Kim and I attended a very disappointing public hearing
yesterday at the Subcommittee for Agriculture of the Virginia House of
Delegates. The movement for food freedom
lost a battle yesterday in a classic example of regular people versus
lobbyists. We are not discouraged from
the fight; far from, it we are animated even more. But disappointed, yes, because after what we
saw, I am convinced that in the ‘land of the free’, despite all the lip
service, we actually fear freedom.
The subcommittee was examining two bills dealing with what
farms (mainly small ones) can do without government interference. HB 268 is a continuation of a fight started in
last year’s legislative session, and seeks to limit the power of local
governments to restrict ancillary on-farm activities like the sale of true
local crafts and value added products, and agri-tourism. HB 135 is a bill to allow small farms to
produce and sell food to end consumers without government interference. Rather than re-craft what I’ve said so much
already in the last few days, for the sake of explaining our position, here’s
the message we sent to the members of the subcommittee:
I am writing to
urge you to vote yes today to forward HB 135, Home-produced or farm-produced
products, also known as the Virginia Food Freedom Bill, which removes
restrictions on direct farm-to-consumer sales. Specifically, HB 135 would
remove restrictions on the sale of foods that are processed in the home or on a
farm of 10 or fewer people and
sold directly to the end consumer as long as the product is labeled with the
producer's name and address, product ingredients, and a disclosure statement
indicating that the product is not inspected by Virginia's food safety laws or
This is not a question of food safety, as some
might frame it. The regulations currently in place were written to address
dangers common to large scale production and processing, done far from, and out
of view, of the end consumers. This bill would not change that. What it will do
is allow what never should have changed- allowing those who want to be
responsible for their own food supply to seek out producers and products without
the government inserting itself in a private economic choice between consenting
adults. It will allow greater economic freedom for producers, and it will
positively affect the tax revenues of the state and local governments, as those
producers who already must collect sales tax, would still do so, but on more
product lines. It may even allow some cottage-level producers to grow into
small farm status.
This bill, and your vote, is a question of personal
freedom and support for small businesses. Virginia was built by small farmers
and tradesmen who had the freedom to unleash their creativity, and market their
products to their neighbors and peers, who took responsibility for their own
discerning purchases. Americans should never have abdicated their responsibility
for ensuring a healthy and safe food supply for their family to the government.
This bill will allow those Virginians who want to take that responsibility back
to seek out the healthy foods they want from the producers of their choice. In
this extended period of tough economic times, it would also allow many families
to earn a little extra income, and would allow small family farms to open some
additional income streams. I challenge Virginia legislators to do more than pay
lip service to increasing economic opportunity and freedom of choice for
The biggest emphasis
there is FREEDOM. Freedom should ALWAYS
be the primary consideration over economic and all others.
Well, actually, they didn’t even pay lip service. In the hearing, supporters of HB 135, including Joel Salatin and a
representative of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, gave passionate
testimony that HB 135 would give small farms greater ability to make ends meet,
and help consumers have REAL choices, but most important, that this was an
issue of FREEDOM first and foremost. One
young farmer gave a particularly rousing testimony that hinged on the issue of
freedom first. An interesting and illuminating point in the pro testimony came when
a delegate asked the FTCLDF rep how many members of her group file a Schedule
C, which I can only presume from his tenor and attitude was an attempt to
determine if the fund represents legitimate farmers or a bunch of rednecks who
already ignore government. Apparently he
doesn't realize that farms file Schedule F on their income tax. Ah, what are details to a legislator, though?
Then the opponents had their say, and a line
of pasties in dark suits got up to name the many trade groups they represented,
and proceeded to wave the public safety bogeyman with horror stories of plague
and pestilence from unregulated milk and meats.
The state Meat Inspection Service had its say as well. The delegates duly noted the concerns of
agribusiness and unanimously voted to table the bill quicker than you can say
"Freedom is dead". The whole vote
smacked transparently of a foregone conclusion.
