Full list: Food Sovereignty News

New Pittsburgh Courier: Black Farmers’ Lives Matter

The 2015 Food Sovereignty Prize will be shared by the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund (Federation) and the  Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras. The prize will be presented in Des Moines on October 14, 2015. Thankfully, this prize honors the important work of family farmers throughout the world.

The Food Sovereignty prize was first awarded in 2009 as an alternative to the World Food Prize (also taking place this week in Des Moines, Iowa) founded by “the father of the Green Revolution,” the late Norman Borlaug. While the World Food Prize emphasizes increased production through technology, the Food Sovereignty Prize, awarded by the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance, champions solutions coming from those most impacted by the injustices of the global food system. In honoring those who are organizing to reclaim local food systems, the commons and community self-determination, the Food Sovereignty Prize affirms that nothing short of the true democratization of our food system will enable us to end hunger once and for all. (EcoWatch)


The theme this year is “Black Farmer’s Lives Matter”. This is indeed true!

Black farmers have fed their communities and have always generously done so during and since the end of slavery. Much food has almost always been shared with those in need. But the production has been diverse and with a wealth of traditional knowledge through the generations as is true with family farmers throughout the world.

In the late 1990s, I conducted a research project for the Federation that included interviews of farmers throughout the South. I was amazed at the abundance and variety of produce grown by Black farmers. Even if they grew a huge acreage of monocrops, they also tended to maintain an important tradition of a diverse production of fruits and vegetables somewhere on their farm. When farmers have talked with me about the crops they grow, regardless of their struggles, on a consistent basis I have witnessed a gleam in their eyes. It’s as if farming is indeed a spiritual experience regardless of who you are or where you are from.

Mississippi farmer Braxton Bullock with his cabbage

Yet this on-going productivity has never been easy, largely because of southern and national politics, along with the growing industrial systems in agriculture that continue to threaten the integrity of our important family farmer sector.

In fact, since the end of the Civil War in 1865 and prior to that as well, Black farmers have made significant contributions to agriculture in America.

The Freedman’s Bureau was created in 1865 to assist freed slaves and poor whites after the Civil War. The Bureau, however, was never given the directive from Congress to offer 40 acres to the Black community but rather small portions of from 10 to 15 acres. Unlike whites that were given free land in the west, thanks to the 1862 Homestead Act, Blacks needed to “purchase” their land. In fact, with the Homestead Act, American whites received some of the most massive welfare subsidies of any people in the world in the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, by the early 1900’s the Black community had managed to purchase some 15 million acres of land. It was an amazing feat. Yet by 1910, the loss of black-owned land began with the advent, for one, of Jim Crow laws in the South. Today the acreage farmed by Black farmers is a little over 4.5 million acres.

The contributions of the Black farming community in the development of U.S. food and culture have also been exceptional and likely more than any other ethnic group in the South. Most of the slaves in America came from West Africa and that culture is reflected, for one, in the food we eat today. For centuries, Black farmers have maintained the growth of these traditional foods.

In fact, many of the African foods we eat in the 21rst century came with Africans on ships during the slave trade. African origins of some of our foods include okra, gumbo, watermelon, spinach, coffee, yams, black-eyed peas, sorghum, and African rice. All of these foods resonate in the South today.

Okra is thought to be from Ethiopia or also, and more likely, from West Africa where it was also grown and eaten abundantly. The word gumbo is believed to have come from “quingombo”, of the word “quillobo”, which is the native name for the okra plant in the Congo and Angola areas of Africa. Watermelon is thought to have originated in the Kalahari Desert of Africa and in the 1800s British missionary David Livingston saw an abundance of watermelon growing wild in central Africa. Spinach is from North Africa. Coffee is from Ethiopia. Yams are a staple food in West Africa. It is thought the first domestication of black-eyed peas took place in West Africa. Sorghum and African rice are thought to have come from the Sahel in Africa some 5,000 years ago. African rice has been grown in West Africa for some 3,000 years.

