Posts Tagged ‘local ordinance’

Lyme Disease or the FSMA. Which is Worse?

The future of Farmer’s Markets under the FSMA?

So much to talk about after being absent for a while recovering from Lyme Disease.   Yes, thank you global warming, there is an epidemic of Lyme in Maine this summer and I, careful as I am, got bit.  Two months of either extreme pain, terrible fatigue or feeling like my mind had turned to Swiss cheese.   I would not wish it on my worst enemy.   Fortunately I have an excellent primary care provider who treated me promptly and I am well on my way to recovery.

So, enough about me.   What is going on in the world of food politics?   Weeeeelllllllll, the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 (FSMA) is what.    Last Monday, the 19th, those of us  farmer types who could trooped down to the armory in Augusta to confront the devil himself, Mr. Monsanto, Michael Taylor in his guise as a Deputy Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner.   Don’t let the seeming reasonableness of his blog post fool you.   this guy does not like, care about or plan to help in any way, small farmers.


Okay, get this, Mike came with a posse.   We counted as many as 20 FDA staffers in his entourage.   Your tax dollars at work.    Staffers who refused to even speak with some of our elected representatives.    Evidently Maine has these folks scared.   Word on the street is that they are opening a THIRD!!!!! FDA office here in our tiny (under 2 million population), rural state because the local food sovereignty movement is so strong here.


Yes, we actually did pass a few of the local food bills through the legislature last year and some of them even got signed into law.    And as much as Mike tries to reassure us that most of the FSMA’s regulations will not apply to our farms because we are so small, it is difficult to believe people whom we KNOW are in the hip pockets of BIG agribusiness.   The lobby that wants to suck all the air out of the room for small farmers so that we are all totally dependent on them for our food.    Dangerous, chemical, monoculture food.   Mr. Monsanto bowing to his corporate masters.

Anyhow down we travelled and spent, as I called it in my testimony, (if you look quick in the linked video you will see me testifying, AMEN sister!) a beautiful haymaking August morning inside telling the government to leave us alone, get out of our business, let Maine feed Maine!!!

Or as Nanny Kennedy put it so eloquently “You know what we’ve figured out here in Maine?   If you poison or kill your customers, it’s damn hard to stay in business.”

Even the amazing Mr. Timberlake is on our side now that he has discovered that it is going to hit the bottom line of his apple business.   I’ve been saying it a lot lately this movement is making for some strange bedfellows.

More, so much more, later.    So glad to have my energy and my brain back.  Cheers!



Listeria and Food Safety in the News

100_2115Once again the CDC has to step in when the USDA and FDA fail to “protect” us from food borne illness.    A Listeria outbreak linked to Crave Brothers Les Freres cheese is in the news.    This irritates the hell out of me for many reasons.   I feel badly for the victims and I feel angry that, once again, the food consumers of America are being hoodwinked and bamboozled into believing that these government agencies truly can keep our food supply safe.


The argument we heard again and again at the Maine State Legislature this session; when we were testifying about local food ordinances, raw milk, on-farm poultry processing and other Local Food Rules bills; was this:  we have to have regulation because that is the ONLY way to keep people safe.


Yeah, just like the red, orange, yellow, green Homeland Security warnings kept us safe from the Boston and Newtown tragedies.    Come on folks.   Yes, regulation may, or may not, keep our food safer but there are other ways to accomplish the same goal.   Ways that are not mutually exclusive with regulations.   Go ahead and regulate the big guys.   Knowing that you may or may not succeed in keeping the food supply safe.   But let the little guys alone.   Again, if a farmer is selling her or his goods face-to-face with consumers the chance of the food being crappy or old or contaminated is very, very small.   Farmers who try to pull that will not have many customers so there will be fewer people poisoned.


Oh, and by the way, this is the wording on the ingredients page of the Crave Brothers website: “Cultured Pasteurized Whole Milk, Enzymes, Salt.”   Notice the word pasteurized.   This was not the dangerous RAW milk cheese that so many fear.   The cheese that caused one person to die and another to lose her baby was made from milk that was PASTEURIZED!   The ultimate in safety, right?   Or so we are led to believe.


