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Mother Jones: 4 Foods That Could Disappear If New Food Safety Rules Pass

By Tom PhilpottWed Nov. 6, 2013
Full Article

When President Obama signed into law an overhaul of the nation’s food safety regime in early 2011, it was clear that the system needed a kick in the pants. Recent salmonella outbreaks involving a dizzying array of peanut products and a half billion eggs had revealed a dysfunctional, porous regulatory environment for the nation’s increasingly concentrated food system.

The law, known as the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), was a pretty modest piece of work when it came to reining in massive operations that can sicken thousands nationwide with a single day’s output. No surprise, since Big Food’s main lobbying group, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, notes on its web site that “GMA worked closely with legislators to craft the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act and will work closely with the FDA to develop rules and guidance to implement the provisions of this new law.” (Food and Water Watch summarizes FSMA here; Elanor Starmer lists some of its limitations here.)

Even for many supporters of food safety reform, one persistent question has long been whether the new rules would steamroll small and midsize farms. Obviously, what would be a light burden for a multinational giant like, say, Kraft Foods, could be a crushing one for a farm that sells its produce at a farmers market. To allay fears of one-size-fits-all regulations—which swirled in sometimes-wildly paranoid forms during the FSMA debate—Congress exempted most operations with sales of less than $500,000 from most of its requirements. But the proof of is in the rule-making—the process by which federal agencies, in this case the Food and Drug Administration, translate Congressional legislation into enforceable law. Congress intended its exemption to save small farms from overly burdensome regulation, but the question remained: How would the FDA put it into action?

Finally, more than two years after Obama signed FSMA, the FDA’s rule-making process appears to be nearing an end. And I’m disappointed to report that, according to decidedly nonparanoid, noncrazy observers, the proposed rules as currently written represent a significant and possibly devastating burden to small and midsize players.

If you’ll excuse the gimmick, here are four foods that could go missing if the FDA sticks to the current version of its food-safety rules.

1. The local, organic carrots in your kid’s school lunch program. Many farm-to-school programs are facilitated by what the US Department of Agriculture calls food hubs—operations that gather produce from small farmers and sell it, usually to buyers like schools, restaurants, and retailers. The USDA actively promotes them as “strong and sound infrastructure support to producers across the country which will also help build a stronger regional food system.” The USDA lists more then 100 active food hubs nationwide.

The new rules imperil food hubs in two ways. The first is through the farms that supply them. The new law’s less-than-$500,000 exemption applies only to farms that sell more than half of their produce directly to consumers. But a growing number of small farms earn a significant amount of their income selling to third-party local enterprises like food hubs and food co-ops—and if revenue from those sources exceeds half of total revenue, these farms would lose their exemption and become subject to costly requirements.

Then there’s the problem that the FDA’s proposed rules have not settled upon a definition of “very small business.” If such a definition isn’t spelled out, NSAC warns, operations like food hubs could be “regulated well beyond their risk and with compliance costs too high for them to stay in business.”

2. The kohlrabi in your farm-share box. You might be annoyed by the amount of kohlrabi (a grievously underrated vegetable) in your CSA, but probably don’t want it to disappear altogether. But because the current proposal doesn’t narrowly define “manufacturing facilities,” CSAs and other “direct farmer-to-consumer farms that do light processing activities or include produce from another farm in their boxes will be subject to inappropriate, excessive regulations designed for industrial food facilities,” NSAC states.

3. The pickles peddled by your favorite hipster farmer. Small value-added operations—like artisanal pickle and salsa makers—are also endangered by these hazy definitions. Indeed, the proposed rules “treat pickles like a dangerous substance,” NSAC reports. The FDA does not consider fermentation (pickling) or canning to to be “low-risk” activities, and thus operations that engage in them, no matter how small, will be subject to an onerous thing called the Preventative Control Rule—a set of requirements that make sense for a huge factory but not so much for the farm that produces your prized kimchi.

4. The local, organic spinach you’re hooked on. For me, perhaps the most galling aspect of the proposed FSMA rules involves compost and manure—the lifeblood of soil fertility on organic farms. Under the USDA’s organic standards for crops that come into contact with the soil, like greens, farmers can apply raw manure to soil as long as it’s at least four months prior to crop harvest. Most organic farmers I know apply manure in November and plant their first cash crops in April, harvesting some of them, like salad greens, soon after. That’s a five-to-six-month gap. The FDA’s new rules would push the limit for all farms to nine months, making the fertility programs that drive organic farming essentially illegal, and also directly contradicting the FSMA itself, which had stipulated that the new safety safety rules should not conflict with the National Organic Program, NSAC reports.

