The move to locally produced food is becoming ever more local in myriad ways beyond production. I couldn’t help but get this feeling reading the insightful comments about raw dairy standards and dairy cow feeding practices–the feeling that we’re going to see practices and groups develop more than we might expect on a localized basis.
It’s clear that different locales place different kinds of pressures on farmers–for example, in terms of feeding options; grass and hay are more plentiful in California and South Carolina than in Vermont and Minnesota, for example. And then there are different philosophies around raising animals and producing milk. So the Raw Milk Institute being organized by Mark McAfee could wind up as an umbrella organization involving any number of local groups (just an off-the-top-of-my-head notion…no one knows how all this will shake out).
Again in that “local” mindset, the expanding outrage over the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s court action against Amish farmer Dan Allgyer is showing up in part as upset over federal overreach into community food production. In just the last week, The Boston Globe has published an editorial opposing the government’s action, and the San Francisco Chronicle has featured a two-part series (here the first article) about the “War on Raw Milk”. The tone in both publications is much different than in the recent past–much more questioning now about government priorities and practices.
When you think about it, the localized community-oriented approach fits well with other recent developments in sustainable food production. In Vermont, an outpouring of outrage by ordinary citizens led the Vermont legislature to finally pass “the Dairy Class Bill” that overrules state regulators who had sought to block classes on making raw milk cheese, yogurt, and other products. Classes have been re-scheduled, for details see Rural Vermont’s web site.
The Rural Vermont organization had moved toward a compromise with the state authorities that would have required warning signage and the maintenance of lists of participants at any such classes. That brought objections from another citizen organization, the Vermont Coalition for Food Sovereignty. “Why compromise?” asked Jessica Bernier, head of the coalition. “They are violating our rights and those rules were giving them (ag regulators) a toe in the door.”
Even before the new legislation was passed, the Vermont Coalition had challenged the state on the issue, holding a “Butter Day” demonstration in the state house–security personnel were present, but didn’t interfer with the event (see photo above).
After that event, the Vermont Coalition encouraged citizens to call their representatives in the state House, and the tack worked. The new legislation removes restrictions that technically prevented raw dairies from selling milk to customers who want to make it into cheese, yogurt, or butter.
Separate but related, also in Vermont, the Food Sovereignty movement has recently added two more locales approving resolutions or ordinances to the five I reported previously–Barre City and the Town of Barre. That makes seven towns in three states that have declared sovereignty on food.
My sense of this Food Sovereignty trend is that it’s the kind that starts out slowly, and then gains momentum, in a kind of bell curve formation.
One interesting point about the Vermont Food Sovereignty moves: the two resolutions just passed cover protection of seeds, which has apparently not been covered in Maine and Massachusetts versions. “Saving seeds is so integral to this,” Jessica Bernier tells me. “It is a food issue, it is a security issue.” And with the growing impact of genetically-modified food, it may well turn into a survival issue.
The food safety establishment is beginning to take notice of the Food Sovereignty movement and, surprise, surprise, doesn’t approve. A lengthy article in the publication Food Safety News (published by the product liability law firm, Marler-Clark), assesses the new movement from a legal perspective, and concludes:
“While the food-sovereignty ordinance purports to let locals avoid these regulations, its chances of standing up under legal scrutiny are slim.” A New Hampshire law professor is quoted as providing a variation on the FDA’s position: “There is no citizens’ right to foods of their choice in the legal sense…The [Supreme] Court has consistently held that the commerce clause reaches intrastate actions that have interstate impact.”
But might the food safety lawyers be missing the point here? Do we not have a right to engage in private food transactions, neighbor selling food to neighbor? What if too many people are willing to ignore the legal parsing that the lawyers revel in, and are determined to privately obtain the foods they decide are important to them? It happened once before, when America used the strongest legal sanction in its arsenal, an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, to deny people alcoholic beverages. So many people ignored the prohibition and engaged in private sales that the government threw up its hands and gave up, though it did take 13 years (1920-1933).