Update, Fall 2011
California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) enforcement actions weren’t limited to Rawesome. The agency sent a cease-and-desist letter to a Mendocino County herdshare operation and worked with the district attorney’s offices in El Dorado and Santa Clara Counties in investigating shareholder dairies. The DA’s office in both counties each sent a letter to a shareholder dairy within its jurisdiction warning the dairy that it was violating state laws. In the case of the Santa Clara County dairy, Evergreen Acres Goat Farm of San Jose, the letter demanded that the dairy stop distributing raw milk immediately with the threat of criminal prosecution if it didn’t.
The May 18 letter to Mike and Jane Hulme, owners of Evergreen Acres, accused the Hulmes of illegally manufacturing and selling dairy products. The letter informed the Hulmes that “the unlicensed manufacturing or processing for resale of any milk or milk product is a crime, punishable by a fine of up to ten thousand dollars and/or imprisonment of up to one year in the county jail.”
In a subsequent meeting at the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, an official from CDFA informed the Hulmes that while it was legal for goat owners to board their goats at the farm and to have the Hulmes milk their goats, the owners could only drink the milk from their goats at the Hulmes’ farm; once they left the farm with the milk, Evergreen Acres had become a dairy processing plant and was violating the law since it did not have a license. The official did not give the Hulmes any public health reason for this distinction.
With licensing not being an option due to cost and zoning issues, the Hulmes and San Jose goat owners Ian Gerbode, Sara-Jane Skiwski and Sarah Sullivan filed a lawsuit against CDFA and the County of Santa Clara, asking for a declaration by the court that the boarding contract the goat owners had with the Hulmes was legal. The suit, filed July 22 in the Superior Court of Santa Clara County, asks for a permanent injunction against the State of California and Santa Clara County to prevent Defendants from commencing or continuing any enforcement action against the Plaintiffs “or anyone else in California who wishes to engage in the conduct engaged in by Plaintiffs.”
In commenting on the threatened prosecution that led to the lawsuit, Mike Hulme pointed out, “There is no injury here; no one has become sick from milk produced at the farm. There have been no complaints from either the goat owners or the city of San Jose. The only conclusion I can draw is that this is a politically motivated action by the district attorney and CDFA to effectively put a small family farm out of business.”
CDFA has drawn widespread criticism for its stance on herdshares and there is evidence the agency is reevaluating its position on shareholder dairies. At a meeting held with raw milk producers and consumers on August 23, CDFA Secretary Karen Ross said that she wanted to form a working group on herdshares in California and have the group draft a report with recommendations on the issue. An attorney for CDFA admitted at the meeting that there was no law on the books covering herdshares. Ross said that she wanted the report from the working group to be finished four months after the members of the group get started on the project.