Last week, I had the opportunity to sit in on a web presentation by Doreen Hannes, a food rights activist, in preparation for National Small Farm and Ranch Grassroots Lobby Day in Washington today (Wed).
The title of her presentation was “Global Agreements Create Domestic Disturbance”. The thrust of her presentation was that one of the key reasons we’re running into so much resistance from regulatory, legislative, and judicial authorities with regard to raw milk, and related food rights issues, is because the United States is tied to a complex web of international agreements that impose ever-more-strict controls on agriculture, in the name of food rights.
What was especially disturbing about the presentation was her citation of specific language within the current food safety legislation pending in Congress (HR 2749 and S 510) that makes a number of explicit connections to international trade and agriculture agreements. Essentially, the food safety legislation states several times that it is consistent with international trade and treaty agreements.
One goal of stated in HR 2749 is to “facilitate global or regional harmony of standards and requirements…” What are some of these standards and requirements? The key ones seems to be good agricultural practices (GAP), traceability (read National Animal Identification System as one key component), and HACCP (hazard analysis critical control points).
The matter of international agreements and agencies is quite complex. There are any number of global agencies, beginning with the World Trade Organization, and continuing through a number of United Nations agencies, along with the International Monetary Fund, and so forth. Like good bureaucrats everywhere, they keep expanding their roles and rules.
The matter of Good Agricultural Practices has already taken hold in Colombia, she said. There, owners of family farms must regularly consult with local “technicians” before they do any irrigating, crop rotation, or fertilizing.
In connection with this regulated approach to agriculture, I received an email today from Brian Snyder, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture, about meetings going on around the country in connection with the Produce Safety Project, which involves the U.S. Food and Drug Administration setting “safety” standards for growing vegetables and fruits. According to Snyder, “I am told that the first meeting held in New York focused very heavily on composting procedures, with a comment made that federal organic standards in particular are well behind the current scientific thinking about compost and what the standards for everyone will eventually be.” Note mention in the various organizations involved about “GAP”. How does the idea of consulting a “technician” sound in connection with producing your own compost?
What all this says to me is that the international trade agreements give the Congress and President “cover” for passing the food safety legislation. When all else fails, they can say, “We may not agree with everything in this legislation, but we’re obligated under international agreements.” Of course, we understand that agribusiness supports these moves because the major food producers are global companies, and benefit from a reduction in competition from small producers.
All of which brings me back to the Colorado raw milk situation and the Raw Milk Association of Colorado. One of the key ways around (maybe the only way around) the onerous regulations closing in on us could be private arrangements between farmers and consumers. There is no guarantee, and the stiff opposition by regulators and the public health community to private arrangements or exceptions to licensing rules for small food producers in many states signifies that the authorities don’t want to see this floodgate opened too widely, if at all.
But I sense that it will be important for private organizations like the RMAC to set high standards and serve as models for what are likely to be a proliferation of such organizations, as Americans come to realize that all the “hysteria” about hyper regulation isn’t hysteria at all, but rather real warnings that the walls of food regulation are closing in more quickly than we may fully realize.
I’m currently in Washington, planning to meet with aides to my Congressman and Senators. I urge you to phone your legislators in Washington as well, and tell them about your opposition to SB 510 and HR 2749. At least they should know where many people stand.
Blanche Lennington, owner of Granny B’s Raw Milk Buying Group, has submitted a challenge to the recent cease-and-desist order it received from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources. It objects based on the fact that the state’s dairy laws don’t prohibit consumers engaging agents to obtain their milk. Interesting reading.