Food freedom is flourishing in the State of Maine. A year after the governor of Maine signed “the Maine Food Sovereignty Act,” many Maine towns have responded to the new law by adopting ordinances that give their residents the legal right to sell food to one another without burdensome regulations. There are good reasons to permit farmers and home-based food processors such as bakers to sell food to their neighbors without oversight, but in most every state this is not permitted. It’s not about food safety, but about corporate control of the food system. On the day after the Maine Legislature approved the law in July of 2017, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) contacted state officials and threatened to federalize Maine’s system of livestock slaughtering and processing facilities. This article takes an in-depth look at Maine’s Food Sovereignty Act, the threat raised by the US Department of Agriculture against that law, and provides guidance for people in other states who want to bring food freedom to their communities.
Food Freedom Laws Needed to Rebuild Economic Prosperity – Reestablish Relationships between Local Food Producers and Local Consumers
Those of us who seek to restore the old-fashioned practices of food production and distribution in our local communities are concerned about food safety. We are not anti-regulation – we are instead pro-common-sense when it comes to food that is produced and sold locally. We are simply seeking to restore a way of life that has successfully promoted economic vitality, physical health, and a sense of community and belonging that used to characterize America. Such a way of life has been stripped away by mega size grocery stores, corporate dominated agriculture and food processing, and by over-reaching food regulations. The combined effect of these factors is destroying small locally owned businesses and small family farms. These destructive forces are crawling through our country, and are destroying the fabric of community life. The adoption of food freedom laws are one of the positive steps that we can take to rebuild economic prosperity, and reestablish personal relationships between local food producers and local food consumers. This article will examine the food freedom movement and will consider whether the allegations of corporate interests are valid. Should we be free to buy and sell food directly from our neighbors, or will such practices kill us? I am not being overly dramatic with my language here. Allegations against local food freedom advocates are highly charged with emotional rhetoric, and warn of unescapable illness and death.
Increasing numbers of Americans are seeking out unpasteurized, or raw, dairy products — both for the health benefits and the flavor. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), meanwhile, has released a report that's clearly an attempt to squelch the growing enthusiasm for obtaining farm-fresh foods like raw milk and cheese. The war against raw milk has been one of the most successful, fear-based campaigns ever created to monopolize an industry. As long as farmers are prevented from selling to consumers directly, processors can and do price fix the market, ultimately leading to the intentional destruction of small, family dairy farms and consolidation of CAFO dairy farms using taxpayer-funded subsidies.
Both the USDA and FDA seem to focus on protecting factory farming and all the industries that contribute to BigAg and Big Dairy from competition by smaller healthier operations. They do this by enforcing regulations meant for factory farms and CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations), which by their very vastness and economics need to be regulated since they are breeding grounds for disease. This holds true for foods that most urban shoppers take for granted, eggs and milk. Using the cover of "protecting human health," these agencies force operations to protect against foodborne pathogens that often don’t work or are not necessary with good farming practices. We, consumers, get less nutrition from those milk and egg products but Big Ag thrives. One way to continue "business as usual" is to prevent the rising demand for healthier milk and eggs that encourage small dairies and egg producers to have any market presence. We should have the right to choose and support better farming.
The misinformation campaign continues. The Montana and Idaho legislatures are currently considering bills that would loosen restrictions on the sale of raw milk. The Montana bill has already been approved by the state’s House of Representatives and is now being considered by its Senate. Apparently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) think consumers aren’t qualified to make this decision for themselves. In response to the Montana bill, the CDC issued the following warning: "Raw milk can contain harmful germs, such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites, which can make you very sick or possibly kill you. If you’re thinking about drinking raw milk because you believe it has health benefits, consider other options." This is nothing new; it’s been the position of government health officials for years. The FDA in particular has taken an aggressive stance against purveyors of raw milk. The vendetta against raw milk is completely unjustified. As our friends at the Weston A. Price Foundation point out in their campaign for “real milk,” raw milk has a proven safety record and has shown to be superior to pasteurized milk in protecting against infection, diarrhea, rickets, tooth decay, and tuberculosis. Children drinking raw milk also have better growth rates than those drinking pasteurized milk.
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."