Saturday, January 19, 2008

California lawmakers backtrack, push repeal of raw milk limits

Dairies hit by a new law two weeks ago say the bacteria regulations will force them to shut, and a state agency draws heat

Just two weeks after new restrictions on raw milk took effect, the Assembly Agriculture Committee voted unanimously this week to repeal them after the state's two raw milk producers said they would go out of business if they had to comply. Assemblywoman Nicole Parra, the Hanford Democrat who supported the new limits last year and is now leading the charge to repeal them, said she was deceived by agriculture officials in the Schwarzenegger administration who said the limits had broad support.

As the committee met Wednesday, hundreds of raw milk backers protested the tighter restrictions on bacteria counts, which took effect Jan. 1.

Parra's measure, Assembly Bill 1604, would stop enforcement of limits for raw milk of 10 coliform bacteria or less per milliliter until June 30. Effective July 1, it would fix the limit at 50 coliform bacteria or fewer per milliliter. Co-authors are Assembly Republican leader Mike Villines of Clovis and Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, D-Los Angeles.

The 90-minute hearing opened with sharp criticism of the state Department of Food and Agriculture, none of whose representatives appeared before the committee. Parra, the committee's chairwoman, said she was misled by department staff who "purposely omitted mention of opposition to the bill." She also faulted the agency for not contacting the two producers, Organic Pastures Dairy Co. in Fresno County and Claravale Farms Inc. in San Benito County. And she shouldered some of the blame for "not grilling my ag consultant and (the department) more thoroughly."

Nearly 50 people voiced support for Parra's bill, including Walter Robb, president of Whole Foods Market, a chain based in Austin, Texas. "Raw milk is a small part of our dairy case, but a significant choice," Robb said. Opponents of Parra's bill included Teresa Kline of the California Medical Association and Dr. Michael Payne of the University of California Western Institute of Food Safety and Security, both of whom cited risks posed by raw milk consumption.

Department representatives have contended that coliform levels serve as an indicator of dairy sanitation. Department spokesman Steve Lyle said the bill passed last year followed the normal legislative process: "It was voted on six times in the Legislature – three in the Assembly, three in the Senate. And was heard twice in committee as part of that. This was a process that played out over months."

The two raw milk producers have sued the state to stop enforcement of the law. Some of raw milk's appeal is that it contains "essential probiotic good bacteria," said Mark McAfee, founder and an owner of Organic Pastures. McAfee and Ron Garthwaite, who shares ownership of Claravale Farms with his wife, Collette Cassidy, said that complying with the new limit of 10 coliform bacteria per milliliter has been disrupting production. The lawsuit, filed in San Benito County, contends that "the only coliforms that cause illness when consumed in raw milk are specific, identifiable strains of E. coli, salmonella and campylobacter." The lawsuit disputes an agriculture department claim that the new limits were required to comply with federal guidelines on interstate milk shipment. It points out that federal law prohibits interstate shipment of raw milk for human consumption.


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Tending Everyone Else’s Garden

By Arlene Peck

There was a time when I used to feel a burning desire to write about the injustice that I felt which were done to Israel. However, I’ve noticed that I’m not doing that as so much anymore and find myself turning the pages in the Los Angeles biased news reading the next incident about ‘wild-child’ Britney Spears melt-down, her pregnant teen sister Jamey, or who is up for an award in their latest movie. Oh, it still bothers me when I read about the latest ‘activist’, never terrorists, who lobbed in the daily ‘homemade’ bomb into Israel. I don’t like it when the savages who never waver in their desire to destroy the Jewish state are still referred to as ‘peace partners’ or, ‘extremists’.

Yet, I’m tired of watching the scene and shaking my head in amazement and disgust at how two men, Ehud Olmert and George Bush, both of which have no credibility with their constitutes or concern for the country make decisions that have the potential to destroy the Jewish state. I used to wonder why the people living there weren’t rioting or at least marching by the millions on a weekly basis in protest to obvious incompetence that is now running the country. But then I also used to wonder when Israel became a banana republic and it changed to when Condi Rice would snap her anti-Semitic fingers and shout “jump” Israel’s Prime Minister would say “How high?”

