lunes, noviembre 19, 2007

Old McDonald Had a Farm...and He Got Arrested?

David E. Gumpert

Federal and state agriculture and health authorities say farmers are violating all kinds of regulations to meet fast-growing consumer demand, such as slaughtering their own hogs and cattle instead of using state and federally-inspected facilities, and selling unpasteurized dairy products and cider without the proper permits. Farmers feel there are other issues lurking in the background and driving the regulators--for example, the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) under which farm animals are tagged with computerized chips for tracking; in most states the federal program is voluntary, but in Michigan it is mandatory, so the regulators who tested Greg Niewendorp's cattle for bovine TB also affixed radio frequency identification tags to their ears.

Whatever the immediate cause, the result is the same: regulators are cracking down on small farms with a ferocity that has their new urban customers aghast.

In just the last few weeks, there have been at least a half-dozen notable incidents. In Virginia's Nelson County, ten agriculture agents, aided by state police hauled off 62-year-old custom hog farmer Richard Bean, and his 60-year-old wife, Jean Rinaldi, for slaughtering their own hogs, charging them with a felony and eleven misdemeanors. Bean and Rinaldi were frustrated with the expense of having to haul their hogs more than two hours to the nearest slaughterhouse, and felt they could do it as well or better themselves.

In New York, health authorities shut down Munir Bahai's apple cider operations in Victor on his busiest weekend of the season in early October, costing him $4,500 in sales because he wasn't pasteurizing his juice. He says consumers travel thirty miles or more to buy his cider simply because it isn't pasteurized.

Also in New York, the Department of Agriculture and Markets a few weeks ago quarantined the raw milk yogurt and buttermilk at Barbara and Steve Smith's Meadowsweet Farm outside Ithaca, saying the state's raw-milk permit program allows the direct sale only of milk, and prohibits other dairy products. Barbara Smith says she doesn't sell the dairy products, but rather distributes them to 130 consumer shareholders of a limited liability company (LLC) she set up as the owner of her farm's eight-cow herd, and therefore is outside the purview of the state's raw-milk permit system.

Some farmers are responding as Greg Niewendorp did in Michigan, with outright civil disobedience. In Pennsylvania, dairy farmer Mark Nolt continues in a standoff with agriculture authorities because he refuses to sell his raw milk under a state license. In August, they confiscated thousands of dollars worth of milk products using a court order. He argues that because he has private contracts with his area customers, he doesn't need a license, and he continues to sell directly to consumers, despite the fact he could be arrested at any time.

The situation has gotten so bad that a group of consumers and lawyers banded together last summer to provide legal support to besieged farmers via the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. Its first two cases involve farmers in New York and Pennsylvania-both distributing unpasteurized milk privately to consumers.

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