What do ninjas have to do with the food supply?

ninjaWell might you ask.

But lately, it’s felt like there are ninjas all around what I’ll term loosely “real food,” and in particular our individual ability – even our individual rights – to acquire it. And they seem to be coming from all over. Their names don’t come out of a martial arts movie, though. Their handles are filled with letters, like FDA, USDA, CDC, CDFA, DATCP, and so many more.

Example: Mark Baker, Michigan. Ex-Marine who settled down to raise heritage pigs to chefs and people who love good food. Then the state decided in 2012 that old-fashioned pig breeds were “invasive species,” subject to seizure and destruction. Mr. Baker launched a lawsuit (in process), but in the meantime he can’t sell his pork. Can’t even get it processed because butchers are afraid to run afoul of the state regulatory agencies.

Example: Vernon Hershberger, Wisconsin
Mennonite farmer who’s grown and provided food to several families without incident. The state’s department of agriculture (DATCP) filed suit against him to stop conducting his business on the basis that he was operating without proper licensing, and that the raw dairy he was providing was inherently dangerous. His trial has been rescheduled two times and is currently scheduled to start May 20, 2013. It has dragged on in part because the judge agreed with the state’s efforts to block an expert witness’s testimony regarding the safety of properly produced raw milk, whereas Mr. Hershberger’s attorney argued that he had a first-amendment right to have the witness heard.

Example: Organic Pastures Dairy, California
The largest raw milk dairy operation in the country (with a whopping 400 cows, no less) has had its own share of recalls and closures. However, the current food-related issue pertains to a citizen’s petition Mark McAfee submitted to FDA in 2008, and which FDA refused to answer for over four years – far beyond the legal six-month limit for a response. The suit was simple: allow interstate sales of raw milk from one state that currently allows raw milk sales to another that also offers raw milk sales. But FDA, when it finally responded last month, not only rejected the petition but went on to attack anyone who would drink raw milk as a pathogen-loving wacko.

This follows on the heels of the 2012 CDC document “showing” – by statistical sleight-of-hand otherwise known as “cheating” – that raw milk was 150 times more dangerous than any other food out there.

Example: Morningland Dairy, Missouri
This longtime producer of raw milk cheeses (aged 60 days, per USDA guidelines for cheeses made from unpasteurized milk) finally shut its doors in January, having lost its battle to stay open and sell its cheese. 30,000 pounds of cheese, in storage since 2010, were taken to the dumpster. Why? Because two samples of its cheese, taken in a raid on Rawesome Foods in Venice, California, showed a trace – a trace, mind you – of listeria. Nobody ever got sick from their cheese, and no other samples showed the presence of listeria or anything else. But that did not stop FDA and the Missouri Milk Board from blocking sales of the dairy’s products for so long that they finally went out of business.

There’s more, of course. Lots more. And we can expect still more as FDA flexes its regulatory muscles following the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act in December 2010 and its signing into law the following month.

To wit: David Gumpert, posting in January in his blog The Complete Patient, quoted Richard Besser, M.D., the chief health and medical editor on ABC News, as he discussed new rules from FDA. “Take peanuts. To be safe, I want them tested as they leave the fields. I want them processed at temperatures high enough to kill salmonella. I want to store them covered so birds can’t contaminate them with their droppings. I want them tested before they are released to stores. These sorts of things will now be law.”

Well, maybe that’s fine, and maybe it’s not. Sounds good, following that atrocious peanut butter incident a couple of years ago, in which several people died and many, many people were sickened, some seriously. But that’s industrial food, produced from the output of who knows how many farms, raising their crops with who knows what fertilizers and pesticides. That kind of food probably should be regulated just as tightly as Besser describes. You’d better believe that I want milk from CAFO cows pasteurized before sale, pumped full of antibiotics, fed gummy bears, chicken litter, and heaven knows what else, as it is. (Not that I really want to eat food that’s that far from anything real or nourishing.)

But do you or I really want every single food out in the market to be thoroughly sterilized before we can get our hands on it, in the name of some outlandish notion of food safety that itself is based on a flawed food production system that breeds dangerous food that doesn’t offer much more than calories in the first place? I don’t know about you, but I’d like to have a choice. My current choice is to source as much of the food I and my family eat from small producers: farms and farmers I know, artisanal makers of pickles and sauerkraut, raw dairy from one of the two licensed raw dairies in my state, meats from small farms I have visited and whose farmers I know. I trust that food. And I sure don’t want regulators messing with it before I get my paws on it!

Mark McAfee, the owner of Organic Pastures, has it right when he says that there are two agricultures in this country, but regulatory agencies act as though there is only one.

I’m convinced that those of us – and our numbers are growing hourly – who want clean, real, untampered-with food will ultimately prevail. But we may need to brush up on our Ninja evasion skills in the meantime, because it doesn’t look like they’re backing down anytime soon.

For more on the farmers above, and others dealing with similar issues, please refer to The Complete Patient as well as the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund.

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