March 20, 2008. For Immediate Release: Raw milk consumers won a major victory yesterday as Judge Harry J. Tobias of the San Benito Superior Court in Hollister, California granted a temporary restraining order against the enforcement of AB 1735.
Described as a “stealth attack” against raw milk, AB 1735 calls for a strict coliform limit of 10 per ml or under in bottled raw milk. In court papers filed on March 6, Organic Pastures Dairy Company and Claravale Farms argued that raw milk from their dairies has a superlative safety record in California and that the new coliform limit would effectively put them out of business. Coliforms are beneficial bacteria found in raw milk.
The plaintiffs were represented by Gary Cox of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, which gives legal support to member farmers who provide raw milk and other farm products directly to the public.
Ruling from the bench after nearly two hours of oral argument, Judge Tobias concluded that the two dairies would both be irreparably harmed if the coliform standard imposed by AB 1735 continued to remain in effect, noting that existing testing data proves the dairies cannot meet the standard.
In issuing the temporary restraining order, Judge Tobias set the matter for a preliminary injunction hearing for April 25th to determine whether the temporary stay should remain in effect until the parties actually go to trial, which could conceivably be later this year. If Judge Tobias issues a preliminary injunction at the conclusion of the April 25th hearing, then raw dairy products will be safe in California until the parties go to trial.
“This is a huge win for raw dairy consumers in the State of California” said Taaron Meikle, president of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. “With this ruling, consumers can continue to enjoy the health benefits of raw dairy. We are pleased with Judge Tobias’ ruling and hope the stay remains in effect after the April 25th hearing.”
The Legal Defense Fund argued on behalf of its members, Organic Pastures and Claravale Farm, that without an injunction, both dairies would go out of business.
In addition, Fund lawyers noted the lack of evidence that any pathogens causing human illness have been found in any of the dairies’ products.
“The Judge’s ruling is consistent with the evidence and the law of the case,” said Fund attorney Gary Cox. “We had provided evidence that our members would both go out of business should AB 1735 be enforced, and that there was no scientific or reasonable basis for using coliforms as the standard for safety and health,” Cox further added.
The parties will now begin preparing for the April 25th hearing. At that hearing, both parties are free to submit declarations and affidavits as well as introduce live testimony with expert and lay witnesses. The hearing is scheduled for one day and a ruling is expected within a month thereafter. In the meantime, legislative efforts continue to gain momentum, as several concerned legislators have introduced bills to rescind AB 1735 and replace the 10 coliform limit with another, more reasonable and scientifically based limit.
Tax-deductible donations in support of the upcoming legal efforts may be made to the Farm-to-Consumer Foundation, www.farmtoconsumerfoundation.org.
CONTACT: Taaron Meikle, President, The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, (703) 964-7421