The nation deserves a food safety regime that focuses on real threats while not imposing the same regulatory burden on, say, a CSA or a diversified vegetable farm as it does a giant peanut-paste factory. As Ariane Lotti, NSAC’s assistant policy director, told me, “If the proposed regulations are finalized without changes, they will unjustifiably create barriers to sustainable and organic farming, chill the growth in local and regional food systems, and further consolidate farming into the hands of the few who can afford to comply with expensive requirements.”

The FDA is accepting public comments on its proposed rules until November 15.


Farming Magazine: FSMA: One Last Chance to Comment, by Vern Grubinger

By Vern Grubinger
October 2013 Issue
Full Article

For many years, foods that pose significant safety risks if not properly handled have been highly regulated, including dairy, meat and seafood. Fruits and vegetables don’t pose nearly as much risk, so growers haven’t had to deal with food safety regulations aimed at fresh produce. Some growers voluntarily complied with Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) in order to satisfy their markets, but for the most part, the industry was left to take common-sense precautions to keep produce safe.

With Congress passing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), that situation has changed. Once implemented, this federal law will require many growers to spend a lot of time and resources on risk prevention. Even growers exempted from the law are likely to be affected, because over time food buyers will want documentation of similar food safety practices from all the farms they deal with.
Rationale

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 48 million Americans get sick and 3,000 die each year from foodborne diseases. However, little of this is due to fresh produce. For example, from 1996 to 2010, there were 131 produce-related outbreaks resulting in 14,350 illnesses and 34 deaths. Thus, fresh produce accounts for about 1 percent of all foodborne disease-related deaths. While this is tragic and growers agree that more can be done to reduce food safety risks on their farms, it should be recognized that millions of pounds of fresh produce are consumed every day with hardly any problems. That said, FSMA is now the law, and growers will have to deal with its requirements, aimed at making a small risk even smaller.
The law and the rules

The FSMA law provides the framework for new food safety regulations, called rules. These are written after a law is passed, and they provide the specifics of how it will work. FSMA put the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in charge of regulating food safety on produce farms, rather than the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which has typically regulated farm practices.

There are a variety of rules associated with FSMA, but two in particular specify what will be required of growers: the Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing, and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption (produce safety rule); and Preventive Controls for Human Food (preventive controls rule).

The draft rules are long, complicated documents, but there are many summaries available online. A good place to start is the FDA’s website: http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/FSMA. For summaries of the different sections of the rule online, visit:

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition: http://sustainableagriculture.net/fsma

University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension: http://extension.unh.edu/Food-Safety-Modernization-Act-FSMA

New England Farmers Union: http://www.newenglandfarmersunion.org/food-safety-modernization-act
Don’t miss the deadline

The deadline to submit comments to the FDA on the draft FSMA rules has been extended twice, to November 15, 2013. After that the FDA will finalize the rules, though it will be a few years before they’re implemented. Take the time to learn how the rules will affect your farm, and then submit your comments online.

Below are some key concepts about the proposed rule, and I have listed some specific concerns and suggestions. These are my personal opinions, not those of any organization I work for. Take time to develop your own views on these issues.
Farm versus facility

The produce safety rule applies to farms that grow, harvest, pack or hold what is termed “covered” produce. The preventive controls rule applies to facilities that manufacture, process, pack or hold human food, and those that buy and resell products grown on other farms. These facilities must register with the federal government. If you only grow, wash and trim off outer leaves, and if you only sell products you grow, then you run a farm and the preventive controls rule does not apply to you. However, if you peel, chop, combine ingredients, or buy and resell products from another farm, you run a facility or a mixed farm facility and you may be subject to this rule.

Facilities have to keep a written food safety plan, including a hazard analysis, and they will be required to keep records of preventive controls, monitoring, corrective actions and verification. There is still some confusion about what activities make a farm into a facility. Further, the scale of production that triggers designation as a facility and associated requirements is not yet set; exemptions up to $25,000 or even $500,000 have been suggested.

Many farms buy and resell products from other farms. Quite a few farms lightly process vegetables or do on-farm value-added processing. Even a minimal amount of additional paperwork will deter farms from engaging in these activities, which have been encouraged as ways to strengthen local food systems. Only farms that conduct these activities with large volumes of produce – over $1 million of sales to wholesale markets – should be regulated as facilities. Buying fresh produce in clearly labeled containers from other farms that have their own food safety plan does not increase food safety risks enough to warrant the buying farm coming under the preventive controls rule.
Covered produce

Covered produce is generally eaten raw, such as leafy greens, melons, tomatoes, etc. The produce safety rule does not apply to produce that is usually cooked, such as asparagus, beets, potatoes, pumpkins and sweet corn. It also does not apply to produce grown for personal consumption or consumption on the farm.