Rice, in fact, was critical to building wealth in the American colonies. For example, white plantation owners in South Carolina did not have a clue about growing rice. They opted to bring in slaves from West Africa where, as mentioned, rice had been grown for thousands of years. It was African women who taught these plantation owners, of course, as women were the farmers, as was true throughout most of the African continent. Nevertheless, white South Carolinians still resonate from the wealth they accumulated thanks to the skills and vast knowledge of African female farmers – not to mention the wealth overall accumulated by white America from the labor of African farmers throughout the region.

No narrative of Black farmers and agriculture can be complete without referring to the agriculturalist and scientist, George Washington Carver, who played as extraordinary role through his work at Tuskegee University in Alabama. Many say he saved the South. This is probably true. Carver recognized that the depleted soil from cotton production could be alleviated by a rotation of crops. Cotton, for example, should be rotated with legumes such as peanuts to fix nitrogen in the soil and farmers today are largely attentive to this practice. This example of rotation just touches on his genius but also his teaching model of a “moveable school” was transformative for agriculture education in the South, as in taking education directly to the farmer. This is something the Federation and other institutions have also adapted in many instances whether or not they recognize Carver’s role in the development of the model.

Tuskegee agriculture professors will often bring their students to the Federation’s Rural Training and Research Center in Epes, Alabama to meet some of the Black farmers in the area. One professor told me that the students can then witness a farmer digging his hand into the soil and tell them precisely about its health or what was needed to improve it. It comes from traditional knowledge, of course, and is beyond the textbook.

Market at the Federation’s Rural Training & Research Center in Alabama

Black farmers have also played a central role in the movement for freedom and justice in the United States and are rarely acknowledged for this. In the mid-20th century, across the South, they assisted in funding some civil rights initiatives and worked with students and activists including the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); they offered their land on occasion to assist civil rights workers, as in for camping; they ran for positions in USDA agriculture committees, such as the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS), which is now the Farm Service Agency (FSA); they assisted in voter registration initiatives. These are just a few examples.

Importantly, the legendary 1965 Voting Rights March from Selma-to-Montgomery on Highway 80 could probably never have occurred were it not for Black farmers. Black farmers, who owned land along Highway 80, allowed the integrated mixture of black and white marchers to stay on their land during the 54-mile march. This would never have been allowed on white-owned farms along the route.

Black farmers are, in fact, at the pinnacle of American heroes in the movement for justice in America and should be acknowledged as such!

As Black farmers were often the levers upon which the movement rested in rural areas, the conservative and reactionary whites in the South went after them with a vengeance that included, of course, the representatives of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In his book “Dispossession: Discrimination against African American Farmers in the Age of Civil Rights“, historian Pete Daniel describes the USDA and the white south’s tactics. Daniel managed to obtain records from the “U.S. Commission on Civil Rights” of studies that were conducted, for one, in 1965 and 1967 and he said that after his years of research, even he was shocked by the tactics to undermine Black farmers. Countless farmers were forced off the land during this period and/or left the South under the circumstances.

Largely in response to this discrimination, the Federation was created in 1967. It grew out of the civil rights movement. As the late Alabama attorney J.L. Chestnut once said, “There were a lot of organizations that were spawned by the blood that was spilled on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma in 1965, and the Federation was one of those.” Elders in the movement have told me that they felt the civil rights movement at the time had left the rural South behind. So the Federation was created to help fill that void by playing a role in saving black-owned land and offering tools for economic development.

As the founders of the Federation were, of course, aware of the discrimination against Black farmers in the South, they created an expansive organization that is licensed in 16 Southern states. It has offered assistance in seeking resources from the USDA for farmers, and, through the cooperative economic development model, provided another significant framework for economic advancement. Its work has also included international outreach and assistance in Cuba, West Africa, the Caribbean and Haiti to name a few. This is often with international farmer-to-farmer exchange programs.

In its more that four decades, the Federation has assisted in the creation of agriculture cooperatives, fisher cooperatives, craft cooperatives, credit unions and other cooperative ventures in addition to an important infrastructure of State Associations of Cooperatives. It has remained a grassroots organization.

