A perfect example is provided by the documentary “Farmageddon”, directed by Kristin Canty, as to how federal law hurts small business, while promoting big corporations at the taxpayers’ expense. Nowhere is this trend more harmful than on how our food is grown, where the federal government continues to support the expansion of large scale Agra-business while harassing and legislating family farms out of business. Not only is this injustice at the most basic level, to deny the right of humans to produce the food they need to live, but the actual food produced by the large farms is more likely to be contaminated, and the source is less likely to be known, and therefore unlikely to be dealt with in a timely manner. Apart from the upward redistribution of wealth to large farms in the form of subsidies, the federal government also promotes corporate farming by requiring the same standards no matter how large a farm is. This means the paperwork that the large farm can hire a lawyer to fill out, might make a small farm go out of business unable to afford another employee; or provide the excuse for federal agents to raid the small farm because the paperwork was improperly filled out, or a permit was missed, or any other tiny infraction of federal regulation.
At many points the movie focuses on the sale of raw milk, which has become a contentious issue over the past few years. The federal government’s official position is that milk should be pasteurized to prevent disease, but this is in response to large scale milking operations in which the milk is mixed together in a vat, making it almost impossible to identify the diseased cow. But small scale raw milk producers don’t have thousands of cows, and they don’t live in filthy, crowded conditions which lead to the spread of E. Coli. If any raw milk was tainted, it could be traced back to a particular cow, or a small group of cows, within hours. Many people swear by the benefits of raw milk, especially when dealing with severe allergies or when someone’s stomach can’t handle pasteurized milk. Some mothers prefer to give raw milk to their children because of the health benefits. One mother in “Farmageddon” said that her son’s severe allergies as a child were remedied by consuming raw milk.
But this is not simply about access to this food or that food, and it is not about whether or not any particular food is good or bad for you. This is about the most basic freedom of an individual to choose the food that they want to eat. When federal and state agents showed up at a meeting spot where people from the area meet to buy and sell their local food, one man was forced to pour out tens of gallons of raw milk, which had already been paid for by the people there. Some wondered how they had the authority to confiscate property without the proper warrants, and due process. A volunteer present for Athens Locally Grown named Kim Morris expressed her exasperation with the federal government.
I have been working with locally grown for a while now and I never heard of a single person getting sick on the raw milk that they’ve purchased there or anything else actually. But if they did it would be much easier to trace back where that problem was than say, milk that came from who knows where and has been shipped all over the country.
Shannon McBride, another volunteer, added:
The milk from ten thousand cows mixed together in a vat, and then trying to find the problem millions of people theoretically could be ill before you even know, can track it.
The documentary then states that:
In March of 2010 the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund sued the FDA for its prohibition against allowing raw milk to cross state lines. The FDA moved the court to dismiss the case, and in its motion stated that… a) There is No Absolute Right to Consume or Feed Children any Particular Food. b) There is No Generalized Right to Bodily and Physical Health.
Does this come as a surprise to anyone, that somehow our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness does not mean we can feed our children what we want, and be healthy physically? This is good enough reason to shutter the entire FDA, and launch a criminal investigation into the leadership which espoused these beliefs, and ordered the harassment of innocent citizens and confiscation of property absent of due process.
No one is trying to stop anyone from drinking pasteurized milk; that is certainly a good choice for anyone fearful of consuming raw milk, or someone who doesn’t know exactly where their milk is coming from. There are those in the government however, who are trying to stop anyone from drinking raw milk, supposedly because of the risk of it being tainted. But why should the free choice of those who wish to drink raw milk, be trampled? Why should a parent have the right to feed their child McDonald’s 3 times a day, but not to feed their child raw milk? And this is the problem; it is becoming increasingly difficult to produce, sell, buy, and consume raw milk in this country, without being harassed and threatened by the federal government. Law abiding citizens should not be made to feel like criminals for providing their family and community with raw milk. The choice to boil you milk is always available, but the choice to reap the health benefits of raw milk, along with the risks, is being removed.