Buyers are not likely to distinguish between covered and noncovered produce and will want to see evidence of food safety risk management on all farms they purchase from. Further, since most farms grow, harvest and pack a mixture of covered and noncovered produce, these categories complicate the rule without providing significant regulatory relief to most farms. The rule requires careful separation of covered and noncovered produce. It would be simpler for the marketplace and diversified farms if FSMA simply applied to fresh produce.
Cost to growers

The FDA developed estimates for the cost of FSMA implementation. For farms with total food sales between $25,000 and $250,000, the cost is approximately $5,000 per year; farms with sales between $250,000 and $500,000 could spend about $13,000 per year; and for farms with sales over $500,000, the cost is estimated at $30,000 per year.

These are large expenses for small and medium-sized farms, especially when you consider that food sales include all types of food, while the costs are incurred only for covered produce, which may be a fraction of a farm’s total food sales. For example, many farms in my area gross just over $500,000 in food sales, and their covered produce accounts for perhaps half of that. A $30,000 hit will take a large part of their net revenues.

These high costs, in combination with the management burden of compliance, are likely to drive many small and medium growers out of the fresh produce business. It will be simpler to not grow fruits or vegetables and just have a store that sells other farms’ products. Even though many farms that sell retail or directly to retailers will be exempt from FSMA, they are likely to have similar costs if their customers or insurance agents demand analogous food safety documentation. These costs will hinder the development of local food systems that provide economic development, food security and access to fresh food for communities across the nation.
To submit comments online:

Produce safety rule: http://www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=FDA-2011-N-0921-0199

Preventive controls rule: http://www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=FDA-2011-N-0920-0188

If submitting online, write your comments ahead of time and save them on your computer. There is a time limit when using the Federal Register system, and you don’t want to lose what you’ve written. If your comment is less than one page, you can copy and paste it into the comment box. If it is longer, write “see attached” in the box and upload a separate Word or PDF file with your comments. Be sure to click the “submit” button! You should then see a new screen with a confirmation number.

To submit comments by mail, send them to: Division of Dockets Management (HFA-305), Food and Drug Administration, 5630 Fishers Lane, Room 1061, Rockville, MD 20852. Include the docket number in your comments; the produce safety rule is FDA-2011-N-0921, and the preventive controls rule is FDA-2011-N-0920. Mailed comments must arrive by the deadline, so send them a week ahead just to be sure.

The author is a vegetable and berry specialist with University of Vermont Extension based at the Brattleboro office.


Iowa Farmer Today: Proposed regs threaten local food

By Wes King

Agriculture in the United States faces a significant and potentially devastating threat from sweeping new federal food-safety regulations.

As consumer demand for locally grown produce grows and the economic and public health benefits of local food systems stack up around the country, these new proposed food-safety regulations could bring all that to a screeching halt.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed rules implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) that, by the agency’s own analysis, could reverse the trend of new and beginning farmers entering the industry and force many existing farms and food businesses out of operation.

Consequently, these rules could reduce the supply of fresh, nutritious, local produce and increase our nation’s dependence on imported food.

The proposed produce rule establishes new burdensome regulatory standards that govern production practices on farms that produce fresh food for people, such as how they manage things like water and recordkeeping.

In the analysis accompanying the proposed rule, the new rules are estimated to cost the domestic produce industry about $460 million annually.

The rules, available for public comment in the Federal Register until Sept. 16, are estimated to cost farmers:

=Very small farm, $25,000-$250,000 in sales, about $4,700 per year

=Small farm, $250,000-$500,000 in sales, about $13,000 per year

=Large farm, more than $500,000 in sales, about $30,500 per year

For many farmers who are currently growing produce and for beginning farmers who are interested in growing produce for local direct or wholesale markets, the cost of compliance will be too steep.

The FDA’s analysis says “the rate of entry of very small and small [farm] businesses will decrease” as a result of the produce rules.

Former USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said in a recent speech the FSMA rules have the potential to “destroy some operations.”

A bipartisan, bicameral group of legislators, in a May 28 letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, noted rising consumer demand for organic and locally produced farm goods has led to increased economic opportunity, often aided by substantial public investments in infrastructure.

The letter noted “the proposed FSMA rules threaten to undermine those investments.”

In passing the FSMA, Congress included many provisions intended to protect local food production and distribution from inappropriate and costly regulations.

Congress included directives for modified risk and scale appropriate requirements for farms and entrepreneurs with short supply chains and sales below $500,000.

The $500,000 sales threshold, however, applies to all food produced by the farm, not just the fresh produce that is regulated by FSMA. Corn, soybeans, cattle, pigs and eggs sold by a farm all count towards this threshold.

This means if a farm with 500 acres of field corn and around $500,000 in annual sales also has a few acres planted in mixed vegetables to sell at a local farmers market or plants a field of pumpkins for an October farm stand, those few acres would be covered by the full produce rule even if their total sales only amounted to $50,000 or less.

This would subject farmers to thousands of dollars in annual compliance costs — even if the majority of their crop (field corn) isn’t subject to the new rules.

