Food Rights Coalitions Proposes New Rules for Very Small Dairies

The Food Rights Coalition is a statewide group of dairy share farmers and owners/consumers who came together in the wake of raids and Cease and Desist Orders directed against dairy shares and food buying clubs in California.  The following proposal will be presented before the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s (CDFA) Small Herd Dairy Working Group, created by Secretary of Food and Agriculture Karen Ross to find ways to meet the needs of very small dairy operations for legal recognition.  The Food Rights Coalition seeks to decriminalize the production of milk on a small scale for local consumption and gain recognition for the rights of consumers and farmers to contract such basic services as the production of healthy dairy products.  The proposal includes reference to laws in other state that suggest alternative models to the highly restrictive provisions of the California Code.

Proposal for CDFA Small Herd Dairy Working Group

 1. FAMILY COW:Citizens have milk for their own family and they share it with their neighbors. This category allows for no more than 3 animal units in lactation formilk production. These cases are exempt from both the 1947 Food and Ag Code and inspection by the CDFA.

Oregon Model: 621.012 Exception for small-scale on-farm sales. The provisions of ORS 621.062, 621.070, 621.072, 621.076, 621.084, 621.088, 621.116, 621.117 and 621.259 and standards developed under ORS 621.060, 621.083 or 621.224 do not apply to a person owning not more than three dairy cows that have calved at least once, nine sheep that have lactated at least once or nine goats that have lactated at least once, but such person may sell the fluid milk from those animals for human or other consumption without complying with the provisions of ORS 621.062, 621.070, 621.072, 621.076, 621.084, 621.116, 621.117 or 621.259 or standards developed under ORS 621.060, 621.083 or 621.224 only if:

(1) The person does not advertise the milk for sale; (2) The milk is sold directly to the consumer at the premises where produced; and (3) No more than three producing dairy cows, nine producing sheep or nine producing goats are located on the premises where the milk is produced.

Kansas Model: (w) “On-farm retail sales of milk or milk products” means the sale of milk or milk products on the farm by the producer from the production of the dairy herd to the final consumer, so long as the person making such sales does not promote the sale of milk or milk products to the public in any manner other than by the erection of a sign upon the premises of the dairy farm. The advertisement upon any such sign shall state that such milk or milk products are raw and shall be in letters of a uniform size. Each container in which any unpasteurized milk is sold or offered for sale shall be clearly labeled as ungraded raw milk.

2. LIVESTOCK BOARDING CONTRACT (HERD-SHARE): Consumers are herd owners, with a legal and equity interest in the herd. They board their herd with the farmer, who charges a maintenance fee for his or her land, facilities, and services. These are private agreements where the owners are entitled to the milk their animals produce. These arrangements are exempt from FAC and CDFA regulations. This also includes “intentional communities” where the milk from the herd is only for the community members.

Tennessee Model: SECTION 1.Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 53, Chapter 3, Part 1, is amended by adding the following language as a new, appropriately designated section: 53-3-119.

Nothing in this part or any other provision of law shall be construed as prohibiting the independent or partial owner of any hoofed mammal from using the milk from such animal for the owner’s personal consumption or other personal use .

3. MICRO-DAIRY: Farmers at this small scale may want to sell their milk through on-farm sales, at farmers markets, or through local retail outlets. Current code demands facilities that are not needed and certainly not affordable at this size. These farmers will be subject to a “performance-based” standard and labeling requirementwith the goal of ensuring safety. This would include milk and animal testing and be inspected by CDFA under a modified Grade A standard.

Idaho Model: Under the new code the small-herd exemption operations do not have to meet Grade A dairy requirements for facilities and equipment, but must meet Grade A requirements for the quality of the raw milk, which includes bacteria limits; the milk is tested frequently. Livestock owners must apply for a permit from the Idaho State Department of Agriculture to sell raw milk to the public, and the operation must meet inspection standards to receive a permit.


Historically, the small family farmer has had a few cows and shared that milk with friends and neighbors. This practice has gone on in the United States for over 200 years with essentially no outbreaks of disease. This practice continues today and does not present a public health threat.

Health risks are nearly non-existent on very small family farms and the number of people with two or three cows/goats is high. To criminalize this group of law abiding citizens would put an incredible burden on the state and local sheriffs, who do not have the resources to enforce unnecessary laws.

When the dairy industry became more industrialized, the problems in milk safety became a reality that had to be dealt with. The laws for milk safety were developed in response to the dangers of the swill dairies of old, and those laws continue to be relevant today in protecting consumers from dairy produced in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). These CAFOs produce a product that can be rife with dangerous bacteria and therefore require strict facility and pasteurization requirements to kill the pathogens within their milk.

In fact, it is precisely the industrialization of our food industry that has led to the many recent and past outbreaks of food borne illnesses. This is the reason that the local, know-your-farmer movement is becoming such a force in the modern world. Consumers are making an educated and informed choice to go with “unprocessed” whole and local foods, including fresh, unprocessed dairy. Many are enjoying the new-found pride of livestock ownership and responsibilities that go with it, and when zoning does not permit livestock on their property, they contract with local farmers to take care of their animals, including milking and delivering their milk. The transparent and close relationship between co-owners in such an arrangement naturally initiates a self-regulating system.

In 1969 when the milk pool laws took effect, the State of California lost an incredible number of mid-sized dairies. It seemed overnight that in the Sonoma, Mendocino, and Petaluma areas, whole blocks of smaller dairies closed their doors. It became a situation of “get big or get out,” and it is still very difficult to begin and maintain small and mid-size dairies in this environment.

Our group of livestock owners and farmers have developed the following 3 categories for consideration:

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3 comments so far

  1. aed939 on

    Looks good, but I would recommend that micro-dairies be direct producer-to-consumer sales only (no resellers); but without restriction on where the transaction can take place (at the farm, at a market, roadside, home delivery, or anywhere), and with the clarification that a buying club or 3rd party delivery service acting as an agent of the buyer or seller, and not acting as a reseller, is allowed. Also labeling not required whenever the buyer can ask questions directly to the seller through a website or personal contact, and the seller or employee thereof is able to answer questions to the best of their ability.

  2. [...] Group to meet with stakeholders.  At the Dec. 17 meeting, the Food Rights Coalition proposed new rules for very small dairies, exempting them from the onerous rules and laws in place, which were written with a [...]

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