This problem of food safety and contamination carries over to other segments of small farming operations, such as when people want to process their own foods. One of the main problems is that people have this idea that the FDA can protect them from every little thing, but what we have seen is tainted food reaching people and harming them, before the problem is caught, and mass recalls are necessary. Small scale operations effect a much smaller amount of people, meaning that in the event some food is tainted, a much smaller number of people are harmed, and it can be stopped at its source much quicker because of the ease of identifying the problem. Small scale operations have more incentive to make sure their food is not tainted, because their business, reputation, and livelihood depends on it. Judith McGeary, Esq. President of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance had this to say:
It’s wrong when people die from eating peanut butter.That shouldn’t happen. And it happens because there are huge flaws in the mainstream food safety system. The problem is right now that congress has sort of taken this attitude that “we gotta do something about food safety” and they are out to regulate everything and everyone, to the tiniest detail. And so instead of focusing on the real problems, instead of directing the FDA to really enforce, to really regulate and inspect these huge facilities, which is where all of the major ford born illnesses have been traced back to, they’re saying, “everyone who processes food must be registered with the government. They have to pay fees, and when you regulate like that you’re gonna drive these people out of business, and then consumers won’t have any other option. The only option consumers will be left with is the grocery store chains buying from these huge processing plants, which is where these problems keep getting traced back to.
Essentially every small farmer agrees and has learned first hand, that government safety regulations give big business a pass, while burdening small operations to the point of extinction. Jessica Prentice, the Founder of Three Stone Hearth in Berkeley California agreed, saying:
For regulators to limit small scale, diversified production and processing of food, when their is absolute evidence that that is the safest most secure way for us to feed ourselves as a society, and to let huge corporations that are poisoning us off scot free is completely ridiculous. I think that somebody should have the choice, if they want too, to eat something that is bad for them, that’s their choice, but I want to have the choice to eat something that i believe is good for me.
To really get at the emotional side of this story, you should watch the documentary (to anyone that has netflix, it is available to watch instantly). It details several families’ and businesses’ struggles against the FDA, USDA, and state agriculture authorities. Some of these people’s businesses were ruined, some had goods confiscated without being charged with any crime, some had animals taken and euthanized because of a disease which did not exist, and had also not been given due process before their property was confiscated. The immense injustice at the hands of state and federal agriculture authorities is appalling. The steps that the FDA, and USDA take to protect their interests, and carry out what would otherwise be considered criminal activity should disgust all of us, and fuel the fire to change the way our food is handled.
Part of the problem is the revolving door between giant Agra-business and the government. The USDA and FDA are carrying out “legal” harassment of small farmers, co-ops, food clubs, and CSA’s in order to protect the large operations. Many employees of the FDA and USDA first worked for private giant farms, and will do so again. Millions and millions of tax dollars are spent on surveillance, investigation, and other “legal” forms of suppression of family farms. In one case the USDA later admitted that there was no evidence of a family’s sheep ever being diseased or exposed to contaminated feed, despite killing all of the sheep years earlier, and then reimbursing the family $1,200/sheep, while other farmers who did not take the USDA to court received $5,000/terminated sheep. The business was ruined, and the sheep, which were used for milk not meat, were said to have been considered pets and “like little brothers and sisters” to one of the children of the family. It is disgusting the acts which our federal government carries out on innocent citizens, emotionally scarring and financially ruining many of them.
The movie is heartbreaking when you see small farmers who have worked their entire lives to build a business, crying on camera because there is nothing they can do after being targeted by the federal government. If you are anything like me the great injustice done to these people will make your blood boil. But instead of our anger turning to bitterness, we must focus it on the culprits of these disgusting policies of the USDA and FDA, and bring those responsible for this harassment and illegal confiscation of goods to justice. There is a lot of work to do in terms of cleaning out our government from corruption, but insuring we have a food supply which is healthy and safe should be on the top of our list.