, Va., has called raw milk sales “a form of Russian roulette” and said producers expose themselves to liability by selling it.
The California bill’s author, Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, asserted basic health and safety standards required under the bill would have ensured that raw milk met the same bacterial standards as Grade A milk, according to the bill analysis.
However, the bill faced opposition from major farm groups such as Western United Dairyman and Dairy Farmers of America as well as the California Medical Association. While the California Farm Bureau Federation sympathizes with the small farmers, AB 2505 “was not the answer,” spokesman Dave Kranz said.
“California has already legalized the sale of raw milk, as long as it meets food safety standards,” he said in an email. “Creating a system without meaningful oversight, as this bill would have done, is not a solution. That would ultimately generate problems for milk consumers and for family dairy farms of all types.”
Pedrozo said he would favor some sort of “raw milk summit” to bring home dairies in line with state standards. But he said the dairies should be made to follow the law.
“I’m not going to sit while some home people determine how to get into my market,” he said. “This is one of the steps … If you want to do it it’s got to be legal. You can’t just keep skirting around (the requirements).”
Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada: http://asmdc.org/members/a04/
California Alliance with Family Farmers: http://caff.org
Western United Dairymen: http://www.westernuniteddairymen.com
California Farm Bureau Federation: http://cfbf.com