Sunday, April 21, 2013

Maine Fight Over Food Laws

There's a very interesting article in the Bangor Daily News today regarding Maine's local food goings-on: Maine Farmers Speak Out Against Local Food Sovereignty Movement.

One is first drawn to the apparent paradox: what self-respecting, bona fide "farmer" would speak out against food sovereignty? Isn't food sovereignty, like, one of the foundational tenets of farmerhood? Who are these people? Well, read the article; it's very informative.

Here's an interesting passage:

In testimony submitted before the Agriculture Committee, Clare Derosiers of Sunnyside Family Farm in Linneus also said [the food sovereignty bill] would hurt farmers. Derosiers raises, slaughters and sells all-natural chicken throughout the state.

She wrote that the effect of the legislation would be unsafe poultry being sold by uneducated producers.

“It is dangerous to assume small farmers and custom meat processors are more trustworthy than the average person,” she wrote. ”Licensing and annual inspection provide a measure of accountability that helps to ensure food processors provide food that is safe for consumers.”

Wait, huh?  If it's "dangerous" to put trust in small farmers---if they are less trustworthy than "the average person"---then what makes State inspectors inherently trustworthy? What is it about being a government official that imbues a person with a surfeit of honesty and moral esteem? I'm drawing a blank. Are government functionaries fundamentally different from "the average person?" Furthermore, why isn't "the average person" trustworthy in and of himself? I think he is; I trust the average person dozens if not hundreds of times a day on a wide range of business and personal matters. Why wouldn't I give my farmer the same due consideration?

What a terrible cynic this woman is.

Here's another telling excerpt:

Many supporters of local food rules feel safe in purchasing local products because of the relationship they have with the farmers. They know the people who are making their food, and for many, that’s reassuring. After all, they say, local farmers will quickly go out of business if they sell food that makes customers sick.

“That’s ignorant,” [Maine dairy farmer Joan] Gibson said. “Food safety isn’t about what a great relationship you have with your farmer. It’s about biology.”

Cripes. Maine is full of crazy people. Of course food safety is about biology; it always has been. But a "great relationship" with your farmer enables you to ensure your food is being produced safely---in other words, with care, cleanliness and transparency, factors that virtually everybody is able to discern and evaluate. Industrial food outlets offer none of these assurances, and neither, in the end, does government inspection, even of local food. Why can't people just let others alone to make their own decisions? Is it really that hard? I'm stumped.

1 comment:

  1. I think eventually small, local, sustainable family farms will do a better job of assuring people of the safety of their food. 'Transparency,' after all, is a visual thing, and not everyone can visually inspect the farm and all its procedures, nor could they understand what they were seeing, perhaps. There has to be another avenue to build confidence, and that is where biology and science come in. It is no secret what it takes to produce, say, milk that is wholesome and safe. Those methods have to be clearly enunciated for the consumer and then assurance given that these demonstrable, validated steps are being taken to get the milk INTO the cow (insemination techniques; duration of the nursing relationship; avoidance of all drugs and hormones, etc.), and how it gets OUT of the cow (cleaning the udder, strict temperature guidelines, clean containers, etc.). I want to know: how many dairy cows do you have? what kinds? how many acres of grass? I would ask WAY different questions than an FDA inspector would, for sure; but questions are good and answers are good. And when all is said and done, personal responsibility remains the bedrock. Quaint notion!