Raw milk bill fails in committee

04/10/2014

A bill that went before a state agricultural committee on Wednesday but did not have the support to come to a vote would have legalized and regulated direct-to-consumer, on-farm sales of raw milk from home dairies with three or fewer cows, or 15 or fewer hooved animals like goats or sheep. “Either way, if we end up winning or losing this hearing today, it’s gonna draw a lot of attention to the direct farm-to-consumer relationship,” said Doniga Markegard, a rancher from Half Moon Bay, before the hearing. Raw milk is legal to sell in California but only a couple dairies have the permits and facilities to comply with the law. Assembly Bill 2505 would have legalized what supporters say is the historic practice of people or farmers who keep a few cows to produce raw milk for their families but sell the excess to neighbors. The bill would have required the same testing for bacteria levels that licensed raw milk producers follow but exempted them from licensing and needing milking barns, both of which supporters said were prohibitively expensive. Opponents, like the California Farm Bureau, argued there wasn’t enough oversight of the home dairies to assure the milk’s safety. People have tried to skirt the law by creating herdshares, in which people buy shares of a cow, but the California Department of Food and Agriculture has sent cease-and-desist letters to some of them. Proponents of raw milk say pasteurization destroys nutrients and affects the taste. Marnie Jackson, a Nicasio resident who ran a herdshare, said she is lactose-intolerant but never had problems drinking raw milk. She didn’t have legal issues, but she and her husband ended the herdshare after becoming overwhelmed with managing it. Ms. Jackson cherishes the experience. “We churned butter, made ice cream, we used the whey. It was a big learning experience. I miss her presence,” she said of the cow, Rosie Belle. Another shareholder, Eleanor Despina, said it wasn’t just about the rawness of the milk, but also its proximity.