It’s been a year since the criminal trial of Wisconsin raw milk farmer Vernon Hershberger, and his acquittal by a jury of all licensing charges. 


Things have been very quiet on the enforcement front since then….almost as quiet as the recent discussion on this blog. It’s almost as if someone flicked a light switch, and said, “Okay, lay off the farmers for now.” Aggressive enforcement in places like Wisconsin, Minnesota, Maine, and California against small farms selling raw milk and other farm-raised food on a private basis suddenly ceased. 


Is it an indication the regulators and politicians who control them have had a change of heart, have decided to encourage and accept private food sales? Or an indication of a shift in tactics by Big Ag, and the regulators they control? 


I am inclined to go with the second option. I believe we are seeing a shift in tactics. The regulators and their corporate overseers came to the conclusion that going after small farms with buying clubs and herdshares wasn’t good public relations….in fact, it was disastrous public relations. 


I choose that option because the regulators and legislators have refrained from enacting legislation in any of the state hot spots that would back small-farm sales of raw milk. Indeed, the FDA and medical establishments have worked hard to sidetrack or defeat initiatives in all these states that would have suggested a desire for a real solution. 


What that means is that we haven’t seen the end of pressure on small farms, simply a change in tactics. It could be we’ll see a resumption of the enforcement under the guise of the Food Safety Modernization Act. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration went back to the drawing boards last year after massive opposition to its plans to implement highly restrictive “safety” measures affecting how farmers make compost and use water. 


In April, Newsweek ran a cover article about farmer suicides. The lengthy piece mainly speculated about the pressures of loneliness and droughts as the causes of a rising tide of farmer suicides, not only in the U.S., but around the world. The suicide rate for American farmers is nearly twice that of the general population. India has had more than 270,000 farmer suicides since 1995 and in France a farmer commits suicide every two days, according to Newsweek. 


What the article didn’t touch on to a significant extent was the impact of America’s expanding food oligarchy, and its spreading international tentacles, as a cause. Oligopolies (control of markets by just a few entities) eliminate competition so they can control markets. Controlling markets means paying low rates to suppliers and charging high rates to consumers, so as to maximize profits. 


In agriculture, the suppliers are farmers. The spread of oligopolies (run by oligarchs) in agriculture has had a devastating effect on dairy and meat farmers, in particular, because these are the areas of agriculture with the greatest amount of economic concentration. 


Farmers selling food privately via herdshares, food clubs, and farmers markets threatens these oligopolies by introducing competition into the equation. Oligarchs despise competition—it threatens their control of markets—and will do anything to get rid of it (short of competing based on who has the better products). Pushing the state and federal regulators to shut down small farms on the pretext of not having retail, food handling, and dairy licenses was an effort to send a message to small farms to stay away from selling privately. Of course, the opposite happened as more farmers learned about the opportunities for improved emotional and financial satisfaction via escaping the commodity system. 

So we wait for the other shoe to drop.