Please submit your comments by Sept. 16 at www.federalregister.gov/articles/2013/04/26/2013-09761/standards-for-the-growing-harvesting-packing-and-holding-of-produce-for-human-consumption-extension.

To learn more about the FSMA and the potential effects of the proposed produce rule, the federal comment period and what you can do to protect diversified family farms and local food visit: http://sustainableagriculture.net/fsma/.


AlterNet: Should You Be Able to Buy Food Directly From Farmers? Regulators Don’t Think So

Farmers are distributing food via private contracts like herd shares and leasing arrangements, which fall outside the regulatory system of state and local retail licenses and inspections that govern public food sales.
7/18/13
By David E. Gumpert
Full Article

Around the country, local farmers are selling meat, dairy products, and other dinner table staples directly to neighbors, who are increasingly flocking to the farms in search of wholesome food.

This would seem to embody the USDA’s advisory, “Know your farmer, know your food,” right? Not exactly.

For the USDA and its sister food regulator, the FDA, there’s a problem: many of the farmers are distributing the food via private contracts like herd shares and leasing arrangements, which fall outside the regulatory system of state and local retail licenses and inspections that govern public food sales.

In response, federal and state regulators are seeking legal sanctions against farmers in Maine, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and California, among others. These sanctions include injunctions, fines, and even prison sentences. Food sold by unlicensed and uninspected farmers is potentially dangerous say the regulators, since it can carry pathogens like salmonella, campylobacter, and E.coli O157:H7, leading to mild or even serious illness.

Most recently, Wisconsin’s attorney general appointed a special prosecutor to file criminal misdemeanor charges against an Amish farmer for alleged failure to have retail and dairy licenses, and the proceedings turned into a high-profile jury trial in late May that highlighted the depth of conflict: following five days of intense proceedings, the 12-person jury acquitted the farmer, Vernon Hershberger, on all the licensing charges, while convicting him of violating a 2010 holding order on his food, which he had publicly admitted.

Why are hard-working normally law-abiding farmers aligning with urban and suburban consumers to flaunt well-established food safety regulations and statutes? Why are parents, who want only the best for their children, seeking out food that regulators say could be dangerous? And, why are regulators and prosecutors feeling so threatened by this trend?

Members of these private food groups often buy from local farmers because they want food from animals that are treated humanely, allowed to roam on pasture, and not treated with antibiotics. “I really want food that is full of nutrients and the animals to be happy and content,” says Jenny DeLoney, a Madison, WI, mother of three young children who buys from Hershberger.

To these individuals, many of whom are parents, safety means not only food free of pathogens, but food free of pesticides, antibiotic residues, and excessive processing.

These consumers are clearly interpreting “safety” differently than the regulators. Some of these consumers are going further than claiming contract rights—they are pushing their towns and cities to legitimize private farmer-consumer arrangements. In Maine, residents of ten coastal towns have approved so-called “food sovereignty” ordinances that legalize unregulated food sales; towns in other states, including Massachusetts and Vermont, and as far away as Santa Cruz, CA, have passed similar ordinances.

The new legal offensive isn’t going over well with regulators anywhere. Aside from the Hershberger action in Wisconsin, and a similar one in Minnesota, Maine’s Department of Agriculture filed suit against a two-cow farmer, Dan Brown, in one of the food-sovereignty towns, Blue Hill, seeking fines and, in effect, to invalidate all the Maine ordinances. In April, a state court ruled against the farmer, and in effect against the towns; sentencing is due within several weeks, and the case could well be appealed.


Bangor Daily News: Blue Hill raw milk ruling deals blow to local food sovereignty movement

May 04, 2013
By Mario Moretto
Full Article

BLUE HILL, Maine — A Superior Court ruling against a Blue Hill farmer who has been selling unlabeled, unlicensed raw milk will have farmers in several Maine towns wondering about the future of local “food sovereignty” ordinances that seek to exempt them from state oversight.

Dan Brown, of Gravelwood Farm, lost a civil case on April 27, in which he was accused of violating three Maine laws: selling milk without a license, selling unpasteurized, or “raw,” milk without marking it as such and operating a food establishment without a license.

Since 2006, Brown has been selling raw milk from a farm stand located on his property. An 8- by 11-inch sign states that the milk is raw. Brown also sold his products at farmers markets after Blue Hill adopted its Local Food and Community Self Governance Ordinance in 2011.

Brown said his sales were legal under the ordinance, which exempts local food vendors from state licensure and inspection, provided they sell their products directly to consumers.

Eight other Maine towns — Appleton, Brooksville, Hope, Livermore, Penobscot, Plymouth, Sedgwick and Trenton — have also passed local food ordinances with the same or similar language.