The “Caravan to Washington” on the Capitol steps in DC (1992)

In addition to assisting individual Black farmers, the Federation has played a significant role effecting federal policy. In the early 1990s, Congress passed what was known as the “Minority Farmers Rights Act” that would, for the first time, use federal funds for programs targeted for Black farmers. It was proposef by the Federation in 1988 – click here for the original artiicle. While the bill passed Congress, funds were not appropriated. It took a “Caravan to Washington” in 1992 of farmers and supporters from across the South, to finally pressure Congress to appropriate monies for the program. The “Caravan” was the brainchild of the former executive director, Ralph Paige.

Importantly, the Federation was instrumental in the filing of the Black Farmer Class Action Lawsuit against the USDA that settled in 1999. It was known as the Pigford v Glickman lawsuit with Tim Pigford being a Black farmer from North Carolina and Dan Glickman being President Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Agriculture. This was the largest civil rights lawsuit ever filed against the United States government. To date, more than a billion dollars has been allocated to Black farmers for the discrimination they experienced from the USDA.

The above is but a brief summary of the expansive work of the Federation in the Black Belt South. Its important contributions have offered hope and an inspiration to many throughout the region and the world. The Federation and Black farmers have played a significant role in both honoring and saving family farmers for the benefit of farmers themselves and their communities, of course, as well as for all of us in America in providing food, in significant contributions to our culture and the integrity of our communities over all.

The prize is given by the US Food Sovereignty Alliance, which is comprised of food justice, anti-hunger, labor, environmental, faith-based, and food producer groups. To learn more about the work of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, please visit http://www.federation.coop/.

Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund: State Raw Milk Legislation Recap


his year has been a productive session for legislation increasing access to raw milk. While there is still resistance to raw milk legislation, opposition has declined overall around the country. With deaths being attributed to the consumption of cheese and ice cream made with pasteurized milk, raw milk opponents’ arguments about food safety aren’t getting the traction they once had.

Five states passed laws positively impacting the ability of consumers to obtain raw milk and raw milk products; they are as follows:

On May 28, Governor Peter Shumlin signed House Bill 484 (HB 484) into law. The bill is a measure that changed a number of Vermont’s agricultural laws including provisions amending the state’s raw milk statutes. Under the existing two-tier system, producers now can sell more raw milk each week (i.e., increased from 280 up to 350 gallons) if they comply with additional requirements on matters such as inspection, registration and testing. Another significant change in the law is that all raw milk producers will no longer have to test their cows annually for tuberculosis and brucellosis; under HB 484 only a one-time negative test or proof of a recent one-time negative test is required.

The tier 2 producers had been required to warn their customers if even one test result showed the total bacteria or coliform count was over the legal limit; if follow-up tests were above the limit, producers were required to stop all sales until they got a test result that was in compliance. Producers with one high somatic cell count test had to not only warn their customers, but also contact a veterinarian to assess the herd and milking procedures. HB 484 does away with the consumer warning; now the Secretary of the Vermont Department of Agriculture, Food and Markets issues a warning if two out of four consecutive monthly tests exceed the limit and has the authority to suspend the producers’ sales when three out of five tests do so.

Since Vermont has a two-year legislative session, a separate bill aiming to expand raw milk sales to retail stores and legalize the sale of other raw dairy products will still be under consideration next year.

Governor Matt Mead signed the Wyoming Food Freedom Act (HB 56) into law on March 3. The new law gives farms, ranches and home kitchens the right to sell any foods, other than meat products, they produce direct to the consumer without any government regulation or inspection. Sales can take place at farms, ranches, private homes, farmers markets and through delivery.

The Food Freedom Act legalizes the sale of any raw dairy product including unaged cheese. The sale of raw cheese that has not been aged at least 60 days is prohibited in interstate commerce but states do have the option of not having any aging requirement in their laws. At this time, Wyoming has the most favorable laws on the sale of raw dairy products in the U.S. A factor in the bill’s passage was the lack of a dairy industry in Wyoming to provide opposition. According to the state, there are only 30 Grade A dairies left in the state; other estimates have the number as low as ten.