Buyers beware.   That is the bottom line.   Be aware that the USDA and FDA have, as one of their main missions, keeping the consuming public comfortable with the safety of the general food supply.   They are concerned about food safety, yes, but they are also concerned with perpetuating the wobbly notion that, just because they are regulating and inspecting our food, it is ALWAYS safe.   Keeping the engine of the economy humming along with blissful ignorance.  Keeping the folks at Cargill, Monsanto and the other big agribusinesses happy contributors to political campaigns by regulating and inspecting in the most superficial and least onerous manner possible.


How safe do you feel now?

Good News, Good News, Good News, and then Bad News

GW and his daughter testifying at the Agriculture Committee.

GW and his daughter testifying at the Agriculture Committee.

Hurrah, several local food sovereignty bills have been voted out of the Agriculture committee of the Maine Legislature as “ought to pass.”  Here are some excerpts from the Bangor Daily News article about the work sessions:


“The Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation voted that two key bills — LD 1282 and LD 1287 — ought to pass when they are taken up by the full Legislature.

The committee also voted “ought to pass” on several bills aimed at Maine’s poultry industry. LD 218 exempts farmers who grow and slaughter fewer than 1,000 birds annually from state inspection and licensure, as long as they sell the poultry from the farm or deliver to the consumer’s home. LD 259 would allow the owners of slaughterhouses to rent their facilities to other farmers. LD 836 establishes a legal mechanism for the operation of mobile poultry slaughtering facilities.”


Anti GMO rally at the State House.

Anti GMO rally at the State House.

The GMO bill is in work session today.  LD 718.  With the way the Ag committee has voted lately I am very hopeful that this bill will also get a favorable vote.

The bad news is a that the Supreme Court came out with its decision yesterday against the farmer being sued by Monsanto for planting seeds he bought, not from them but, from a local grain elevator.    Okay, okay it was not the best case to take all the way to the high court so we will have to try again.   The OSGATA/Pubpat suit is a good solid suit that we can hope will succeed when it finally makes it way to the top of the judicial pile.


“Although Monsanto and other agrochemical companies assert that they need the current patent system to invent better seeds, the counterargument is that splicing an already existing gene or other DNA into a plant and thereby transferring a new trait to that plant is not a novel invention. A soybean, for example, has more than 46,000 genes. Properties of these genes are the product of centuries of plant breeding and should not, many argue, become the product of a corporation. Instead, these genes should remain in the public domain.”

Here are some other links I’ve been compiling for a while:

Local Food Rules!

It really has been two months since I last posted on this particular blog.   I have not been idle and to prove that point I am posting below the full text of my testimony before the Maine Legislative Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry on the local food sovereignty bill.  I gave that testimony on April 2nd.   On the 23rd of this month we will be testifying before that same committee on LD 718 a bill that will force the labeling of foods containing more that 0.9% GMO ingredients.   But here, in lieu of a post I need to write about GMO matters before the Supreme Court, is my personal testimony on LD 475:


“Good afternoon Senator Jackson, Representative Dill and members of the committee, including the representative for my home district Representative Jones and the sponsor of this bill Representative Hickman, who happens to represent my best friend’s home district.


My name is Betsy Garrold; I live and farm in Knox.   I work part-time in the produce department at the Belfast Food Co-op.  I am also the Board President of Food for Maine’s Future an organization that has been at the forefront of the movement for local food sovereignty.  I am here today to speak in favor of the development of this proposed bill LD 475, An Act To Increase Food Sovereignty in Local Communities.


It is important, as we all know, to keep the local food economy healthy by supporting the production, distribution and consumption of wholesome Maine food.   A vibrant local food system is, as Martha Stewart would say, a good thing.   It is a good thing for many reasons: it creates jobs, provides healthy fresh food, and keeps the money circulating in the local economy but I am here to contend that the most vital reason for eating local food is safety and security.