In her order, Hancock Superior Court Justice Ann Murray ruled that Brown was not protected under the Blue Hill ordinance. It was a major boost for the argument from the Maine Department of Agriculture, who filed the lawsuit against Brown in 2011, that towns cannot simply opt out of state law.

The ruling could have an effect on the other towns with similar rules. If the state were to pursue civil action against other farmers operating without a license, their attempt to seek protection under local food rules would likely fail.

Brown sought shelter under the so-called Home Rule of the Maine Constitution, which permits a municipality to enact its own regulation when permitted to do so by the Legislature, so long as the regulation “is not denied expressly or by clear implication.”

While the Legislature has carved out an exception for small farmers who sell produce at farm stands and farmers markets, the state excluded milk products, making clear “the legislative intent that milk products be subject to stricter regulations than other products,” Murray wrote.

“It is axiomatic that a municipality may only add to the requirements of the statute, it may not take away from those requirements unless permitted to do so otherwise,” she wrote.

While the decision sets a clear precedent in Hancock County, home to five of the nine towns with local food rules, Lourie said the decision’s effect on other county courts would depend on how persuasive the presiding judge found Murray’s legal analysis.

Lourie said Murray could have ordered the town to strike the ordinance from the books, but since she didn’t, Blue Hill is under no obligation to backpedal on its assertion of a right to Home Rule. In the meantime, Brown hopes ultimately to win the case on appeal.

“Obviously this will have some effect, but to put it into perspective, this is not a final ruling,” Brown said. “Until the Superior Court makes a final ruling, I think there’s still some wiggle room.”

Jim Schatz, a selectman in Blue Hill who has supported the local food rules in town and at the State House, where several proposed laws would bolster local food sovereignty efforts, said he doesn’t anticipate conversations among selectmen about repealing the ordinance.

The ruling “shows the kind of work that needs to be done at the legislative level,” he said Friday.

Schatz stressed that selectmen are merely administrators. The ordinance was put forward by residents and approved at a Blue Hill town meeting. In towns such as Blue Hill, voters are the legislative body.

“It may be that the people interested in this ordinance come and ask for some refinement of it, but that’s not a process the selectmen would initiate,” he said. “We’re mere tools of the legislative body, which is a good place to be.”

There are bills being discussed at the committee level that would exempt local food ordinances from being pre-empted by state law, as well as a proposal to allow for direct-to-consumer sales without state oversight throughout Maine.

“We’re carefully monitoring the progress of those bills, because at this point it’s a policy question,” he said Friday.

Regardless, Lourie urged caution for farmers selling their products without licenses under the assumption their towns protect them from state law.

“The law can remain on the books, but it won’t be regarded as a defense [against civil lawsuits from the state],” he said. “Anyone who relies on it does so at their own risk. The town probably ought to repeal the ordinance because it leads people down the primrose path thinking they’re protected when they’re not.”

Brown is scheduled for a civil penalty hearing on May 16 in Hancock County Superior Court, where Murray will rule on what penalties will be levied for each of his three violations.


Times Argus Op-Ed: Monsanto attacking democracy in Vermont

April 21,2013
By Ronnie Cummins and Katherine Paul
Full Article

Monsanto’s lobbyists are out in force in Vermont, lobbying politicians in the hope of scuttling H.112, Vermont’s labeling law, which would require mandatory labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

They’re repeating ad nauseum their propaganda claims that GE foods and crops are perfectly safe and therefore need no labeling, that transgenics are environment- and climate-friendly, and that genetically modified crops are necessary to feed the world.

But as consumers become wiser, Monsanto has had to resort to attacking democracy instead of merely trying to defend its indefensible products.

One of Monsanto’s major propaganda points, designed to discourage state officials from passing GMO labeling laws, is that state GMO labeling is unconstitutional. Last year, the company threatened to sue the state of Vermont if lawmakers passed a GMO labeling law.

Biotech industry lawyers claim federal courts will strike down mandatory state GMO labeling for three reasons:

1) Because federal law, in this case FDA regulations, pre-empts state law.

2) Because commercial free speech allows corporations to remain silent on whether or not their products are genetically engineered.

3) Because GMO labeling would interfere with interstate commerce.

These claims simply don’t hold up. State GMO labeling, and other food safety and food labeling laws, are constitutional. Federal law, upheld for decades by federal court legal decisions, allows states to pass laws relating to food safety or food labels when the FDA has no prior regulations or prohibitions in place.

There is currently no federal law or FDA regulation on GMO labeling, except for a guidance statement on voluntary labeling, nor is there any federal prohibition on state GMO or other food safety labeling laws.

In fact, there are more than 200 state food labeling laws in effect right now in the U.S., including a GMO fish labeling law in Alaska, laws on labeling wild rice, maple syrup, dairy quality, kosher products, and laws on labeling dairy products as rBGH-free.