There are still ten states that do not allow any sale or distribution of raw milk by statute, regulation or policy. Two of them, Montana and West Virginia, came close to changing their laws in 2015.

Star Tribune: Cook County officials back embattled dairy farmer blocking inspectors

Maya Rao
March 18, 2015
Full Article

Cook County commissioners sided with the embattled Lake View Natural Dairy on Tuesday, approving a letter of support for the Grand Marais farmer who is refusing to allow state agricultural inspectors on the property.

The commissioners backed the Berglund family’s right to sell products from the farm, citing lines from the Minnesota constitution that protect the farm “from governmental intrusions, when [it] is privately associating with private men and women to sell and peddle the products of their farm at their farm location.”

The move comes a week after Judge Michael Cuzzo denied a motion from the Department of Agriculture to hold David Berglund in contempt for not allowing inspectors on his farm. The state initially sought to have him fined $500 a day. Cuzzo stayed the department’s order for inspection until he could address the constitutional issues in the case, a ruling that will come in the next 90 days.

Lake View sells milk from its cows without processing it in sanitized containers, according to court records. Some of the milk is turned into cream and butter for customers. The Agriculture Department initially tried to visit the farm two years ago to discuss how Lake View could voluntarily comply with rules governing the manufacturing and sale of unpasteurized dairy products.

Regulators disagreed with Berglund’s assertion that he was constitutionally exempt — by the “No license required to peddle” clause — from a requirement that he have a license to sell goods from the farm. They argued that the farm was still subject to inspections and food-safety requirements and that it needed a dairy-producer permit.

“He’s a local farmer, the family’s been here for generations, and so we support economic development and people that are trying to make a living here,” said Heidi Doo-Kirk, who chairs the Cook County Board of Commissioners.

Like many others in town, Doo-Kirk and her family have gone to the farm to buy milk. Lake View even has an honor system, she said: customers can grab milk from a cooler, write their purchase on a sign-in sheet and leave money in a box.

Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund: Wyoming Food Freedom Act Moves Toward Passage

February 17, 2015
Full Press Release

UPDATE 3/3/15 – Gov. Mead Signed HB 56 Today!

News from Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund member, Frank Wallis: 

RECLUSE, WY—(February 17, 2015)—The Wyoming Food Freedom Act [HB0056] has passed the Wyoming House of Representatives by a 60–0 vote and has cleared the Senate Agriculture Committee. The bill will now be heard by the full Senate; if passed, the bill will be sent to Governor Mead’s desk for a signature.

The bill sponsored by Representative Tyler Lindholm would stop overregulation of locally produced foods typically sold at farmers markets and like venues. As long as there is only a single transaction between the producer and the informed end consumer, there would be no government regulation or inspection. Meats would not be allowed to be sold in this manner, except for chicken. Chicken meat is already allowed under federal regulations.

“This law will take local foods off the black market. It will no longer be illegal to buy a lemon meringue pie from your neighbor or a jar of milk from your local farm,” said Representative Lindholm.

The Senate committee hearing was packed with consumers, ranchers, farmers and small food producers. They told the senators that the government should not be involved in dictating what kinds of food an individual wants to buy.

“The government is not my parent,” said Cheyenne resident Lisa Glauner. “I would much rather have food the way God made it than to have FDA-approved food that is not even real, like Kraft macaroni and cheese that doesn’t even have real ingredients.”

Frank Wallis from northern Campbell County, said many rural residents also depend on being able to sell their locally produced foods as a way to supplement their incomes. “I urge you all to vote for this bill; it will be good for the rural economy of Wyoming,” he said. “It will help small ranchers and farmers make a living.”

State health officials and Department of Agriculture representatives attended the hearing and answered questions posed by the senators. They had some concerns about food safety, but did not testify against the bill.

The bill passed the committee with Sens. Paul Barnar (R-Evanston), Leland Christensen (R-Alta) and Dan Dockstader (R-Afton) voting for the bill; Sens. Fred Emerich (R-Cheyenne) and Gerald Geis (R-Worland) opposed the bill.

