“If the people let government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.”  Thomas Jefferson

Kelli and Anthony Estrella of Estella Family CreameryThe writer of the Declaration of Independence and our third president was certainly a prescient man. His dark vision has pretty much come to fruition. And the irony is that most of the millions who suffer the consequences through degraded health haven’t a clue as to what has happened. Our government may be incompetent in many ways, but it is highly skilled at propaganda. Just as most people think the trillions in bailouts to our banks “saved us” from a depression, most also think we have the best health care in the world. And they think that “food safety” is about giving the government more power to limit the foods we have access to–really what we might refer to as food tyranny (and today, the U.S. Senate moved closer to approving S 510 by invoking cloture and thus limiting debate).

This all has become ever more clear to me as a result of participating in a debate about S 510 sponsored by the online publication, Grist.org. Maybe I just hang around in the wrong circles, but it’s astounding to me that a number of smart people have so much faith in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to fairly enforce a wide range of new laws, including the power to quarantine parts of the U.S., the power to search food producers at will, the power to implement so-called Good Agricultural Practices, and the power to require and approve HACCP plans guiding every step of production. There is finagling over exempting small enterprises, but the way that’s headed, much of it could be left to FDA discretion. The FDA feasts on small enterprises, since it is so afraid of confronting big ones.

The discussion following my previous post about various aspects of food safety points up how much confusion, and disagreement, there is about the subject. Take Ron Klein’s link to the FDA memo about alleged violations of food safety practices at the Estrella Family Creamery in Washington.

Reading through that list of ten “observations”, I had the distinct impression that all were pretty easily correctible. (#10: “Failure to wear hair restraints where appropriate. Specifically, the owner was observed on 9/1/10 not wearing hair restraint while carrying cheese wheels from the three storage caves and staging them on a work table in the main processing room.”)

Yet the FDA seems to have used the list and evidence of listeria contamination to obtain a court order essentially shutting Estrella down, rather than seeking to work with Estrella to correct problems. Why wouldn’t it encourage the Estrellas to make changes? There was no rush, as in people getting sick. Not a single person has been reported ill.

But, of course, the FDA doesn’t care as much about people getting sick as it does about pursuing its political goals.  And right now, its political agenda seems to be to get rid of the 60-day aging requirement for raw cheese, and in the process eliminate raw cheese. So it goes after outfits like Estrella to accumulate “evidence” for its agenda. 

I had a chance to spend some time with Kelly and Anthony Estella, the founders of the company, at the Weston A. Price Foundation meeting last weekend (photo above). They asked me not to quote them at any length, on the advice of their attorney, since the case is still open. But suffice it to say that the couple had been cooperative with the Washington Department of Agriculture in cleaning up its operation and significantly reducing the presence of listeria. They had installed new equipment and made any number of recommended changes.

Once the FDA took over the case, though, any chances for cooperation seemed to evaporate. I’ve heard this before. Once the FDA comes in to a small producer, it’s about penalties and enforcement, not about cooperation and changes.

What’s wrong with the FDA’s heavy boot for small producers? There is all kinds of evidence that listeria is ubiquitous, and that the FDA’s zero-tolerance policy is inappropriate. There is also evidence that not all listeria monocytogenes is dangerous–hundreds of subtypes exist, and many of these are harmless.

There’s also the matter of what’s appropriate from a regulatory and business approach. A cheese maker that has been in business eight years, has won major awards for its cheese, and provides employment in a very down economy isn’t an enterprise you just flush down the toilet on a whim. Yet that seems to be the FDA’s approach. And now FDA is on the brink of broadly expanded power via the food safety legislation. A new and dark era may be upon us.
Back from the dead: Traditional Foods Minnesota, the Minneapolis food club that was shuttered by state and city authorities last June, has just reopened. According to a Minnesota listserve the state lifted its prohibition. But there’s no news of it on the buying club’s Facebook page.

The buying club was caught in the dragnet that resulted from the illnesses attributed to the Hartmann Farm last May. ?