Friday, July 9, 2010

Radical Concepts

Let's just go on a little political rant here for a second...

There are several food-related bills being reviewed in Alaska right now, almost all of them will put really heavy burdens on small agriculture producers and artisan processors. The justifications being used are 1) public safety from food-bourne illness through pre-emptive measures, 2) compliance with Federal (DEC, USDA, FDA) regulations, 3) other states have done it; and 4) other small operators elsewhere have managed to keep afloat while adhereing to these or similar restrictions.

OMG -- is that is soooo FASCIST!!  Enforced restriction prior to offense is at the heart of every dictatorship. But I'm not even going to go there for now. I'm just going to talk about logistics and level of jurisdiction here.

1) Federal Gov't, in the Constitition, was only granted jurisdiction over Interstate Commerce... if my goods don't cross the state line, they should kindly F-Off!

2) State Gov't, ideally, should only have jurisdiction over commerce that crosses intrastate localities... so, if I only produce and sell my goods in the same city/town/county that I live in, they should kindly F-Off!

3) Alaska is not like the rest of the country. Period. Considering the large land mass, limited population, and limited road system it is just not reasonable to require a small farmer/artisan trying to feed their local village of 100 or so people to jump through all the hoops that you'd require of a larger producer who intends to sell to a larger population much farther from home.

Take for instance meat processing. It is illegal to sell butchered meat without having it inspected... there are only a couple of licensed and inspected slaughterhouses and processing plants in the state.  Please tell me why someone in a village completely off the road system must somehow get their animals to one of these facilities hundreds of miles away, just to come back and sell that meat to their neighbor?  It makes no sense and is completely impractical.  It's also impractical for a small producer to build a facility that meets all the regulations and then try to get it inspected to obtain a license... there are only 2 inspectors in the entire state, and they only deem larger facilities worthy of the time and expense to visit them. Not even counting how a small village is going to afford a stainless steel kitchen, and multiple deep-freeze storage lockers when they can barely afford the fuel to keep the generator going for lights and standard refrigeration.

Really, this is so stupid. Small, local farmers and producers need to be exempt from the majority of bullshit regulations that are geared for large distributed producers. Give us a few practical and reasonable rules to follow, and only get up in our business IF someone actually gets hurt or sick. Really.

And back to food-bourne illness for a second... the governements would like us to believe that our food is going to kill us and that the only reason that we haven't all died from eating eggs or cheese or sausage already is because of their stringent regulations.  OK --- maybe in the case of large production that is distributed all over the place and mixed in with everyone else's produce through a huge chain of unaccountable hands and modified and processed until it's hardly recognizable as food by the time it gets to your plate.

But, really, the risk of any food-bourne illness outbreaks from a small, local producer who is fully accountable to his customers because they are his neighbors and he has to look them in the eye when he sells to them is so astronomically low as to be non-existent. Plus, his neighbors have the opportunity to look at his set up, to know what type of person he is, to see for themselves whether the operation is sanitary... and they accept whatever marginal risks they may encounter buying and using his products. Period.

Come on folks... people have been buying food from their neighboring farms, butchers and bakers for all of human history with minimal regulation or intervention and the species has somehow managed to survive!  If my neighbors want to buy my raw milk, or cheese, or sausage, or eggs, or meat... that's between us!  You want disclosure... fine. You want reasonable sanitation... fine. You want your licensing fees and taxes... well, ok, fine. But stop trying to cripple the small farmer and the small village by burdening them with inappropriate and inapplicable regulations geared towards a completely different type of agri-business!

14 comments:

Walkntom said...

Hurrumph, hurrumph! I hope that you posted this to someone in the AK govt. What is going on up there? Is that idiotitis already spreading to the outlands?

MrsMamaHen said...

I agree COMPLETELY!!!!!

Jeremy and Jenny said...