It is very unlikely that any federal court will want to make a sweeping ruling that would nullify 200 pre-existing state laws.

U.S. case law does indicate that commercial free speech in certain instances allows corporations to remain silent about what’s in their products. However, federal courts have consistently ruled that when there are compelling state interests — health, environment, economic — states can require corporations to divulge what’s in their products or how they were produced.

When it comes to GMOs, states can clearly make the case for compelling state interests, according to Consumer Union’s senior scientist, Michael Hansen. He says: “There is a compelling state interest in labeling of genetically engineered foods and that is due to the potential human health and environmental impacts of genetically engineered foods.”

Hansen also argues that Codex Alimentarius, a collection of internationally recognized standards, codes of practice, guidelines and other recommendations relating to foods, food production and food safety, guarantees nations the right to implement mandatory labeling of GMO foods. The standards support the argument that GMO labels do not constitute a restriction of free trade, as long as they are applied to both domestic and international producers.

Similarly state GMO labels, as long as they do not discriminate against particular producers, but rather apply to all producers — state, national, and international — do not constitute a restriction of interstate commerce.

States and localities have the right and the power to pass their own legislation, especially when the federal government fails or refuses to act on matters of compelling interest. Although large corporations now control the federal government, we still have room to organize and govern ourselves, especially at the local level.

Vermonters are engaged in a fundamental battle, for the right to know what’s in our food, the right to choose what we buy and eat, and the right to regulate out-of-control corporations that are threatening our environment, our health and future climate stability.

Without bio-democracy there can be no democracy. Without a balance of powers between the federal government, states and local home rule, there is no republic, but rather a corporatocracy, an unholy alliance between indentured politicians and profit-at-any-cost corporations.

The battle for food sovereignty, beginning here in Vermont, is a battle we cannot afford to lose.


Vermont Standard: The Land Of Milk And Just Enough Money

By Katy Savage
Standard Correspondent
4/20/13
Full Article

Randy and Lisa Robar began dairy farming two years ago with one cow. Without a barn or enough land, they kept Sophie in their garage.

Kiss the Cow Farm now has 13 cows that produce raw, organic milk at a once-abandoned dairy farm in East Barnard. It’s small and not too profitable, but, for Randy, farming is a lifestyle.

“Nobody (farms) to make money because you probably aren’t going to make money,” Randy said. “All those chores aren’t chores, they’re just part of the daily life routine.”

Perhaps the hardest part in launching a dairy farm isn’t finding customers; it’s the start-up costs. Vermont law prohibits dairy farmers from selling their product in stores without a certified production facility, which can cost thousands, Randy said.

“The biggest challenge is trying to sell the food we grow,” said Randy. “There are plenty of people willing to purchase it, but I’m not legally allowed to sell it.”

But the Robars have dreams of making farming a career. They want to produce cheese.

Learning to farm
When Lisa and Randy moved to an apartment in Barnard to escape the Boston suburbs, they wanted to farm but didn’t know how. By chance, the apartment they rented was owned by longtime farmer Joe LaDouceur.

Lisa signed LaDouceur’s lease with one request: He teach Randy how to farm.

Nearly everyday for two years, Randy followed LaDouceur around Bowman Road Farm, learning about grazing, fencing, farm infrastructure and how to start an old truck that’s been sitting in the field for years.

“(Randy) had that heavy desire,” said LaDouceur. “If you don’t have that heavy desire, I don’t care if you’re a zillionaire; you aren’t going to be a farmer. You have to be willing to work and not make big income.”

LaDouceur, 75, started farming in the 1970s and uses his knowledge to mentor those who have never farmed.

“I have a mission,” said LaDouceur. “I have been doing this a long time and I’ve seen a lot of farms go out of business. I want to see new people coming back. Randy and Lisa, when they came to town, they wanted to farm. I’m pretty proud of what they’re doing. They’ve gotten right into it now.”

The number of dairy farms in Vermont has been declining since 1980, according to vermontdairy. com. There are 42 dairy farms in Windsor County currently and 995 in the entire state, a decrease of 36 percent since 2000.

Much has changed since LaDouceur began farming.
“There used to be a lot of nice little farms and we all helped each other out,” said LaDouceur. “All of those farmers helped me out a lot. But now they’re all gone. That’s why it’s nice to see (Randy and Lisa); maybe the valley will come back.”

LaDouceur said it’s not easy to make a living farming. Those who farm do it because they love it.

And, Randy, it seems, has caught the farming bug.
“(Randy) reads a lot and studies a lot,” LaDouceur said. “He doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty. That’s why I think he’ll be a good [farmer]. He’s very meticulous; really in to getting things right.”

A farming future?
The Robars don’t have to go grocery shopping often — Lisa has successfully experimented making yogurt, soft cheese, butter and sour cream with her raw milk.

