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September 07, 2010


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So I'm reading the bill (at work, heh) and here are some intsteering bits: the FDA will be changed to the Federal Drug and Device Administration and rolled into a new Food Safety Administration. They want to modernize the whole thing, which is a good idea. The FSA will (A) regulate food safety and labeling to strengthen the protection of the public health; (B) ensure that food establishments fulfill their responsibility to process, store, hold, and transport food in a manner that protects the public health of all people in the United States; (C) lead an integrated, systemwide approach to food safety and to make more effective and efficient use of resources to prevent food-borne illness; (D) provide a single focal point within the Department of Health and Human Services for food safety leadership, both nationally and internationally; and (E) provide an integrated food safety research capability, including internally generated, scientifically and statistically valid studies, in cooperation with academic institutions and other scientific entities of the Federal and State governments again, nothing bad yet. Things to keep in mind, though: food establishment means a food processing building slaughterhouse, factory, facility, etc. that processes food or stores or transports it. Food production facility means a farm, ranch, orchard, CAFO, etc. as well as restaurants, any place where food is prepared directly for the customer, and fishing vessels (unless that fishing vessel also processes its catch).Here's where things get tedious: adopt and implement a national system for the registration of food establishments and foreign food establishments, as provided in section 202 of this Act but will also provide technical assistance to farmers and food establishments that are small business concerns (meeting the requirements of section 3(a) of the Small Business Act and the regulations promulgated thereunder) to assist with compliance with the requirements of this Act. This is the bit that sounds like the USDA's NAIS.Section 202 gets into the registration process. Section 205 goes into the inspection process and this is where you'll need to know about the different categories of food establishments that they're setting up. The category that will affect farmer's markets is CATEGORY 3 FOOD ESTABLISHMENT- The term `category 3 food establishment' means a food establishment (other than a category 1 or category 2 establishment) that processes cooked, pasteurized, or otherwise ready-to-eat seafood or other animal products, fresh produce in ready-to-eat raw form, or other products that pose a risk of hazardous contamination. Cat 3 establishments will have random monthly inspections and have to keep up verification that their processes are controlled. Whatever that means. Like I can control where my cats pee in my veggie garden. Shuh.More tediousness: establishments will have to keep records of (A) the origin, receipt, delivery, sale, movement, holding, and disposition of food or ingredients; (B) the identity and quantity of ingredients used in the food; (C) the processing of the food; (D) the results of laboratory, sanitation, or other tests performed on the food or in the food establishment; (E) consumer complaints concerning the food or packaging of the food; (F) the production codes, open date codes, and locations of food production Prohibited acts: for a food establishment or foreign food establishment to fail to register under section 202, or to operate without a valid registration, and to slaughter an animal that is capable for use in whole or in part as human food at a food establishment processing any food for commerce, except in compliance with the food safety law, and basically not following this Act's provisions.I haven't read through Titles 3-5, except for that one last bit on prohibited acts from Title 4.

Rebecca T. of Honestmeat

Walter & Adam-
I won't be publishing your comments on this article anymore cuz I'm getting a little tired of your back and forth. However, I agree with points that both of you make. I do like the idea of cooperatives, as long as they are formed by choice not by force. One of my favorite companies is a cooperative- Alvarado Street Bakery, in Petaluma, California. All the employees are paid really well and they crank out health, organic bread that is incredibly affordable too. I also admire many small and mid-scale family farms too, such as Walter who is attempting to vertically integrate and control his own processing on-farm. I don't think it is farmers jobs to make food plentiful and affordable for the masses- I think that is the role of government and the non-profit sector. I also think it is primarily a wage issue.

Walter Jeffries

Adam you are naive about what it takes and about people. I have decades of trying to create what you envision. The problem is that the vast majority of people don't care. They just want a pay check at the end of the day, the week, etc. They do not want to be part of the process. They just want to do their little part so they can get their pay with minimal risk. Then there are the free-loaders who destroy the system, sucking up the resources from those who do work at least at some minimal level.

No, we need to have free markets between small family groups. My family has a farm, a business. We produce many things and we all work hard for what we get. What do you produce?


I think you entirely miss the point of a food system emancipated from the logic of the market and capital gain.

First, suggesting we move toward cooperatives instead of privately owned "family farms" is not to say commercial farms should be "banned" and all food should be rationed by a federal government. As you noted, socialism works well on small regional scales, not the scale of the nation-state--as does food agriculture.

