From the 1.19.11 edition. To read all of the articles, please purchase a copy or subscribe.
By Daniel Mintz
Press Staff Writer
Having lost their supporter on the Board of Supervisors, raw milk advocates stand little chance of lifting a county ban on a product they say is safe but health officials warn against.
Supervisors affirmed the value of the county’s raw milk ban by unanimously voting to keep it in place at their Jan. 11 meeting. The action was described as a non-action, however, as any supervisor can re-agendize the ban reversal issue if they choose to.
But it’s not likely to return as an agenda item anytime soon. The reason why the raw milk debate emerged last August is because former Supervisor Bonnie Neely supported re-examining the ban and she was defeated in the November election by current Supervisor Virginia Bass.
Bass and Supervisor Ryan Sundberg, who is also recently elected, were to meet with raw milk supporters after the meeting and said they’re willing to consider their arguments. County health officials will continue to strongly support the ban, however.
Their cautionary presentation on raw milk was a response to the one given by raw milk advocates last summer. Health and Human Services Director Phil Crandall read a letter from a federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) official urging the county to keep the ban.
“None of the claims made by the raw milk advocates that we have examined can withstand scientific scrutiny,” the letter reads, adding that “the false health benefit claims of raw milk advocates” might cause the people most at risk of getting sick from raw milk to quaff it.
“The FDA strongly encourages Humboldt County to continue to protect public health by prohibiting the production and sale of unpasteurized milk,” the letter concludes.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security and the California Department of Food and Agriculture are among the agencies that concur.
During public comment, Mark McAfee, owner of Organic Pastures Dairy, the state’s largest producer of raw milk, differentiated between raw milk “intended for pasteurization” and raw milk produced for direct consumption.
“Nowhere in any of the responses … does it say anything about raw milk in California and the standards for raw milk in California and the incredible cleanliness and the tests that it has to pass,” he said.
The county is one of only three in the state that have raw milk bans. Jessica Bittner of Bayside read from government code and said the state legislature has declared that certified raw milk should be available to consumers.
She added the state’s standards for raw milk “result in a product with lower pathogen levels than ordinary commercial pasteurized milk.”
Traci Webb of the Northwest Institute of Ayurveda told supervisors that raw milk consumption has been going on for thousands of years and graduates of her school are recommending it to their patients. And she warned that the county’s ban creates a raw milk underground.
“People are buying it regardless – we’re getting it from the guy on the corner and god forbid that something bad should turn up in one of those batches,” she said.
Several more raw milk supporters vouched for its benefits but local dairymen said it’s risky and could give the county’s dairy industry a bad name.
Supervisor Clif Clendenen asked staff members about the percentage of raw milk consumption in California compared to the percentage of illnesses caused by it. The staffers only had nationwide data.
Crandall said the FDA stats for the years 1973 to 2005 show a .5 percent raw milk consumption rate in the U.S. with a 49 percent share of food-borne illness outbreaks.
After the vote to keep the ban in place, Board Chairman Mark Lovelace invited the raw milkers to continue their advocacy and lobby for their interests.