Mortal Combat: If You Eat Food, Read This

You’re being held hostage and likely don’t know it. Two entities are locked in mortal combat with everyone on the planet caught in the middle. On one side is the overwhelming power and bloated might of Corporate Greed. On the other side are those who could literally be known as Food Freedom Fighters. The battlefield is your kitchen table or, more accurately, your body. Thomas Jefferson once said: “If people let government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.” What you put in your body, what you nourish yourself with, is being increasingly scrutinized and regulated by government oversight. As always, they say “it’s for the general good,” but the reality is closer to what Ronald Reagan described as the “nine most dangerous words in the English language,” (“I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”) On Jan. 4, 2011, Barack Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act. In a nutshell, FSMA is painted as an effort to make our food safer by interdicting causes of food borne illness before tainted food reaches the market place. The FDA is now granted sweeping powers to detail and demand exactly how food is grown and produced. To the unaware, that sounds like a good idea. The problem is that the very infrastructure that makes mass-produced industrial food is what makes mass-produced industrial food dangerous. The new law does nothing to address the fact that housing tens of thousands of chickens, pigs or cattle in confined animal feeding operations and feeding them food that is bad for them is inherently going to be an unhealthful situation. The new law will impose extensive costs in documenting production methods and inspection fees for produce. That step may be of some limited benefit to the public by regulating large-scale growers who use profit-motivated shortcuts to grow vegetables and fruit (such as fertilizing with sewage sludge,) but will make production for small-scale growers costlier and more difficult. The new law treats huge, massively financed corporations and small, localized, family-farm growers equally. Already, the repercussions of this new law are echoing through the farming communities of the Heartland. Gone Fishin’. Family farmers are being squeezed out of business. The costs of complying with the new law go beyond money. It involves labor, too, and that is the highest premium an agency can exact from a small, family farmer. “It’s a question of labor,” one farmer told me last month. “We just don’t have the people in the county to find workers. It costs huge dollars to even have employees at all and if you can’t do the work with just your family, you’re in a bind. The new law will take hours and hours of paperwork and changes to comply with rules that really are designed for big corporations.” Employee benefits and compensation are easier for agribusiness conglomerates, but not so for the smaller farm. And the manpower often just doesn’t exist in the rural areas even if it could be afforded. The meat of the matter. The same farmer told me about problems in the small-farmer meat industry. Though the new law doesn’t directly include changes in USDA regulations, the agency that enforces meat and egg production, the increased cost of compliance is threatening their existence. Small meat processing plants are necessary for the small farmer who raises livestock outside the industrial feedlot mega-producers. Small processors must be USDA inspected in order to allow small farmers to sell meat to the public. “My processor told me he’ll be unable to afford compliance with the new law’s rules. I won’t have anywhere to process my pigs,” the farmer told me. The result? “We’re looking to grow food for our family and won’t be selling to the public at all.” The new law is going to have direct impact on American’s food options. The farmer I talked with will no longer be taking part in farmers markets. He isn’t the first and won’t be the last. This summer, when you visit a farmers market, your favorite grower may not be there. Fuelish thing to do. Back in December, I wrote in one of our predictions for 2011 that food prices would skyrocket. I had no idea how much. The United Nations says that the world is already in a food crisis. The World Bank warned in a February 15 report that food prices rose 29 percent since last year and jumped 15 percent since just last October and are linked to civil unrest worldwide. The effect is local, too. The Grain Place is an organic farm and a grain and nut supplier operated by the Vetter family near Marquette, Neb., since 1953. One product is organic sunflower seed sourced from neighboring states for sale to local customers. This past weekend at the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society conference in Columbus, Neb., Dave Vetter said he can’t get sunflower seeds in the United States any longer. He told me a large part of the reason is that arable U.S. cropland is being taken out of food production and converted to corn for ethanol production. Food: The final frontier. There are at least three things you can do. First, get acquainted with the problem. The concentration of the control of food into the hands of large corporations and out of the hands of small farmers is narrowing your choice for healthful food. Second, support direct to consumer marketing by small family farms and thirdly, protect your right to access the food you want by taking action. Casey Foster from the Nebraska Department of Agriculture told me the final regulations for the FSMA have not been drafted. There may be some wiggle-room to protect your rights to real food. Public comment can make a change. Visit voterealfood.com for information. Be well.

posted at 07:14 pm
on Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

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