Raw milk issue a mix-up, says dairy owner
Prosecutors weigh possible charges; hearing Thursday
By Adam Foxman
Authorities are proceeding with a potential case against a
Sharon Palmer said she was working with the California
Department of Food and Agriculture to finish licensing her Healthy Family
Farms dairy in December when
Palmer said last week that she sold only pasteurized fresh milk products and cheese that had been aged the legally required 60 days. She believes confusion about her licenses and dealings with a raw milk club led to her arrest, she said.
“I don’t sell raw milk. I don’t sell raw products,” said Palmer, 48. “You don’t put your life savings into something and open yourself to the public knowing you did something wrong. That would be foolish.”
Palmer has not been charged with any crime, but the Sheriff’s Department last week forwarded the case to the District Attorney’s Office. Palmer is scheduled to appear in court Thursday and could be formally charged at that time, although prosecutors said they had not yet determined what charges, if any, to file.
Palmer, 48, was arrested Dec. 18 after authorities made
undercover buys of Healthy Family Farms goat cheese and yogurt at local
farmers markets and her new processing plant at
Palmer was booked into Ventura County Jail on suspicion of processing unpasteurized and regular milk products without licenses, both felony violations of the California Food and Agriculture Code. She was released the next day on her own recognizance, she said.
Authorities allege Palmer was operating an unlicensed
Palmer disputes the expiration date.
The investigation began early last month after Ray Dominguez, a sheriff’s agricultural crimes detective, spotted Palmer’s new plant when he contacted her about an unrelated issue, he said.
Palmer said she had reported a theft from her farm.
She said she was in the process of moving her business
Palmer said the fact that no pathogens were detected in the samples obtained by undercover agents means they came from pasteurized products. The enzymes Lyle cited would have come from probiotic cultures added back into the products after pasteurization, she said.
Palmer said authorities might be associating her with unpasteurized products because of an arrangement she maintains with a club of raw food aficionados: She maintains goats and produces unpasteurized goat-milk products for the private club, an arrangement she believed was legal.
The club is part of the raw food advocacy organization
called Right to Eat Healthy Foods, said Aajonus Vonderplanitz, the organization’s president. Vonderplanitz, a
He said his organization has similar arrangements with farmers around the nation that are legal because it leases the animals and therefore owns the milk. He said the products are never sold to the public.
“The club agrees that we want bacteria, we don’t want toxic chemicals in our food,” Vonderplanitz said of unpasteurized products. “We have removed ourselves from any type of health department regulation.”
Vonderplanitz said his producers have gotten into trouble with the law before, but he has helped them successfully fight the charges. He said Palmer can count on his support if charged. “I’ve already got the briefs written,” he said.
A complex network of laws governs dairy production in
Raw milk advocates say it’s healthy and safe, while regulators say unpasteurized products have been linked to outbreaks of salmonella and E. coli.
The Department of Food and Agriculture averages about two arrests a month related to raw milk, Lyle said.
Palmer said she thinks her arrest was more about the raw milk controversy than about her and hopes the misunderstanding can be cleared up out of court.
“If there’s something I do wrong, I’ll fix it,” she said. 1-11-09
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