She is currently a music teacher at Woodstock Union High School, but farming has “bitten (her) life completely,” she said. She wants to join Randy and farm full-time.

Within the next couple years, the Robars hope to purchase more cows and start producing cheese, and maybe someday other dairy products.

But whether he makes money or not, Randy is happy doing what he’s doing.

“At the end of the day, the work I do is visible,” he said. “It’s not like paperwork and email. I spent too many years doing that sort of work.”


Capital Press: Legislators look at removing cap from cottage food sales

By STEVE BROWN
February 06, 2013
Full Article

Capital Press

OLYMPIA — Felicia Hill has made three notable trips to the Capitol.

First, she came to urge legislators to permit home cooks to sell products made in their own kitchens.

Later she received the first state-issued cottage food permit from the Washington State Department of Agriculture Director Dan Newhouse.

Hill returned on Jan. 31 with a new request, that she and other home cooks be allowed to make a living wage. House Bill 1135, with bipartisan sponsorship, would remove the $15,000 limit on gross annual sales, which was part of the original legislation.

She told the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee that 33 states now have cottage food laws and three more are pending; 21 of them don’t have a limit on sales.

“The $15,000 cap doesn’t provide a livable wage,” she said. Even a minimum wage job earns more, she said.

However, she said she thought a $50,000 cap could be considered. “Beyond that, it does need to go into a commercial setting.”

Another cottage food operator, Wendy Kingsley, said she makes wedding cakes. For the average wedding of 150 people, a cake will cost $500. That means that after she has sold 30 cakes, she must stop.

Though prime sponsor Rep. Jason Overstreet, R-Lynden, said all original safety and inspection requirements would remain in place, spokesmen for state agencies voiced concern about the potential for foodborne illnesses.

WSDA’s Kirk Robinson said he was concerned about the large volume of low-value products that would be allowed with no threshold. Also, he said, removing the cap would impact food processors who have made sizable investments in equipment for commercial kitchens.

Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, wondered whether the $15,000 limit means less to spend on equipment that would actually decrease the risk of contamination.

The committee scheduled a Feb. 7 vote whether to pass the bill along.


Drovers CattleNetwork: The voice of reason (Interview with GMC)

Dan Murphy
November 21, 2012
Full article

As a professor of philosophy and environmental studies at Vermont’s Green Mountain College — and something of an authority on animal ethics — Prof. Steven Fesmire found himself at the epicenter of the recent activist-driven flap over the college’s plans to slaughter and serve the meat from two working oxen that toiled on the college’s on-site farm.

The idea was to align the school’s farming operations with a robust concept of sustainability. The result of what seemed to many as a pragmatic—if somewhat controversial—decision was an outcry ginned up by members of VINE, a local animal activist group that operates a sanctuary its members lobbied for the college to consider as an alternative destination for the pair of aging work animals.

Both Fesmire and William Throop, the college’s provost who also specializes in environmental ethics, were caught up in an aggressive campaign to demonize the college and threaten the owners of a local packing plant where school officials had planned to send the oxen. The plant owner balked after receiving numerous threats, and due to an injury, one of the oxen eventually had to be euthanized.

That was hardly the end of the controversy, however, which continues to reverberate across the rural campus, as students, activists and Green Mountain’s leadership grapple with the fallout of a highly charged, media-driven food fight.

To set the record straight about “Oxengate”, and to discuss the larger issue animal agriculture, Prof. Fesmire spoke with Contributing Editor Dan Murphy.

Q. Let’s start at the obvious place: What happened with the protests against the college’s plans to turn its oxen into meat, and what’s the situation there currently?

Fesmire: It’s become a serious dispute. What we’re dealing with here are vegan abolitionists, the folks who think that animal agriculture itself has to be abolished. The vitriol and the harassment against us on this issue is coming from these people, diehard animal rights abolitionists. From their perspective, any aspect of animal agriculture is analogous to human slavery. Thus, there’s no such thing as a “better master.” From their standpoint, even small-scale animal operations, such as we have at Green Mountain College, are no better than the concentrated feeding operations you find in the industry.

Q. You have gotten some very critical comments directed at you, as I have, despite Green Mountain’s attempts to be even-handed about this issue.

Fesmire: Yes. To these folks, any type of animal use is a violation of the fundamental rights of the animal, so it all has to go away. These folks are organized, and with social media, they have a big international network they can mobilize, so that’s where the heat’s coming from.

Q. And there’s been quite a lot of heat, as I understand.

Fesmire: Yes. It’s interesting. Most people—regardless of their diet—might agree or disagree about our decision about the oxen. But this [controversy] has almost nothing to do with Bill and Lou [the two oxen]. They’re merely props. However, the activists see them as mascots for the animal rights movement. This [dispute] isn’t about the vegetarian agenda; most vegetarians are used to living with the [meat] industry. Many of them eat dairy products. This controversy is about the vegan agenda.

