The first time I heard the words “defending food freedom,” I had no idea what they were referring to. I pictured a group of peas standing in a picket line and defending their rights with posters and signs that said “Give peas a chance!” and “Envision whirled peas.” Pete Kennedy helped school me. Pete is an attorney on the board of the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF). As such, he goes to bat for farmers facing legal action. In a nutshell, FTCLDF has the farmer’s back. And when they look out for the farmer, they are looking out for all of us who want to consume delicious, nutritious, natural foods from local producers.
You may be scratching your head like I was. Why do farmers and consumers need someone to look out for them, in the first place? How/why is our food freedom jeopardized? Can’t we consumers just buy what we want, when we want it? Don’t farmers have the right to grow or sell what they like?
Here are the factors at play:
Competition: Basically, those who buy and enjoy whole, real foods from the small farmer are challenging the status quo. Established companies who control most of the meat and dairy industry in the U.S. especially love the status quo. They’ve got a corner on the market and anything that poses a threat to their market share needs to be eliminated. They influence regulators to establish regulations that favor them and then complain or threaten legal action to sideline the little guy.
Control: On another front, the government is ostensibly concerned with food safety. In an effort to protect John Q. Public, regulations are put in place and then enforced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Food and Drug Administration---all with the end goal of making sure the food available for purchase is untainted. While it might sound benign, these regulations often place an undue burden on small farmers. Many “catch 22” scenarios crop up. For example, a few years ago, legal action was brought against Vernon Hershberger, a dairy farmer in Wisconsin, for operating without a milk producer license. But a milk producer license is only available to those who sell milk produced for pasteurization. And Vernon wanted to produce raw milk, not for pasteurization, so he did not qualify for a milk producer’s license. And yet he had to face criminal charges for not having the license! Here’s how Pete put it, “Here’s the thing: you can have the best soil, the healthiest animals, the best marketing plan, but if you don’t have a favorable regulatory climate, favorable laws enabling you to run a successful farm, the rest of it doesn’t matter.”
Cash: Small businesses and farmers don’t have the resources to defend themselves. This is why they don’t stand a chance when legal action is taken against them. They put most everything they have into running their farm. Farmers who are members of FTCLDF pay only $125 annually to ensure top-notch representation on a variety of levels to surmount legal hurdles.
Consumers: We want to buy and consume raw milk legally. We want meat that is high-quality, pastured, raised humanely, antibiotic-free and hormone-free. As adults, shouldn’t we have the freedom to purchase and ingest whatever we like? But the factors mentioned above are limiting us. Pete says “Everyone should have the fundamental right to obtain the food of their choice from the source of their choice.”
This is why Pete is committed to FTCLDF. They are out to level the playing field. Their mission is 1) to defend farmers so that they can get back to what they do best: producing high quality food products for the consumers who are demanding them; and 2) to ensure that consumers can attain those products, as part of their food freedom.
Clearly FTCLDF has the farmers’ back and our own. To learn more about their work and begin to get involved, listen to my conversation with Pete Kennedy on Wise Traditions episode #36 “Protecting food freedom.” Or simply go to FTCLDF’s website: farmtoconsumer.org. Preserving our food freedom is truly the only way to give peas a chance!
*** Hilda Labrada Gore is a health coach and the host of the Wise Traditions podcast (found on iTunes, Stitcher, iHeartRadio and at westonaprice.org). She is also the DC chapter leader for the Weston A. Price Foundation.