An Alameda County Superior Court judge ordered Alta-Dena Dairies to either change the wording of advertising slogans for its certified raw milk or begin using warning labels stating that the product may contain "dangerous bacteria."
The action in Hayward by Judge Michael E. Ballachey was the result of a suit filed against Alta-Dena by the Consumers Union, the California Gray Panthers and the American Public Health Assn.
Under the order, which will take effect Monday, the dairy must place the warning labels on milk cartons and advertising that include a claim that raw milk is healthier than pasteurized milk for high-risk groups.
The warning will say, "Raw milk may contain dangerous bacteria not present in pasteurized milk" and outlines which groups are at greatest risk. The groups include infants, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients, who are particularly vulnerable to infection from salmonella.
Since 1974, state health officials have ordered numerous recalls of Alta-Dena's certified raw milk, because laboratory tests have revealed the presence of harmful bacteria, primarily salmonella.
Promotional phrases affected by the court order include statements that the City of Industry dairy's certified raw milk is the "purest," "safest" or the most "wholesome" food available. Although the dairy can continue to make claims that its certified raw milk is, for instance, "pure" or "safe," it is restricted from stating that the product is at a quality level beyond all other food items, such as pasteurized milk.
The dairy must also discontinue a statement on its current raw milk cartons claiming that the non-pastuerized milk is made under the "strictest" standards, after the current supply of containers is exhausted. This could take from three to six months.
Ray Novell, the dairy's attorney, downplayed the court order. He said the action simply involves the use of superlatives that can be easily changed. Novell also said the judge denied numerous requests made by the Consumers Union-led coalition.
"This is a victory . . .," Novell said. "He (Ballachey) . . . denied their request to eliminate our ads, which say that certified raw milk is safe, wholesome and pure. He just doesn't think anyone could prove that (a food is manufactured) under the 'strictest' conditions. But to say 'strict' conditions is OK. So, we have to change one word that now says 'strictest' on the carton."
Boyd Clarke, the dairy's general manager, maintained Friday that the cartons do not carry claims comparing raw milk to pasteurized milk. He said the material mentioned in the lawsuit is decade-old literature mailed only on request.
Elizabeth D. Laporte, the attorney for Consumers Union, countered the dairy's representatives by saying the order was a major victory--for consumers.
"This is an important step toward truthful (Alta-Dena) ads that (are) going to allow people to make a choice, knowing the dangers of this product, and not be taken in by unsubstantiated or unproven claims of (raw milk's alleged) superiority," she said.
"(Alta-Dena's) whole advertising campaign makes a (health) warning so necessary. . . . They assure (consumers) that this product is safe for everyone and the most healthy thing for them," Laporte continued. "This is a major step (toward) correcting that false impression."
Laporte said the suit against the dairy ultimately seeks, among other things, a substantial amount of corrective advertising that would counter years of Alta-Dena ads that have used the superlatives to describe its certified raw milk.
The order will remain in effect until the suit is resolved, Ballachey said. The case is expected to go to trial in about six months.