Second, a socialized food system does not entail people being handed food for "free." Everyone within a cooperative would work and would fiscally invest in their local farm / food bank so that the community owns the food, not business people. This would reduce if not eliminate the exploitation of farm laborers (who are alienated from their labor) and people suffering from malnutrition in a world of abundant food.

Third, you say:
"This is the nature of Nature, not just Capitalism. Surely you do not expect the to get a free automobile, computer, cellphone, etc?"
Do you really think food is comparable to a cell phone? Last time I checked, people will become ill and/or die from the inaccessibility of the former but not the latter. So in other words, poor children should be condemned to starve or become malnourished and obese because their families cannot afford to buy them healthy food. Your profits are more important than millions of people's health and lives???? There would be no reason to pose this question if we lived in a cooperative food system.

Fourth, this isn't "Nature". Humans have for hundreds of thousands of years survived and fed each other as a community. It wasn't until the development of intensive agriculture did hierarchy appear in which the poor starved while the elite lived.

Fifth, the primary reason we have the industrial food system that we do is because of capitalism. Unless we have a social democracy, the industrial food system will not be defeated because of a few family farmers--especially if 20% of the US population can't afford to support them.

***So this is the one (glaring) thing wrong with the list: no emancipation from the economic system that has created and will continue to perpetuate corporate agriculture. The list recommends buying fair trade, putting the responsibility on the "consumer", assuming that person have the finances and regional access to such food. We live in a racist, classist, nationalist, and xenphobic society... these social diseases should not be unaddressed when discussing food politics. Food should be available to all because all humans are equal, not unavailable because property rights trump human rights.

Rebecca T. of HonestMeat


I have a couple doubts about the Niman Ranch model. First off, I have ready in several business magazines that the company itself is not profitable. Secondly I read somewhere that the prices they pay farmers are not enough to cover the costs of production and give them a fair profit margin. The retail prices of Niman products are very cheap (in my opinion) so it sounds like there is not enough money to go around. Sounds like a shaky foundation to me. Likewise, I believe firmly in using? organic feed, which is not required in the Niman protocol. I don't want to perpetuate the use of pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, and GMOs just to keep meat "affordable". Who is that affordable for? Will it be affordable for our grandchildren that will have to live with the largest ocean dead zone in the world (thanks to mostly nitrogen fertilizers) or GMOs that have spread throughout the world? I have a problem with aggregation models such as Niman that still don't pay farmers fairly, don't empower them but rather treat them as disposable production units, and that take away the individual farmers identity in order to sell it all over the country under one name brand. That removes transparency, that removes connection to the place, to the actual farmer, to the learning experience of being in relation to the farmer. If there is another aggregation model that you find that you think is sustainable, please let me know. I want to find good models out there...


Hi Rebecca,

This is an excellent post and I agree with Walter that it is a necessary piece to be communicated to a wider audience. The dominance of big food companies everywhere has led to a loss of respect and understanding of where food comes from - which is why everyone expects food to be cheap or free.

I spent some time touring Niman Ranch farmer Paul Willis' hog farm yesterday (after being invited by the company), and I'm curious about what you make of farmer networks such as this. From what I've seen, the model seems to work with family-owned farms in the Midwest. They farm sustainably (although they're not organic-certified), believe in raising animals by pasture, no antibiotics, etc. Being part of a network seems to provide scale, and therefore, more stable demand for the farmer and allowing small family farms to continue to exist. Perhaps one solution for small-mid-sized US farms would be the creation of localized/regional farmers' networks such as this?

Walter Jeffries

We feed pasture and dairy which comes from a local high end cheese and butter maker who gets their milk from pastured goats and cows. I'm not a grain buyer. We use the occasional dated bread for treats to train but don't buy commercial hog feed, bagged grain or the like. It is too expensive, doesn't produce as good a meat and isn't necessary.

On the organic certification, we've been doing organic for decades before the government went and stole Organic. We do the real deal. Our pigs, chickens, sheep and other animals are really out on pasture, really not getting fed -cides and and all that good stuff. This is real organic, not government stamped Organic.

One of the things I don't like about the government version is that my cousin who raises chickens (100,000) can do it in dark housing filled with manure and call it 'free-ranging' and Organic because he feeds organic feed. He fills out the paperwork and gets the Big 'O' organic stamp. That isn't enough. What he is doing is not really organic the way it was conceived. When the consumer thinks organic free-ranging happy chickens they expect the birds to be out on pasture. They don't realize that the birds live in manure filled 100' long steel quanta-set huts in the dark.