We can trust our local farmers, more than Wal-Mart or any other mega food distributor, to care about the food they provide, to take pride in it and most importantly to care about whether we get sick from eating it.   When the farmer is handing you a bag of produce, meat, or dairy products each week at the CSA pick up they know they are going to be seeing you again soon.   They will see you and your family at the local store, at town meetings or at church.   They are not going to hand you a bag of salmonella or E. coli contaminated food.   Because the social contract of a small community would not stand for them doing so and also because they are not schmucks.   They care about you as a customer, a neighbor, a friend.


When I researched food borne illnesses for this testimony I found that of the top 15 deadliest outbreaks only one was linked back to a small-time local butcher.   That was in 2005 in Wales.   The rest were all tied to large food processing operations.   Faceless corporations that you will never meet at the local gas station or see in your next Grange meeting.


In January of this year the FDA proposed new rules designed, they say, to further enhance the safety of the food supply in this country. One rule requires “science-based standards for growing, harvesting, packing and holding produce on domestic and foreign farms.” It addresses a variety of possible routes of food contamination including the manure used as fertilizer, water sprayed on crops, animals in the fields, whether workers wash their hands and how packing houses process foods.  The other rule sets out guidelines for “preventive controls for human food” and would require companies to have plans for food borne illnesses.  Can I just say both of these rules sound an awful lot like the fox guarding the hen-house to me?   But that is beside the point.   I have always felt that most FDA and USDA food safety inspection rules were window dressing.   Designed, like Homeland Security color coded threat alerts, to give us a false sense of safety and security.   The bureaucrats realize that making the food system totally safe is impossible.   Their job is to keep commerce humming and lull the populace into believing that the food we eat has been carefully vetted for any contamination.   Again foxes and hen houses.


Even if a corporation was found to be selling contaminated food what is the penalty?  In 2011 when there was an outbreak of deadly Listeria tied to cantaloupes grown on Jensen Farms, a very large fruit producer, a news article about the case against them stated,  “charges might be brought under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act for the adulteration of food. Under the Act, knowingly selling adulterated food is a felony. But doing so without knowledge or intent to defraud consumers is a misdemeanor, penalized by up to a year in prison or a $1,000 fine.”   Well, you can’t put a corporation in jail and $1000 is chump change to these large producers.   They write it off as a cost of doing business.



There was one hopeful aspect of the new FDA rules, however.  An official was quoted as saying at the time of the release of the new rules “we have a clear direction from Congress to collaborate with state agencies so we expect much of the oversight to come at the state and local level.”   And so we ask the state of Maine to take this opportunity to recognize the authority of municipalities to govern their own food system.   I am asking the legislature to make the Maine food system the safest in the world by staying out of the way of farmers selling their safe, healthy, local food directly to their neighbors.”


After I finished my testimony one of the legislators (I believe it was Rep. Dill) asked me what I considered “local”  I replied that as a locavore I try to eat a “100 mile diet” and explained that concept to him.  It was not a great answer but fortunately Bob St. Peter spoke later and explained that within the concept of this proposed bill “local” would be defined as within the municipality that had passed the ordinance.

It was all very exciting and then we all went to a cocktail party for legislators sponsored by MOFGA so that we could show them excerpts from the movie “The Future of Food”  and scyped with Deborah Koons Garcia the producer of the documentary.   A long day and one that gave me great appreciation for the stamina of our legislators and even for the lobbyists.



Three Locals and a From Away

Last night I attended the Belfast premiere of a movie about Dan Brown.  He is the farmer being sued by the state for selling milk from his cow to two neighbors.  This film “You Wanted to be a Farmer”  which bears the subtitle “A discussion of scale”  was very well done.  Produced by  No Umbrella Media and the Sap Pail it was about as local a production as you can get.  Local food, local media.  It’s all about walking away from corporate control.  As I heard a radio commentator call them this morning Corporate Locust.  A perfect frame for what they do.  They are the Borg but remember:  Resistance is Fertile!