While I agree with you completely I find it hard to believe that federal regulators would show up in a small Alaskan community that is off the road system and enforce said regulations. Also there are loopholes to every rule. Like selling the animals while they are still alive and then processing them as a favor. Sustenance is everything in AK. For the AK Gov to try and regulate that is next to enslavement. But that's what they're good at right? Look at the Inuit.

Plickety Cat said...

While it may be improbable for a law enforcement agent to show up in a small village off the road system, it's not as improbable for them to show up at an equally small community that is just at the end of the road (like us). And if they ever do show up, the penalties are rather extreme... heavy fines, confiscation and possible jail time. Seems pretty lame just for selling a few gallons of milk and a pound of sausage. Not to mention that they offer rewards to anyone who reports violations... and you know that money gets tight for a lot of folks sometimes.

There are some ways around the laws. As you mentioned, Consumer Supported Agriculture, where the buyer pays the farmer up front so that they technically own a share of the animal and the farmer is just raising and processing it for them as a service, is one way as long as you get the contracts all sorted out with a lawyer ahead time.

There are some loopholes, like being able to sell the eggs of your own flock of no more than 300 laying hens, or selling the animals "on the hoof" while they are still alive. But milk, cheese and any processed food (like sausage, bread, and honey... yes honey is considered a processed food!) are still in the No-No zone.

While the problem is most extreme in Alaska where it's very difficult to survive, these sorts of stupid regulations and restrictions need to be exempted for small, local, direct-sell farmer/processors nationwide. If you don't have a huge farm or processing plant, if you aren't selling in mass, if you aren't selling distributed, and if you aren't transporting your goods long distances than most of these "food safety" laws and mandates don't and shouldn't apply.

Enslavement through fear and bureaucracy is fast becoming the American way.

Plickety Cat said...

While it may be improbable for a law enforcement agent to show up in a small village off the road system, it's not as improbable for them to show up at an equally small community that is just at the end of the road (like us). And if they ever do show up, the penalties are rather extreme... heavy fines, confiscation and possible jail time. Seems pretty lame just for selling a few gallons of milk and a pound of sausage. Not to mention that they offer rewards to anyone who reports violations... and you know that money gets tight for a lot of folks sometimes.

There are some ways around the laws. As you mentioned, Consumer Supported Agriculture, where the buyer pays the farmer up front so that they technically own a share of the animal and the farmer is just raising and processing it for them as a service, is one way as long as you get the contracts all sorted out with a lawyer ahead time.

There are some loopholes, like being able to sell the eggs of your own flock of no more than 300 laying hens, or selling the animals "on the hoof" while they are still alive. But milk, cheese and any processed food (like sausage, bread, and honey... yes honey is considered a processed food!) are still in the No-No zone.

While the problem is most extreme in Alaska where it's very difficult to survive, these sorts of stupid regulations and restrictions need to be exempted for small, local, direct-sell farmer/processors nationwide. If you don't have a huge farm or processing plant, if you aren't selling in mass, if you aren't selling distributed, and if you aren't transporting your goods long distances than most of these "food safety" laws and mandates don't and shouldn't apply.

Enslavement through fear and bureaucracy is fast becoming the American way.

Sam.... said...

Careful, Plickety, you're in danger of being logical again! ;)

Urbancowgrrl said...

Large corporate food producers are the most likely to pass down food poisoning to the public. They are the ones who bypass natural and safe production standards for "get the most product out the door as fast and cheaply as possible." Thus why the meat suppliers for fast food restaurants wash their beef in ammonia to kill the e-coli that runs rampant in their corn-fed (completely unnatural food) cows.

Oh yes, government regulations really keep us safe. They are only there to try to mollify the public's justified fear of the crap the corporate food producers are selling.

Ooops ... I just had a moment.

Plickety Cat said...

ROFL Gowgrrl!! Yes, we can all drastically reduce the risk of food poisoning by eating stuff that is actually still recognizable as food and was grown/raised as nature intended.

Eat Whole. Eat Local. Eat Seasonal.