The bill dealing with zoning came up next, and this
bill did pass on to the full committee, only because during a lengthy working
group over the last year, big agribusiness and small farm supporters actually
came to a rare agreement (in my opinion, possible only because agritourism does
not directly compete with the bottom line of big food processors). The disheartening part was the line of
opponents representing county and local government groups, and even a lobby
group composed of neighbors of wineries who want to ensure that activities on
their neighbors’ wine businesses do not disturb their peace. (You
just couldn’t make this stuff up!) The
opponents testimony raised some outwardly valid concerns, but every argument
emanated from a presupposition that the citizen must have the approval of the
government to do, well, anything, because if a government does not deem the
issue to require a specific permit, it is still implied that the government has
examined the general activity and deemed that it will allow such activity with
silent consent. Well, I just don’t see
it that way. Neither did the good folks
who wrote our Constitution, and the many more citizens who approved it.
And so readers, the spirit of ’76 is dead. Americans now fear freedom. And I want to know why. Why do state regulators and legislators fear
my freedom to sell what I make, to others who have the freedom to choose? If I go to a state inspected restaurant, and
become ill from tainted food, whom do I sue?
Is the state inspection service, or the restaurant lobby, or the legislators
who create the regulatory arms, in any danger of my litigation? Nope, the
overworked restaurant owner who has had to deal with all these regulations and
inspections, and still somehow failed, he gets to deal with my ire, too.
Why do agribusiness trade guilds fear freedom? They will tell you that it is because they
want to protect agriculture from black eyes and bad raps. Hogwash!
Thanks to our design, we will always need to eat. The worst tainted food scares have never
caused more than a momentary blip in sales of the particular product that
caused the problem. Americans have very
short memories, and agribusiness takes advantage of it. They don’t fear lost sales due to food borne
illness. When was the last time a big
processor was truly held accountable for tainted food anyway? What they fear is the fact that when these
outbreaks occur in their products, more people start to seek safer food from
local sources, and they don’t want you to have more freedom to do so.
Legislators and lobbyists will do what they do, as predictably
as the sun rising and setting.
But my biggest question is, why do regular
Americans fear freedom? If a regular
consumer fears the consequences of procuring food from an uninspected farmer,
well, there is the one place you do have some freedom- then don’t buy it there. If you do, and get sick, the producer is
still the one holding the legal liability.
And the local producer has a much greater incentive to produce clean,
safe food, because unlike the big guys, he won’t get off with a lecture thanks
to a squadron of lawyers and a big war chest. Thus we have a system that prohibits buying a
steak or a glass of milk from a neighbor you know, while bringing you
irradiated meat and chemically grown produce, dead milk, and foods that aren’t
even made from what’s pictured on the label, all in the name of protecting us
from dangers that, for the lion’s share, are only present in the large scale
production models. Apparently, Americans
fear the freedom of a farmer to sell products, which we are free to not buy, so
much that we support a system that has failed to give us freedom from tainted
food, and refuses to give us freedom to choose the foods we want.
So why do Americans thump their chests on the fourth
of July and talk about the freest nation on earth while accepting a government
that is so far into our personal choices? Why did our parents and grandparents ask for
this system in the first place? Why do
we allow this to continue? How does a
country that rescued the world from Hitler, et al, get weak kneed about
personal freedom because of personal safety?
How do a people that fought to set civil rights straight for all races,
accept stifling of individual enterprise and choice in favor of big centralized
corporations and government bureaucracies? This is a freedom issue. Even those who don’t care a whit about what
kind of food they put in their body should be offended at this kind of strangling
regulation of individual freedom. If anyone
reading is offended because I’ve insinuated that we are not free, we’ll I’m
saying it outright, and I hope you’ll see through the smoke and mirrors
soon. For those who already do, this is
not a diatribe of discouragement, this is a call to get angry, get involved,
and force a change!
Oh, look at the little threats to public safety!