 A while ago I got a slick publication from Maine General Health in my mailbox.  I usually recycle these things fairly quickly, time management you know, but this one had a picture of an adorable little girl holding up two carrots and the headline “Where you food comes from matters.”  So I read it.  Turns out the Food and Nutrition department of the Maine General Hospitals have made a commitment to sourcing more of their food locally.  They have also made a movie “ The Farmer’s Market: Where Your Food Comes From Matters”   I haven’t seen this one but it sure sounds like a winner.

 Number Three is the fact that yesterday the Bangor Daily News did an article about my friend’s farm.  Seth Yentes, his brother Tyler, his wife Anna and Tyler’s partner Elsie are doing great things at North Branch Farm in Monroe.  I am proud to know them all.

 And finally a note that corporate farming is horning in on the Fair Trade market and driving out small farmers everywhere.  No surprise there.   I will be adding a link on my blog so that you can click and join your voice to others saying that this is the antithesis of what the Fair Trade movement is all about.


Blue Hill Farmer Being Sued by State of Maine

Saturday, November 12, 2011 9:38 AM  This from Bob St.Peter Executive Director of Food for Maine’s future.  “Hi all – Just want to give everyone a heads up that Dan Brown of Gravelwood Farm in East Blue Hill is being sued by the State of Maine for illegal distribution of raw milk and selling food without a retail food license. This is a direct challenge to our local food ordinance and follows on the heals of a cease-and-desist the State gave to another Blue Hill farmer for selling milk without a license. Our community is having a meeting today to discuss how to proceed. I am my own ideas how our organization should proceed and I will propose it to the group tonight.

Our strength is our connections in Maine, around the U.S., and internationally. I was in Oakland this last week at a conference and was at the first US Food Sovereignty Alliance assembly when the summons was served. (The phone tree was activated and 10 people showed up, though it was after the sheriff had left. The farmers appreciated the support though.) My very strong feeling is that we need to change the debate on this — Dan’s never made anyone sick. Cargill killed someone this summer, and they’re repeat offenders. Early next week I’ll be emailing the world that we’re calling on the State to drop the lawsuit and use our limited resources to go after the real threats to public health — Big Ag. In particular, Cargill. Also, I’ll be calling for Micheal Taylor, Food Safety Czar, to resign. He’s at the top of the food chain at the FDA, has publicly stated the FDA’s support for the arrest of raw dairy farmers, and has a long history of back and forth between industry (Monsanto) and the FDA. Plus he’s the guy who paved the way for GMOs and rBGH, and wrote the playbook that was used by Monsanto to sue Oakhurst. This guy is the poster child for corporate government malfeasance, and Monsanto’s history of suing farmers and others will be part of this story. Here’s a summary of Taylor’s history:”

There is Hope in Hope


Tuesday was a big day for Maine voters. We told the Republican-dominated legislature to back the hell off and stop trying to impose their democracy restricting agenda on the voting public of Maine.  The Republicans don’t like the idea of people who register and vote the same day.  Why?  Because these voters tend are young and more progressive than the Republicrats who rule the world and who want to keep it that way.  Heaven forfend that we should have any real progress.  Which leads me to ask:  if pro is the opposite of con then what does that make Congress?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             So a resounding NO to trashing 40 yeas of being able to register and vote the same day.   The law that allowed me to actually register and vote on my 18th birthday!!!!  Maybe that is what  has lead to my lifelong political geekiness.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Oh and another YES to local control.  The folks in Hope passed the local food control ordinance.   This makes town number 6 in Maine to pass this landmark ordinance.  Sedgwick, Brooksville, Penobscot, Blue Hill, Trenton, and now Hope!!!  And I do have hope. A lot of hope that this taking back of local control will spread and that the “just walk away” mentality will thrive.  More about my “just walk away” philosophy soon.  I do believe it is the only way to go in trying to change how life is evolving in this disposable culture.