Jim and Marna Lister said...

I truly admire your independent lifestyle and the risks that you have chosen to accept. But many sincere personal beliefs will quickly change when we or a family member become personally affected by the consequences. The fact is that Raw Milk produced by your favorite local farmer or hamburger or cookie dough made by some faceless mega-corporation, can sicken or kill you or your child if it is contaminated with a food borne pathogen like E. coli O157:H7, Campylobacter, Listeria or Salmonella. A recent study shows that 20 percent of acute foodborne illness cases are hospitalized. Of those, 20 percent get HUS (hemolytic uremic syndrome), of which 9 percent will develop life-long kidney failure and require dialysis and possibly transplants.

The risk of Food-borne illness or death may be rare but it is also completely preventable with proper precautions and continued diligence. It only takes one careless process to cause catastrophic results. Whether by accidental over-site or intentional greed. I do not pretend to know what the solution is to the problem of personal freedom verses community safety - but, in my opinion, there must be a satisfactory compromise.

Gungnir said...

Jim and Marna

If you are discussing purely agro-corporation food products I agree 100%, however small family farms not so much.

Let's talk about E. Coli for a second, it exists in the lower intestine of endotherms, including humans. It's beneficial by producing vitamin K, and prevents pathogenic bacteria from infesting the lower intestine.

O157:H7 is a seriously bad strain (HUS is only disease you listed associated with it and has a 2-7% rate in infections), it exists ONLY in the intestines of corn/soy fed cattle, or the product of cattle that have been exposed to corn/grain fed contaminants post slaughter. Indeed a study by Cornell determined that cattle with known O157:H7 infections had a reduction in O157:H7 bacteria of 80% if switched to grass 3 days prior to slaughter, and the O157:H7 bacterial strains remaining were destroyed in human concentration stomach acid to numbers that would not cause any E.Coli O157:H7 infections. This study was confirmed by the USDA meat and animal research center.

All known cases have been traced back to USDA/FDA regulated feed-lot herds that predominantly feed corn soy or derivatives, with supplements, and most are routinely fed antibiotics.

There has never been a case traced to a grass fed natural browse producer.

Naturally cattle do not eat corn or soy, indeed feeding cattle corn creates unusually high acid content in their stomachs, which may explain why the O157:H7 is unusually resistant to stomach acid.

This is part of the reason that I have little faith that the FDA/USDA regulations and machinery actually help to achieve food safety. They're part of a huge political machine within the federal government, and the Agro-corporations are huge lobbyists of the Federal Government and in campaign donations, and wield a huge amount of political power. As well as recipients of many pork-barrel spending schemes. Of course the lucky thing is that the USDA and FDA can always turn around and say "sorry, but we didn't know" once something has been solidly and irrevocably proven to be a dangerous practice. So they have minimal accountability.

Since apparently 98% of the food borne illness outbreaks in the past 10 years were caused by AgroCorps who are allegedly the most stringently regulated. Then there is something very wrong here, either the regulations (or regulators) are ineffective, or the levels of infected food products in AgroCorps are dramatically worse than we think that they are.

Jim and Marna Lister said...

So the system is inefficient, understaffed, and the inspectors are overwhelmed with an unmanageable workload. Welcome to the United States where Will Rodgers said it very well... "we have the worst system of government in the world... Except for all the rest." That does not invalidate the concept of a safe food-system. It may in fact be impractical to expect 100% security, but if one life is saved and that life is your wife or child - most people would consider it to be worth the effort.

Nothing you have said changes the fact there is a risk involved - however small you claim that risk to be. You even listed several ways improper feed or handling can increase the risk. The consequences of that risk can be catastrophic and are completely preventable. If every producer - both large and small - were all completely ethical the system would be self-policing - and that place would be called Shangri-La. Greed and incompetence are not limited to the government o large Agra-Corps.