“When the recession hit, this became a serious source of secondary income,” Senator Dockstader said. “So this would just set some clarity to statutes, because this is something that is not going to stop anytime soon.”


Read the PDF here.

New York Times: Maine Court Fight Pits Farmers Against State and One Another

JUNE 18, 2014
Full Article

BLUE HILL, Me. — When Dan Brown quit his job driving trucks and began to work on his wife’s family homestead here about a decade ago, he was looking forward to a quiet life of farming. He began raising chickens and growing vegetables, and watched happily as a calf named Sprocket thrived. The Browns built a farm stand and began selling unpasteurized milk and eventually other products, like jam and salsa.

But a few years after the Browns began selling, state regulators saw a problem. It is legal to sell unpasteurized milk in Maine, but because Mr. Brown had never purchased a $25 milk distributors’ license and had not properly labeled his milk, the state argued that his farm was breaking the rules and needed to be stopped.


Dan Brown with Sprocket at his farm in Blue Hill, Me. Credit Brian Feulner for The New York Times

On Tuesday, Mr. Brown lost an appeal he had made to the state’s highest court after he fought a lawsuit filed by the State of Maine in 2011. It was a blow to a small but vocal rebellion among farmers and consumers who say that burdensome state regulations are keeping the most local form of food — which, around here, has near-religious significance — away from consumers. The case has pitted the state against some small-scale farmers and stirred a feud between new homesteaders and longtime family farmers.

“This isn’t about Dan Brown or Farmer Brown anymore,” Mr. Brown, 46, said on a recent morning. “They’re telling you that you don’t have the right to come get milk from a farmer.”

Mr. Brown said he was told by a state official in 2006 that he would not need to be licensed or inspected if he sold from his farm and did not advertise. So when state regulators from the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry came calling a few years later, he said, he rebuffed them (colorfully, at times), unwilling to spend money on the upgrades he would need to qualify for a milk distributors’ license.

“I don’t need a $40,000 milk room to produce safe, healthy milk,” said Mr. Brown, who asserts that the decision to buy his milk should be left to customers who know him, not to the state.

In 2011, the State of Maine and the commissioner of its Agriculture Department filed a lawsuit against Mr. Brown, alleging that he had sold unpasteurized milk without the proper license and labeling, and operated a food establishment without a license to do so. Last year a judge agreed, ordering him to pay a fine of about $1,000 and to stop selling. Mr. Brown has since filed for bankruptcy.

“It was ridiculous, ludicrous and maddening,” said Florence Reed, a neighbor who directs an organic farming nonprofit and who was a customer of Mr. Brown’s. “Dan’s milk is what they choose to protect us from?”

Last month, Mr. Brown went to the state’s highest court, in Portland, for a hearing on his appeal. He was accompanied by a bevy of supporters who want farm-to-consumer sales to be free of state and federal regulation that, they say, is intended for supply chains that are much more complex than theirs.


Mr. Brown was the subject of a lawsuit for his sale of unpasteurized milk without proper labeling or licensing. Credit Craig Dilger for The New York Times

In 2011, voters made nearby Sedgwick the first town in Maine to pass a so-called food sovereignty ordinance, which grants an exemption from food safety rules to farmers selling directly to consumers. Blue Hill soon followed. There are now 11 towns in Maine with such ordinances, and similar measures have popped up in states including California and Vermont. Pete Kennedy, the director of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, said this was the first litigation involving one of the ordinances, so advocates were watching closely.

“We’ve gotten them out of our bedrooms and our voting booths,” said Betsy Garrold, the head of a group called Food for Maine’s Future, before Mr. Brown’s hearing. She then said they needed to get the state “out of our kitchens.”

Mark Randlett, an assistant attorney general who was arguing the state’s case, said Maine needed to be able to regulate food sales to protect public health. “The department really does support local food sales and these kinds of transactions between farmers and individuals,” but not without rules, Mr. Randlett said last month.

