If You Want More Local Food, Stop Criminalizing Family Farmers
On Wednesday January, 11 Wisconsin dairy farmer Vernon Herschberger must appear before a county judge in Baraboo, WI. His crime? Providing unpasteurized dairy products from his small herd of about twenty pastured cows to members of his own buying club. Half way across the continent in Maine, Daniel Brown, another family farmer with a small livestock herd was notified last November that he was being sued by the state for selling food and milk without a license. At the time he was milking one Jersey cow.
In Valencio County, New Mexico, the Hispano Chamber of Commerce was forced to cancel its popular Matanza Festival set for Jan. 28th under pressure from the USDA which said the centuries old tradition of processing and serving pigs on site could no longer be done outside of a federally certified slaughter facility. Last July in Oak Park, Minnesota bureaucrats threatened Julie Bass with up to three months in jail for daring to grow vegetables in her own front yard. In September, Adam Guerroro was ordered to remove his kitchen garden because it was deemed a “public nuisance” by Memphis, Tennessee officials. Apparently, Michelle Obama’s victory garden at the White House falls under a different jurisdiction.
This government crackdown on family farmers is absurd given the current sordid state of our food/farm system and the urgent need to relocalize agriculture for the sake of our health, as well as that of the planet. Study after study has shown that the most dangerous food is usually that which has endured the most processing and traveled the furthest.
“With millions of Americans contracting food borne illnesses each year, the USDA is committed to supporting research that improves the safety of our nation’s food system,” wrote USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan in the December 2011 issue of Agriview. In the same issue, it was also revealed that U.S. meat and milk exports had failed to pass the European Union’s standard for drug residues. Deborah Cera, leader of the drug compliance team at the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, admitted there were many violations involving scores of drugs in U.S. livestock. In a November 2011 article in the Wisconsin State Farmer, Kim Brown-Pokorny of the WI Veterinary Medical Association, warned that Wisconsin was the worst violator nationwide in terms of illegal drug residues in the meat of culled dairy cows. Yet, there was no mention in either article of prosecuting or penalizing these drug users or even informing U.S. consumers of this obvious food safety threat.
On January 4, 2012 the FDA announced it would finally ban the use of cephalosporins in livestock by April. Of course, this is but one small group of antibiotics representing less than .00032% of the 29 million pounds fed to livestock each year. Doctors use barely 20% of antibiotics in the U.S. to treat human disease – the other 80% are used on livestock to make them grow faster, and this reckless application is driving the evolution of antibiotic resistant pathogens that now plague our hospitals.
Meanwhile, the USDA, FDA, and various state agricultural agencies are squandering millions in scarce taxpayer dollars to criminalize small family farmers who are at the forefront of providing healthy and nutritious fresh food to their communities. For instance, according to an August 25, 2011 Natural News story, the WI Dept of Agriculture and Consumer Protection (DATCP) receives up to $80,000 a month from the FDA to wage its current crackdown on raw milk. The FDA even flew several of its officials out to Wisconsin to join DATCP colleagues for surveillance operations of local farmers' markets. This taxpayer subsidized harassment is reminiscent of the discredited National Animal Identification System (NAIS) which was also fueled by millions in USDA dollars funneled to DATCP for the unapproved registration and “identity theft” of family farmers simply to meet compliance quotas.
It is time citizens told elected officials and the public servants within government agencies whose supposed mission is to safeguard our nation’s food supply that enough is enough. Producing and consuming fresh local food is not a crime. In fact, every community should have the right to determine what they grow, raise, and eat – this is the underlying principle behind food sovereignty, first elaborated in 1996 by La Via Campesina, the largest umbrella organization for small family farmers in the world.
In March 2011 the citizens of Sedgwick, Maine passed the first Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance. The ordinance states in part that “producers and processors of local foods are exempt from licensure and inspection when the producer is selling directly to a consumer intending to use the product for home consumption, or if the foods are sold at a community social event. Citizens have the right to produce, process, purchase and consume local foods of their choosing, and it shall be unlawful for any law or regulation adopted by the state or federal government to interfere with these rights.” Since then similar local food ordinances have been adopted by other towns in Maine, California, Vermont, and Massachussetts.
If people in Wisconsin want to enjoy access to fresh local food from family farmers in the future they may need to pass similar ordinances here. Otherwise, corrupt government under the sway of corporate agribusiness will make sure they have no choice at all.