[permaculture] Should You Be Able to Buy Food Directly From Farmers? Regulators Don't Think So | Alternet

Lawrence London lfljvenaura at gmail.com
Tue Jul 23 22:44:33 EDT 2013

[Is this for real? some 1984 scenario foisted upon us?]

Should You Be Able to Buy Food Directly From Farmers? Regulators Don't
Think So | Alternet

AlterNet / By David E. Gumpert

Should You Be Able to Buy Food Directly From Farmers? Regulators Don't Think So

Why are gov't regulators and prosecutors feeling so threatened by this trend?

Photo Credit: pogonici/ Shutterstock.com

July 18, 2013  |

Around the country, local farmers are selling meat, dairy products,
and other dinner table staples directly to neighbors, who are
increasingly flocking to the farms in search of wholesome food.

This would seem to embody the USDA’s advisory, “Know your farmer, know
your food,” right? Not exactly.

For the USDA and its sister food regulator, the FDA, there’s a
problem: many of the farmers are distributing the food via private
contracts like herd shares and leasing arrangements, which fall
outside the regulatory system of state and local retail licenses and
inspections that govern public food sales.

In response, federal and state regulators are seeking legal sanctions
against farmers in Maine, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and
California, among others. These sanctions include injunctions, fines,
and even prison sentences. Food sold by unlicensed and uninspected
farmers is potentially dangerous say the regulators, since it can
carry pathogens like salmonella, campylobacter, and E.coli O157:H7,
leading to mild or even serious illness.

Most recently, Wisconsin’s attorney general appointed a special
prosecutor to file criminal misdemeanor charges against an Amish
farmer for alleged failure to have retail and dairy licenses, and the
proceedings turned into a high-profile jury trial in late May that
highlighted the depth of conflict: following five days of intense
proceedings, the 12-person jury acquitted the farmer, Vernon
Hershberger, on all the licensing charges, while convicting him of
violating a 2010 holding order on his food, which he had publicly

Why are hard-working normally law-abiding farmers aligning with urban
and suburban consumers to flaunt well-established food safety
regulations and statutes? Why are parents, who want only the best for
their children, seeking out food that regulators say could be
dangerous? And, why are regulators and prosecutors feeling so
threatened by this trend?

Members of these private food groups often buy from local farmers
because they want food from animals that are treated humanely, allowed
to roam on pasture, and not treated with antibiotics. “I really want
food that is full of nutrients and the animals to be happy and
content,” says Jenny DeLoney, a Madison, WI, mother of three young
children who buys from Hershberger.

To these individuals, many of whom are parents, safety means not only
food free of pathogens, but food free of pesticides, antibiotic
residues, and excessive processing. It means food created the
old-fashioned way—from animals allowed to eat grass instead of feed
made from genetically modified (GMO) grains—and sold the old-fashioned
way, privately by the farmer to the consumer, who is free to visit the
farm and see the animals. Many of these consumers have viewed the
secretly-made videos of downer cows being prodded into slaughterhouses
and chickens so crammed into coops they can barely breathe.

These consumers are clearly interpreting “safety” differently than the
regulators. Some of these consumers are going further than claiming
contract rights—they are pushing their towns and cities to legitimize
private farmer-consumer arrangements. In Maine, residents of ten
coastal towns have approved so-called “food sovereignty” ordinances
that legalize unregulated food sales; towns in other states, including
Massachusetts and Vermont, and as far away as Santa Cruz, CA, have
passed similar ordinances.

The new legal offensive isn’t going over well with regulators
anywhere. Aside from the Hershberger action in Wisconsin, and a
similar one in Minnesota, Maine’s Department of Agriculture filed suit
against a two-cow farmer, Dan Brown, in one of the food-sovereignty
towns, Blue Hill, seeking fines and, in effect, to invalidate all the
Maine ordinances. In April, a state court ruled against the farmer,
and in effect against the towns; sentencing is due within several
weeks, and the case could well be appealed.

The jury in the criminal misdemeanor case of Minnesota farmer Alvin
Schlangen last September acquitted him of all charges after several
hours of deliberation. But the regulators’ push against
privately-distributed food continues unabated. The Minnesota
Department of Agriculture has moved forward with a local prosecutor in
Schlangen’s rural county, pressing similar criminal charges as the
ones he was acquitted of in Minneapolis.  He is scheduled to go on
trial again in late June.  And in Wisconsin, prosecutors have sought,
in the wake of their loss over the licensing issues, to have Vernon
Hershberger jailed for allegedly violating his bail terms since
charges were filed in late 2011.

At its heart, this is a struggle over a steady erosion of confidence
in the integrity of our industrial food system, which has been hit by
disturbing disclosures seemingly on a weekly basis. In just the last
few weeks, for example, we have seen shrimp, cookies, and veggie
burgers recalled by the FDA for being sold with undeclared

Also in recent weeks, members of Congress and the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control have escalated warnings about the growing danger of
antibiotic resistant pathogens emerging from farm animals, which
consume about 80 percent of all antibiotics in the U.S. The Atlantic
reported last summer that medical specialists are seeing a spike in
women with urinary tract infections caused by antibiotic-resistant
bacteria, likely transmitted by chicken meat.

This erosion in the confidence of the food system carries serious
implications. It financially threatens large corporations if
long-established food brands come under prolonged and severe public
questioning. It threatens economic performance if foods deemed “safe”
become scarcer, and thus more expensive. And it is potentially
explosive politically if too many people lose confidence in the
professionalism of the food regulators who are supposed to be
protecting us from tainted food, and encourages folks to exit the
public food system for private solutions like the consumers in
Minnesota, Wisconsin, Maine, and elsewhere.  Just look at the
vituperative corporate response to recent consumer-led campaigns to
label foods with genetically-modified ingredients.

As more consumers become intent on making the final decisions on what
foods they are going to feed themselves and their families, and
regulators become just as intent on asserting what they see as their
authority over inspecting and licensing all food, ugly scenarios of
agitated citizens battling government authorities over access to food
staples seem likely to proliferate. It’s an unfortunate recipe for a
new kind of rights movement centered on the most basic acts—what we
choose to eat.

David E. Gumpert writes about food and health, and is the author of
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights: The Escalating Battle
Over Who Decides What We Eat.
Should You Be Able to Buy Food Directly From Farmers? Regulators Don't
Think So | Alternet

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