Mr. Brown’s lawyer, David Gary Cox, argued that the state could not change the rules on Mr. Brown, since officials had first told him he would not need a license, and invoked the Blue Hill ordinance in his defense. The judges said that public health ramifications outweighed Mr. Brown’s concerns about obtaining a license and that the ordinances were pre-empted by state and federal law. Advocates of the ordinances said that they expected towns would nevertheless continue to pass them, and that they would seek to pass a state law that would create some regulatory flexibility for small-scale dairy farmers.


Supporters rallied last month for Mr. Brown, who lost an appeal in court on Tuesday. Credit Craig Dilger for The New York Times

“We’ll continue to work with the legislators who have supported us,” said Heather Retberg, 40, a farmer from Penobscot, Me., who sells raw milk without a license to a private buying club. Tuesday’s ruling, she said, “puts us in an uncertain spot again.”

But other farmers were worried that relaxing food safety rules for small-scale farms could endanger the industry, and were frustrated by Mr. Brown’s case and its supporters.

Mr. Brown had been lobstering to make ends meet but stopped so he could tend the farm when his wife, Judy, fell ill the morning after their State Supreme Court hearing. They will focus on homesteading for now, Mr. Brown said, but will pare down, and he will seek other sources of income. On Wednesday, they were planning to make pizza with mozzarella from their milk.

“The farm can change,” Mr. Brown said. “We can survive; it’ll just be more of a farmstead for our life, not our livelihood.”

WCSH: Food sovereignty fight taken to Maine’s highest court

By Tim Goff
May 13, 2014
Full Article and Video

PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — A fight over local control and food sovereignty that began in the fields of Blue Hill more than two and a half years ago, spilled over into the state’s highest court on Tuesday.

Justices with the Maine Judicial Supreme Court heard arguments from lawyers representing Dan Brown, a small farmer fighting against sanctions imposed by the Maine Department of Agriculture that stem from his sale of raw milk on his farm without a license.

“I can’t give my neighbor a half gallon of milk. This is crazy talk,” exclaimed Brown as he stood outside the Cumberland County Courthouse.

Brown says it was about ten years ago when he and his wife, Judy, decided to start a small farm operation on their land at their home in Blue Hill. They had a handful of chickens and added a couple of cows.

“I loved it. It was a way of life,” said Brown.

They were producing more milk than they could consume, so Brown says he approached the state to see if they could sell the raw, unpasteurized milk, he was told he could on his farm as long as he didn’t advertise he was doing it.

“I was following their directions,” he explained. “I asked them what can I do? Where can I sell my milk? ‘If you sell from your farm, we don’t need to know you’,” he says he was told.

For several years he says they’re weren’t any problems. His operation grew to roughly 300 chickens and eight cows. He invested money in a farm stand and started making cheese and other products along with selling vegetables. Brown says he never worked so hard in his life, or was as content working as when he was fixing things on the farm.

In 2011, an inspector with the state paid his farm a visit. Brown says he was told he needed to make numerous improvements to comply with state regulations. He estimates it would have cost between $20,000 and $60,000 to meet the requirements.

“To produce a couple gallons a day, how could you ever recoup that?” he wondered. “It is the infrastructure needed to produce the milk to fall under a commercial dairy license.”

Brown closed his doors for about a week. Other farmers in the area reached out to him and told him the laws had not changed and that he should continue operating as he had been. So he reopened and was soon sued by the state.

Dan Brown says paying for the required license was never the issue, but the amount of money he would have had to invest to build the infrastructure to fall under a commercial dairy license was beyond his capabilities and something he was not interested in doing.

“This is about more than one man, milking one cow and selling its milk to his neighbor,” stated State Representative Brian Jones, at a rally before Brown’s hearing outside the courthouse. “We support the right of communities to determine how they will manage the production and distribution of food among themselves and the rights of individuals to determine what foods they will eat.”

Jones joined Brown and roughly two dozen of Brown’s supporters on the courthouse steps before his case was heard. All of them support local food sovereignty ordinances like the one passed in Blue Hill back in 2011. The ordinances seek to protect small scale food producers from having to comply with state and federal regulations and inspections.

