For years now, farmers have borne the brunt of government efforts to interfere with food rights and consumer access to the foods of their choice. That may be about to change, as consumers launch actions to take the burden of government harassment off farmers’ backs.
In a win for farmers, deliciousness, and just plain common sense, Wyoming’s governor signed a bill this past week which will “stop overregulation of locally produced foods” by making it illegal for the state government to require “licensure, permitting, certification, inspection, packaging, or labeling” when farmers sell food directly to consumers. In practice, this means that farmers markets and small food stands will be able to proceed without the interference of government busybodies. As the bill explains, its purpose “is to allow for the sale and consumption of homemade foods, and to encourage the expansion of agricultural sales by farmers markets, ranches, farms and home based producers.” The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Tyler Lindholm, says it will “take local foods off the black market. It will no longer be illegal to buy a lemon meringue pie from your neighbor or a jar of milk from your local farm.”
If the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) gets its way, Lake View Natural Dairy Farm, owned and operated by David and Heidi Berglund and their daughter Lyndsay, will be fined $500 per day until they submit to an unconstitutional inspection of their farm. When the farm briefly explored the possibility of selling milk for processing, this triggered a call to the MDA by the processor, and the MDA realized they had no record or control over this farm. On October 14, 2014 the MDA demanded to do an inspection of the farm, which the family refused on the grounds that the Minnesota Constitution acknowledges their right to peddle the products of their farm. Now, the MDA hopes to fine the small operation a crippling $500 per day after the March 9, 2015 hearing if they are found to be in contempt.
Last week saw an inter-agency power grab. It begins with the weakening of organic standards—and could end with the term “organic” becoming practically meaningless. Action Alert! Tell the USDA to use a public and transparent process for all major changes to organic standards by publishing proposed changes in the Federal Register, and actively seeking public input and discussion. In addition, tell the USDA to enforce the sunset provision of the OFPA as it was originally intended—allowing synthetic products to remain after their “sunset” date only after public debate and a two-thirds vote of the NOSB. More than 100 synthetics will be up for sunset consideration in 2015. We must act now to protect the integrity of organics.
This week's elections saw two victories regarding banning GMOs in the United States. A ballot measure in Maui County, Hawaii that calls for a ban on GMO crops passed by a slim margin this week. But while the margin was slim, the victory was HUGE, because it followed an $8 million campaign against it by Biotech giants Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences. The GMO industry sees Hawaii as a rich region to develop new GMO crops. The amount of money spent to defeat the GMO ban initiative was the largest amount ever spent on a political campaign in the history of Hawaii, according to the Honolulu Civil Beat. And they lost. Maui consumers won. Well done Maui. In another election victory this week for Food Freedom, Humboldt County in California passed a County Measure "prohibiting the propagation, cultivation, raising or growing of GMOs in Humboldt County."
Does the FDA have a legitimate concern when it comes to aging cheese on wooden boards? Is it true that they can’t be “adequately cleaned or sanitized?” Simply put, no. As thoroughly documented by the American Cheese Society, there are a number of effective ways that wooden boards can be safely cleaned. Some of “the most awarded and well-respected” American artisanal cheeses are aged on wooden boards, since it brings a richer, more complex flavor that can’t be duplicated when aged on other materials. In fact, many artisan cheese recipes are specifically formulated to be aged on wooden boards. This rule could have irreparably harmed thousands of small artisans and businesses. The business about wood boards is just an excuse, a distraction, from the issue at hand, which is the FDA’s determination to harass and even shutter as many artisanal cheese makers as it can. The FDA’s demand that artisanal cheese producers, which depend on friendly bacteria for the taste and nutritional benefits of their product, essentially create a sterile environment, isn’t unlike what’s happened to the rest of our society with a push for sterilization of food and the environment, all the way to the ever-present hand sanitizers. Unfortunately for small cheese producers, the only entities that can successfully produce cheese in a sterile environment are the corporate producers, whose cheese fewer and fewer people want.
Property rights took a hit recently when the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development voted to to take away protections for backyard farmers statewide — which will result in many small farms being shut down. Backyard and urban farms were previously protected by Michigan’s Right to Farm Act. The Act stated that local ordinances could not trump the state’s Generally Accepted Agriculture Management Practices (GAAMP). After the rule change, however, these protections no longer apply to many homeowners who keep small numbers of livestock. Backyard farmers who raise their own chickens, goats, pigs, and honey may have to give up their operations and go back to shopping for mass produced meats at the supermarket.
Alliance for Natural Health reports that Vermont became the first state in the U.S. to pass a bill mandating that all GMO foods be labeled, with no other conditions (such as requiring other states to pass similar legislation.) The law will not go into effect until 2016, however, and you can be sure the anti-GMO labeling forces with large processed food companies will challenge this. National legislation on GMO labeling is already being proposed to pre-empt states rights to require GMO labeling, so we will keep our eye on this issue. Although Connecticut and Maine have already passed GMO labeling laws, Vermont’s bill is unique: unlike its New England neighbors, Vermont decided not to include a “trigger” provision in its bill. So while Connecticut’s and Maine’s bills won’t activate unless enough nearby states also pass GMO labeling laws, Vermont will immediately move forward with the labeling of GMO products.
Smallholder farmers and herders are currently feeding 80 percent of the developing world. Casting them aside in favor of industrial farming corporations from the West betrays the World Bank’s reckless and short term approach to development. The World Bank is facilitating land grabs and sowing poverty by putting the interests of foreign investors (like Bill Gates) before those of locals. The Oakland Institute and /The Rules, along with other NGOs, farmer and consumer organizations from around the world have launched a campaign, Our Land Our Business, to hold the World Bank accountable for its role in the rampant theft of land and resources from some of the world’s poorest people--farmers, pastoralists, and indigenous communities, many of whom are essential food producers for the entire planet.
Jim Crawford started New Morning Farm in Maryland many decades ago. He was young and idealistic. He had little or no money and had to start small. He believed in sustainable agriculture and wanted to produce fresh and healthy produce to sell in farmers’ markets to the urban public. He succeeded and became increasingly well known both for his ideals and his produce. This may be why the FDA picked him out for a site visit. An inspector appeared without warning and told him that his operation would have to change. It didn't matter that no health problem had ever been associated with Crawford’s impeccably run operation. The Food Safety Modernization Act for the first time gave the FDA direct authority over our farms. It should have been obvious to everyone that putting the FDA in direct charge of farms was a terrible idea. Much of the FDA’s budget is paid for by Big Pharma instead of the taxpayers, which creates a serious conflict of interest.