In the science fiction tales of my youth, it was foretold we would walk on the moon, and set up colonies in space. We would replace cash with pocketable cards that could be loaded with “credits,” and merchants and the authorities would track our purchases and travels. Mega-corporations would become governments and police agencies of their own, immune to the laws that governed their customers.
Like most well-researched and well thought out science fiction, such tales became prophecy. They were reflected in the history of the Pennsylvania coal fields, with mining companies hiring thugs to beat up and kill recalcitrant workers. The stories also were threaded through tales of Wild West cattle ranchers who hired their own “law” to allow the bigger guys to control how much, if any, water was available for the little guy.
Times have changed. We’ve become civilized, a nation of laws.
Across the nation, laws are being passed giving control of our nation’s agriculture to large agri-corporations. We eat food grown from seed that is incapable of reproducing itself, containing only the engineered-in requirement that growers go back to the mega-corp for each year’s supply of seed.
I recently wrote of being living proof that raw milk is not necessarily a health hazard.
The federal Food and Drug Administration recently charged a Lancaster, Pa. farmer with selling raw milk – something by itself not illegal in the Keystone State, but contrary to federal interstate commerce regulations when the transaction involves buyers in Maryland.
Also last month, the Maine Department of Agriculture filed suit against a farmer for selling raw milk. According to the department, farmer Dan Brown was selling unlabeled raw milk at farmers markets, without a required distributor’s license.
Farmer Brown was an excellent target, what we all think of when we hear the phrase “family farmer.” His dairy production is based on a single cow.
And customers knew what they were buying, although that argument likely will not hold much sway among lawyers for the label-making industry.
Farmer Brown’s case will be an interesting court battle. On the one hand, the power of State and Industry, on the other a small farmer backed by five towns which are on record believing food choice is a right of production and a right of purchase.
A growing move among consumers toward natural and organic farm-fresh produce prompted the towns to adopt ordinances directing that farmers are exempt from licensing and inspections as long as they sell directly to consumers for home consumption.
The ordinances do not allow Farmer Brown to sell unlabelled raw milk to unsuspecting grocery buyers in chain supermarkets, but if he and the customer are face to face and willingly trade money for product, well that’s fine, the towns assert.
Big guys making examples of little guys is not a new tactic. In 2003, Monsanto sued a Maine dairy for advertising its milk came from hormone-free cows. Monsanto makes the major artificial growth hormone used to increase milk production in factory dairy farms. Eventually, an agreement was reached in which the dairy agreed to add a statement to its label: “FDA states: No significant difference in milk from cows treated with artificial growth hormone.”
To many growers and consumers, the hormone was harmful to cows and quite possibly to humans.
To Monsanto, consuming non-hormone-produced milk was harmful to company profits.
The chemical company had reached similar agreements in 1994 with small dairies in Illinois and Texas.
But Farmer Brown’s situation, and that of the dairies targeted by Monsanto, pales in comparison with reports of a bill in New Zealand’s parliament. That would make private gardening illegal, and give agri-corps permission to raid private homes and gardens in warrantless search of contraband plants and seeds.
A group calling itself NZ Food Security leads the fight against the bill’s passage, which also would grant the corporations immunity from criminal and civil prosecutions that might otherwise result from their efforts.
On the one hand, companies such as Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland, ConAgra and others have invested huge amounts of money researching ways to make crops more weather and bug resistant.
On the other hand, there is a growing consumer movement – not limited to Maine, Pennsylvania or even the United States – demanding the right of consumers to choose their food sources. When I pick blackberries and purchase eggs, I speak with the farmer who grew them, in conversation unfiltered by legions of brokers, truckers and distant processors.
There is a strong movement in some parts of Pennsylvania toward supporting small farms, and in Community Supported Agriculture in which urban consumers buy shares in small rural farms, and then go to the farms for their share of the booty.
But battles being fought in other places easily could leak into the Keystone state; corporate profits are no respecters of state or national boundaries. All that is necessary is for those of us “here” to believe what’s happening “there” doesn’t affect us.
Food grown in California or Brazil may not be bad for diners in Pennsylvania, but we should not allow the choice to be decided by how it will effect the bottom lines of a few big corporations.
Photo by FatBusinessman
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