“I am here because I believe food raised by a community, for a community, within a community should be regulated by that community,” said Heather Rhetberg, who traveled to Portland from her farm in Penobscot to show her support for Brown.

Eleven Maine towns have passed food sovereignty ordinances in recent years in an effort to support their local economies and keep them in business supplying their friends and neighbors with food grown or made in their own backyards.

Gary Cox, a lawyer with the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund traveled from Ohio to Maine to represent Brown before the Supreme Court. He says if Brown is successful in his appeal it will “be a huge victory for food sovereignty”.

The state, which imposed a fine of $1000 on Brown for selling raw milk without a license, believes state and federal statutes supersede local ordinances.

“The department really does support local food sales and these kinds of transactions between farmers and individuals,” stated Randlett. “But, again as I pointed out, it can’t be without rules.”

The Maine Judicial Supreme Court is expected to issue its findings in the coming weeks.

Politico: Food Freedom movement grows with help from left

Full Article
Farmers should have the right to milk a cow and sell a gallon of that milk to their neighbors, argue libertarian supporters of the “food freedom” movement. They should be able to slaughter and sell the meat of the livestock they raised directly to consumers.

Consumer advocates and Big Ag have fought successfully for years to keep strong federal and state regulations on the books to block such allowances, citing serious food safety concerns. But as buying local has become all the rage and concerns about industrialized agriculture more widespread, the right-leaning food freedom cause is gaining steam and increasingly finding allies on the left.

In another example of food freedom bipartisanship, Democratic Reps. Pingree and Peter Welch of Vermont teamed up with Republicans Steve Womack of Arkansas and Cory Gardner of Colorado to take on a regulation the FDA proposed under a 2011 food safety law that would impose new safety standards on spent grain, which brewers often donate or sell to livestock farms.

Small-scale producers have also had the support of Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), who gained major exemptions for them when the sweeping food safety overhaul was being considered in the Senate.

However, as the movement gains support inside and outside the Beltway, consumer advocates hope the trend to support small producers doesn’t outweigh efforts to make food safer.

But supporters of the movement, including Rep. Thomas Massie, the Kentucky Republican who sponsored the two raw milk-related bills and is looking to take a leadership role in the food freedom movement, insist the food safety argument is moot because industrialized agriculture is causing more problems.

“The food or farm freedom movement is really bipartisan,” Massie said. “Many consumers care not only about the safety of their food but also how it was raised. Neither party has a monopoly on healthiness, if you will, and in general this food is healthier.”

The freshman congressman, who manages his own farm where he and his wife produce grass-fed beef, grow and can fruits and vegetables and raise chickens and ducks, plans to introduce more food freedom bills in the coming months. He hopes Democrats are willing to go along for the ride.

“I sit two or three seats from the aisle in the House of Representatives because I’m always looking for Democratic co-sponsors,” he quipped.

Massie and one of his Kentucky Republican compadres, Sen. Rand Paul — an especially popular figure within the food freedom movement — have expressed interest in introducing legislation to allow all meat producers the same exemption from USDA inspections provided to poultry farmers who raise less than 20,000 birds a year.

Just before Massie was elected to office in 2012, he and Paul visited the Virginia farm of Joel Salatin where they discussed potential bills that could ease regulatory burdens on small farmers.

Salatin, who runs a diverse farming operation that includes raising chickens for slaughter, is a celebrity in the food freedom movement, having been prominently featured in Michael Pollan’s bestseller, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: a Natural History of Four Meals,” and the Oscar-nominated film “Food, Inc.” Salatin’s own 2007 book, one of nine he’s written, “Everything I want to do is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front,” has helped galvanize support for the cause.

Salatin said he first discovered the impact regulations had on small farms when he graduated from high school and decided to become a farmer himself.

“I realized that any time the government tries to get in between your lips and throat — that was a pretty drastic invasion of privacy and freedom,” he said.

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.

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.