The government-sponsored dump of nearly $5,000 of milk, eggs, butter, and cream from Michigan’s My Family Co-Op yesterday carried a very clear and powerful political message to all Americans: We control your food and we dont like you buying your food outside the corporate food system. Every now and then, we are going to remind you of what bad children you are being by taking your food and throwing it in the garbage. In fact, we are going to do more than remind you, we are going to completely humiliate you by preventing you from even feeding it to farm animals and instead forcing it to be disposed of in a landfill or dumpster.
(For more photos and a brief video of the food dump that took place see the Facebook Page of Hill High Dairy LLC, the producer of the food.)
Its the same message that was communicated in Minnesota when the regulators seized food from Michael Hartmann and Alvin Schlangen in 2011. And in California in 2010 and 2011, when the regulators twice took food from Rawesome Food Club. And in Wisconsin in 2010 when the regulators threw blue dye into Vernon Hershbergers raw milk. And in Florida in 2012, when regulators confiscated $45,000 worth of food going to half a dozen food clubs in that state (described in Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights), and forced the farmers who produced it to pay $2,000 in dumping fees to have it thrown in a landfill. And in Oregon in 2011 when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sought personal legal penalties against Kelli and Anthony Estrella of Estrella Family Creamery for the high crime of feeding condemned cheese to farm animals, as if to say, the humiliation must be complete. And the message first communicated in Michigan in 2006 when the state confiscated and disposed of $8,000 of raw milk from farmer Richard Hebron (and forced him as well to pay a $1,000 fine).
If you think I am exaggerating the intent of what is going on here, ask yourself this question: When was the last time you saw government agents seize and condemn food from a place like Foster Farms or Taco Bell or Del Monte or Kelloggs or Trade Joes when their food has been found to contain pathogens, or made people sick? Theres been not even a suggestion that food at My Family Co-Op contained pathogens or made anyone sick.
There were all kinds of other ways for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to have handled any problems they saw with My Family Co-Op. They could have warned Jenny Samuelson, the co-ops owner that she was possibly violating a 2013 policy statement on herdshares. They could have given her a citation, listed the charges against her, held a hearing where she and the owners of the food could have attempted to answer the charges, and then levied a fine if she was found to be in violation. (Actually, the fine and such can still happen, since the seizure order placed on the food last week carries possible penalties, at the MDARDs discretion.)
But those kinds of civilized steps would have forced the state to be businesslike and law-abiding. Collective punishment isnt about being businesslike and law-abiding. It isnt about presenting charges and letting the accused respond. It is about brute force and complete control. It is about sending a message about who is in charge, and what happens if you cut into corporate profits.
The big problem with collective punishment is that, while it may deal with the immediate problem at hand (an unwanted competitor), longer term it breeds alienation among the people who are being penalized and humiliated. I naively thought that possibly such actions were being curtailed or eliminated as officials got the message that it is dangerous to mess with such fundamental rights as the right to obtain food from farm animals you have ownership of.
We can expect more such examples of collective punishment. Dean Foods and its henchmen are losing big bucks in the precipitous decline of pasteurized milk sales. (Dean Foods is understood to control as much as 90% of the milk market in Michigan.) Like the Mafia, oligarchs dont take well to losing money. Their modus operandi is control and bullying, so they dont take the customary business steps of trying to find ways to compete. No, they pay big money to the politicians who control the hacks at places like the MDARD, and they demand action. Yesterday, they got it.