Q. How is that different from being vegetarian?

Fesmire: Most people—even vegetarians—can accept that there is a plurality of different diets. For instance, a recent graduate of nearby Middlebury College, who is a vegan, emailed our president and said, “I’m so sick about what these [activists] are doing to you guys, I’m going to send you a contribution.” And he mailed a check for $250. That attitude is pretty prevalent at our college, and that’s what we’re used to.

Q. But that’s not where these protestors are coming from, eh?

Fesmire: No, not at all. The people who are protesting against our college believe there is only one right diet—a vegan diet—and it must be imperialistically forced upon everyone else. To them, that’s the only possible “ethical” diet. It’s not a matter of accepting there are lots of dietary choices out there. They believe in the PETA concept of meat is murder. They’re the ones who blocked off our slaughterhouses, they’re the ones who have threatened our local businesses, they’re the ones who are harassing us daily, and they should not be confused in any way with “typical” vegetarians or vegans.

Q. Without condemning industrial agriculture, or exclusively touting small-scale farming, how do we get to a more balanced approach to food production?

Fesmire: Well, on the issue of animal agriculture, you have to get past thinking that the only choices are business as usual or abolition [of all livestock]. If you get past that, you can have an intelligent conversation and people have some flexibility to think about alternatives. But these pompous, sanctimonious abolitionists are utterly incapable of shining a spotlight that can lead us forward. They block the road on that kind of dialogue.

Yes, the industry does need to change, but right now, there’s not a lot of room to have the dialogue that we need to discuss how we might do that.


Rural Vermont Op-Ed: Response to Common Cause Request from Green Mountain College

Dear Editor:

The recent controversy over the fate of Lou and Bill, an aged team of working oxen at Poultney’s Green Mountain College, illustrates the profound and dispiriting disconnect between contemporary American society and the source of our food.

After announcing that Lou and Bill would be slaughtered for beef and served in the school’s cafeteria, Green Mountain College became the subject of rampant harassment, including a cyber-attack, on-line bullying, and threats of physical violence. After weeks of bullying, the college relented. Lou, who suffered from chronic injury, was euthanized in cloak of night and under tight security; Bill will be kept on at the college’s farm. Now the GMC students are left questioning how to attain GMC’s stated goal to become the first college or university in the United States with a major food service provider to eliminate all animal products that are not humanely raised and slaughtered, if they are not secure in making these decisions for themselves.

No matter what one thinks of the college’s choices regarding Lou and Bill, this episode is emblematic of our culture’s tragic desire to remain unaccountable to the ramifications of how we feed ourselves. Let us be clear: Truly sustainable agriculture and food production is dependent on animals, not only for the nourishment of their meat and milk, but also for the fertility of their manure, essential to the production of the fruits, vegetables, and cereal crops upon which all of us depend. Indeed, to erase animals from the cycle of agriculture is to ensure dependence on fossil fuel-based fertilizers. Sustainable? Not exactly.

We have suffered through multiple generations of agricultural and food production opacity. The time has come for full accountability and utter transparency regarding the most crucial, intimate exchange we all engage in: Food. The time has come to acknowledge that our very survival is dependent on the taking of life and to hold ourselves fully accountable to this truth, difficult as it may sometimes be. Green Mountain College set a strong example for all of us by having an open community forum for students to come to a shared decision about the fate of Bill and Lou. This shared decision-making is the essence of food sovereignty – the freedom for communities to choose how they will access their food according to their shared values and needs.

To be sure, there is no excuse for the deplorable conditions at large scale meat production facilities. In fact, there is no excuse for anything short of reverence for the animals that serve us. Lou and Bill and every other creature that provides our nourishment – either directly or indirectly – should be treated with the utmost respect. And when the time comes to end their lives, as it inevitably will, they deserve our deepest gratitude and the most humane slaughter we can provide.

Rural Vermont has long stood for a community-based food system that honors all its participants, including farmers, consumers, animals, and the environment. Rural Vermont also stands with Green Mountain College and the thousands of other Vermont farmers who acknowledge the sometimes difficult realities of creating and maintaining healthy food systems and who provide for their animals in a manner that honors their critical role in our nourishment.

Rural Vermont Board of Directors and Staff

 

BOARD:                                                                                                STAFF:

John Pollard – Shrewsbury                                           Andrea Stander – Montpelier

Lisa McCrory – Randolph                                               Shelby Girard – Brookfield

Ben Hewitt – Cabot                                                          Robb Kidd – Montpelier

Carl B. Russell – Randolph                                             Mollie Wills – Middlesex

Doug Flack – Enosburg Falls

Tamara Martin – South Wheelock

Randy & Lisa Robar – South Royalton

Dexter Randall – Newport Center