I’ve been following the unfolding story of the Trautman farm and their struggle with Wisconsin’s Dept. of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Affairs. A recent post inspired an email from Betty, one of my favorite readers. She gave me permission to edit it a little and post it here. Any errors or misstatements in what follows are due to my editing. Betty writes,
I used to be partial to conspiracy theories, but lately I’m more inclined to attribute institutional madness to plain old stupidity and incompetence compounded by the unintended consequences attendant on any government regulation or legislation.
Lord preserve us from incompetence! But, as Benjamin Franklin put it, “The lord helps those who help themselves.” We can help each other through that bureaucratic maze that is bounded by incompetence and stupidity with a well planned law suit.
Here’s how things are rolling for the grass fed beef/organic farmers where I live. Yesterday we drove down to pick up our beef from a small custom organic abattoir where our critters are processed. These guys have their facility way out in the country. On a busy day the owner and a couple of employees may handle a dozen head. There’s a USDA inspector on site.
They report that Homeland Security wants thrice daily sample testing any time they announce an Orange Alert for anything anywhere. At $200 a pop for testing, a 5 day alert will cost ‘em $3000. This is an expense over which they have no control. And it’s all because a rule designed for high production (high risk), high vulnerability facilities is applied to a very low production, low risk, low vulnerability facility.
It’s not nefarious, it’s stupid. Yet that makes it no less dangerous.
Last time I checked, there were fewer than 300 custom butchers left in the entire state of California. Of these, fewer than half have gone to the considerable trouble and expense to maintain Organic Certification.
Looks like our friends at Homeland Security are gonna insure there are even fewer as they ratchet up their response to perceived threats. They can’t “connect the dots” when informed about a guy being trained to light his pants on fire, but sure as hell they can drive another small business working hard to produce healthy food out of business with insane regulations.
Last year I got yet another missive from the US Dept of Agriculture. This one was a questionnaire regarding paperwork requirements. It’s stated purpose was to study how burdensome paperwork reporting requirements by government agencies are to farmers.
OK. I’ve an opinion about that. Let’s see… I regularly respond to information demands from
- the Bureau of Land Management,
- the Department of Fish and Game,
- the Federal Department of Agriculture,
- the State Department of Agriculture,
- the State Organic Program Office,
- the Organic Certification Office,
- the County Agricultural Commissioner,
- the Department of Agriculture’s WIC Program,
- and the certified farmers market program.
I report the number of fruit and nut trees planted or died each year to the County unsecured agricultural property tax folks, and of course the Air Quality Control board needs to know the total size — 9 cubic feet — of the burn pile of weeds and brush we burn once each year. Then there’s the Agriculture Census and, well… I know I’ve missed a few.
So, I turn from the cover page to this questionnaire. It starts of course with the routine boilerplate of veiled threats demanding that I respond under penalty of law. Then I find a 6 (SIX) page double-sided small print, tiny margin questionnaire. Kinda like a long form tax return. The very thing to study “how burdensome paperwork reporting requirements by government agencies are to farmers.”
This fall, my Organic Certifier sends out a heads up that the Animal Welfare Committee of the National Organic Standards Board (oops, that’s one I forgot in the long list above) proposed to add a bunch of new stuff to the National Organic Program Requirements regarding Animal Welfare. Most of the proposed changes would have, if approved, materially degraded the quality of husbandry we provide our livestock by requiring that we implement practices with no basis in science, best practice, or common sense.
Here’s an example:
Current rules say if an animal is ill or injured, one may not withhold appropriate medical treatment just to maintain it’s Organic status. Instead, you’ve gotta treat it. If that necessary treatment is not allowed under Organic standard, then you can’t label product from that animal “Organic.” That’s a simple enough rule. It makes sense. Organically raised animals tend to be really healthy. Illness and injury are rare. When they occur they are serious.
The new proposed regulations would require that in this rare event of an ill or injured animal, medical intervention must first include Homeopathic and Herbal remedy. Only after such nostrums have failed, may scientifically based medical treatment be entertained. So I had to send NOSB a filing saying in part:
“…a recommendation that REQUIRES (through use of the word SHALL), treatments for which no efficacy has ever been proved is fundamentally flawed. Note that I do not doubt the placebo effect of homeopathy on so superstitious a species as humans, but I object to insulting the bovine by presuming they need such nostrums to ‘visualize wellness’. ”
The sloppy, ignorant, superstitious claptrap proposed as legally binding regulation boggles the mind.
Here in the World Headquarters of Sandhill Technologies we think conditions for the family farmer will only get worse. Of course we’re a negative bunch, but pressure from multinational outfits like the Swiss owned Nestle corporation, Dean Foods in the US and Fronterra in New Zealand has driven more and more farmers out of business. Population growth around the world only worsens the ratio of food producers to consumers, and our global solution has been to apply technology and corporate business practices to increase production, improve distribution, and meet the growing demand. Downsides of this approach include a degraded environment, the spread of antibiotic resistant disease, and terrible conditions for the animals. Decreased margins for food producers drive the small guy out of business while encouraging growth of the multinational concerns that can make up for slim margins with volume.
There’s a complex tangle of problems around these issues, and the simple solutions that can be implemented locally are often overlooked or ignored. Scott Trautman, Betty, and thousands of other organic producers have answers. We have to keep the light of public interest shining on them if we don’t want to be swamped with pesticides, hormones, and manure from the genetically engineered crops and concentrated animal feeding operations that are the polar opposites of organic agriculture.