You might want to take a look at the article: Raw Milk - Real Risks - Wisconsin, Idaho, Georgia and Alaska Raw Milk Debate on the Food Poison Journal web site.

http://www.foodpoisonjournal.com/2010/03/articles/food-policy-regulation/raw-milk-real-risks-wisconsin-idaho-georgia-and-alaska-raw-milk-debate/

There you will find cases sited of real people infected with E. coli O157:H7 from raw milk and dairy products produced by local small organic dairies. I assume the producers were ethical and well intentioned. I don't know what the cows were fed. I am sure the customers looked them in the face and trusted that the product was safe. Consuming these products is not risk free and the risk is not negligible.

I grew up in a small Midwest farm community. My father was a small town doctor. We bought fresh pasteurized (not raw) whole milk direct from a diary farmer. We enjoyed home made sausage and home butchered meats often. I grew up hunting and fishing and trapping. Like I said before - I believe in a balance of personal freedom and community safety.

Plickety Cat said...

Just to be clear here...

I'm not talking about total deregulation. I'm not talking about a free-for-all for small, local producers either.

What I'm talking about is having a reduced set of reasonable guidelines and regulations for the small producer.

Food-bourne illnesses are serious. I've contracted food poisoning on more than one occasion and was lucky enough to have a healthy immune system and proper medical care to combat them (and a touchy stomach that vomits easily!). For the few that were local/small, I knew and accepted that there was an inherent risk of illness due to the food type and how I was preparing it (namely shellfish and eggs). But the ones that got me with no warning were all from restaurants (improper handling) or commercial food (a whole list of potential causes).

Never once have I, or any other of my Locavore friends, ever "accidentally" contracted an illness from a small producer's goods where we didn't already know there was a possible risk... and that most of that risk was our responsibility due to our handling and preparation methods.

In the end, anything we eat has risks. Most times, proper handling on the part of the consumer is all that is required... wash your hands, wash the food, cook it properly, store it properly.

Basic farm/kitchen sanitation and hygiene reduces the risk even farther... proper stocking rates, proper feed, proper housing, basic hygiene and sanitation of work areas. Simple procedures work on a smaller farm that isn't crowded or overburdened. The problems usually arise when a farmer is forced to cut corners in order to adhere to overbearing regulations that do not apply to his operation.

Even milk, with it's potential for serious illness, doesnt' *need* to be pasteurized to be safe. If it comes from healthy animals, fed healthy food appropriate to their species, and raised in healthy growing conditions; if the tools and work area are kept clean and the milk is cooled immediately, stored appropriately and used within appropriate timeframes. These simple procedures keep the bacteria from ever getting to infectious levels in the first place.

You don't need pastuerization, UV irradiation, autoclaves, or to drench everything in toxic and polluting levels of chlorine bleach when things are clean and healthy to begin with, and you're going to use it fresh.

Plickety Cat said...

And another thing that I am totally NOT opposed to is labeling. I think that it is entirely reasonable for small producers to list the ingredients, provide safe handling and storage instructions, as well as place warnings for possible risks on their goods.

This is a REASONABLE requirement, because it gives the consumer the information necessary to make the appropriate decisions for themselves and to accept or mitigate any risks for themselves. It also makes it just a little harder for the not-so-honest person to take advantage of the consumer and put them at risk. But it's nothing that the government or law enforcement needs to get involved in on any large scale unless someone isn't following the rules or someone gets hurt.

Anonymous said...

I found this a bit late, but oh well. :)
I so agree about getting the gov't to back off food regulations. I have lived in 3rd world countries for many years, and have purchased food from their markets on a daily basis - meats covered in flies and hanging in 95 deg heat, etc. Never ever gotten sick from food I purchased and cooked myself.

The biggest risk is from improper handling of food while cooking - lack of hygiene!

Our regs are ridiculous. Killing the small farmer, small homesteader who wants to sell some eggs. Gov't needs to back off, and back off now!

Great blog, looking forward to see how your home shapes up. :)

Mel