Closer to home, I remember when I first became discouraged when I had the brain storm that since I have a celebrity television talk show, I would start an organization called, “Hollywood Stars Against Terrorism” I even called a couple of meetings at my home and had some strong supporters of Israel such as Bridgette Gabriel and Wafa Sultan in attendance along with several stars and community leaders. The only ones who didn’t respond were those at the Israeli Consulate. I called their office three, or four times and asked for a copy of the list they had might have cooperated with them during the Lebanon War and no response. Needless to say, they never attended any of our three meetings to give us the much needed input or help. Eventually, the new regime came in however, the moment had passed. I figured if they weren’t interested, why I should make myself crazy.

Now, however, I’m changing my thinking and the realization is coming closer to home with me that the strong tie of Israel is losing their connection because the link to Judaism by those living here is fading.

Last year, I received a call from the Federation asking me for money. One of the first ‘selling points’ of the solicitor was “Let me tell you about our inner city program” Then she went on to relate how they are helping the poor Latino and black children in the crime areas. Lovely.

Around the same time I had just attended a fabulous charity dinner at the Beverly Hills Hilton that was given by one of our local billionaires. Most of the well-heeled men in attendance were Jewish and real estate developers. Together, they raised over a million dollars that night to support a community center which was mostly used by poor Latinos in a suburban area.

Massive amounts of money are being given by wealthy Jews for the opera, symphony, art and similar cultural organizations; much to selected universities, often with a name on a building; and much to medical activities. Some toward meeting the needs of the poor, minorities and/or the disadvantaged. All in the name of advancing society. Nothing wrong on the surface. Yet, the contributions by these wealthy philanthropists toward Jewish causes are only a small percentage of the total, usually in a single digit percentage.

Out here, I see so many wealthy Jewish men with Barbie Doll trophy wives whose names are constantly in the papers for their philanthropic deeds. But rarely do they have anything to do with Jewish causes. The same goes for wealthy patrons of other faiths. The difference? They never give to Jewish organizations. The bottom line? Only Jews give to Jewish causes but never on the scale needed to meet the requirements of these same organizations. The Jewish Federations even have programs for Hispanics to leave charity hospitals with a layette or for black children to attend camp. I’d love to see a group of black preachers take a busload of Jewish day school kids…anywhere.

Jewish day schools and community centers are closing at an alarming rate because of lack of funds yet, where are the Hilton dinners and benefits for them? Out here, everyone has a cause. I’m regularly invited to events to save the whales, dolphins and there is even an organization to save the ferrets.

My daughter came home yesterday in tears because the synagogue sponsored school that her two year old, Ivy attends is closing because B’nai Tikvah Nursery School affiliated with Congregation Tikvat Jacob voted to shut their doors at the end of the school year. Why? Because, there are no funds to continue.

A few months ago when she began going I was leery that she was too young. However, it wasn’t long when I began to change my mind when I realized that unfortunately, this was the refuge where my grandbaby was acquiring her Jewish education. The amazing thing was that out of the thirty or so children who attend this school a third of them are Hispanic, black or Asian. Yet, every Shabbat these precious babies would share in the experience of having Sabbath services.

I’ve watched the beauty of the rabbi and cantor who would come to take part in leading the babies in making the Sabbath a fun time and most importantly a memorable one for these children. Yet, this has become the core of her early Jewish education. The non-Jewish children are benefiting just as much. I sat with tears in my eyes as I watched the beauty of these babies lighting the candles and saying their prayers over the chalet. Yet, to the rabbi and board members of Tikvat Jacob the doors to the school and the important early Jewish education and love of Israel are being slammed shut.

Obviously, it’s not important enough or trendy enough like the dog refuges to capture the attention of the money people to set aside the funds to keep these smaller independent schools going. The neighborhood schools don’t have the funding or the wealthy members like those in Beverly Hills to write a check for seventy-five thousand dollars for a grant. And, for some reason, the wealthy men who sponsor the benefits for the poor and deprived residents from across the border don’t see the need to keep the synagogue schools going.

We wonder why the love of Israel isn’t as strong as it ought to be. Strong enough to fight against corrupt and incompetent leadership? Maybe it begins at the three year old level? And, maybe it’s time the Jewish organizations and Federations cut back on their bloated salaries and inner city programs and reiterate that the word is JEWISH Federation. My momma used to tell me, those who weed everybody else’s garden, gets weeds in their own…” She was right.