Now the government has taken over the term Naturally Raised. They almost dinged that up badly too. It has problems but not as bad as it would have been.

Rebecca T. of HonestMeat


I do believe in organic as a baseline. If you are really sticking to the organic principles and communicate that transparently to your customers, that's great and you probably don't have to get 'certified organic'. However, if you purchase conventional grain to feed your pigs, than that is a different story (I am not assuming this, just using as an example). Unfortunately, the marketplace is increasingly competitive and there is a lot of fraud, even in our cutesy little farmers markets where everyone is supposed to be honest. We have several farmers saying they use organic practices or organic feed or "no chemicals" when in fact, that is not the case. I do have some problems with the organic rules, especially when it comes to animals. However, I think if a farm does any wholesaling or when it gets to a certain scale, it should probably get certified organic. I was taking issue in a previous comment with Food Alliance because you can still use pesticides and herbicides under their certification system. If you are going to bother going through the money and paperwork of getting some kind of certification, why not make it organic?

Rebecca T. of HonestMeat


I am not so dogmatic that I believe we can only eat what grows naturally around us. If you like to eat rice, then it will have to come from California, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and a few other southern states (although true wild rice does grow in Minnesota). Buying direct from the farmer, in this case Greg Massa, avoids the markup of intermediaries and retailers, and gets more money into the hands of the actual farmer, helping him to stay in business. Sounds like a great idea to me!

Walter Jeffries

Excellent getting this published over on Grist, Rebecca!

On the 'requiring organic' let us all be sure not to confuse requiring Organic with organic. Our farm is organic in all the ways that you want. What we are not is Big 'O' Certified Organic from the government. I don't want to waste my time and money on their paperwork. I want to farm and farm right. We were organic decades before Organic existed. Big 'O' was a corporate takeover of what we do so that large companies can abuse the term. This forced a lot of farms to either stop using the term (us) or do manure loads of extra time wasting paperwork like my friend on the other side of the mountain. He just sold his farm and is glad not to be dealing with the government on 'O'rganic anymore. The person who bought it purchased an 'O'rganic farm but they're not going to bother continuing with the program.

The organic way is good and important. Organic Certification is not the same thing and most consumers recognize that the word got take over.

Maggie Oster

Very much appreciated this article. Am curious as to your feelings about purchasing food online from small producers, such as organic brown rice from Massa Organics in California, by someone who lives in, say, Indiana.


Hey Walter, when you said that communism works on a micro scale, you were wrong there too. Think about the Jamestown famine. The colonists had little incentive to produce more than they needed as everything was thrown into a common storage/coffer and doled out in what appears to be the first attempt at communism here. Many of them wound up dead of starvation and the first Thanksgiving celebration was possibly the greatest hoax/untruth ever perpetrated on the schoolchildren of the USA..

Rebecca T. of HonestMeat


Food Alliance does not require organic, and I am pretty convinced that organic must be the foundation of a sustainable system. I can't support the use of poisons to produce something that is supposed to nourish us. Secondly, Wilcox Egg Farm is a giant, million hen operation where the hens spend their lives inside big barns. I am much more interested in a food system dominated by small to mid scale diversified producers selling locally & regionally and I think laying hens need access to pasture, bugs, and sunshine.

Audrey Watson

Well, I'd also suggest you look at Food Alliance that does certification of sustainable food chain. So, some of the food that is sold in chains is actually sustainably produced (for example Wilcox Farms sells to Costco), and there are many people looking at how those of us who live in cities can still buy food from stores without happening to have a local CSA or being able to go to the farmers market. http://foodalliance.org/wheres-fa/featured-supply-chain-food-alliance-certified-eggs

Rebecca T. of HonestMeat

Bev- I agree we need to get involved. I do make one small point about that in the article regarding the Farm Bill. Of course there are many other spaces and places to get involved in food policy, however a good majority of it is still in the private domain of business and consumption. You won't get lawmakers to pay attention to an issue that has not become personal for many, many voters. To become personal one has to take action personally. Thus I begin with personal action. Here is an example. The American consumer obliviously let nearly the entire independent and small-scale meat processing infrastructure of this country disappear, leaving us with 4 giant facilities that process over 60% of the meat in our country. Lawmakers are not going to care about this issue until enough consumers in partnership with ranchers complain.
But the point is well taken and I will focus a future blog post on policy work that needs some attention. One group doing good work is called the Organic Farmers Action Network (OFAN) of the Organic Farming Research Foundation.

Bev Hill

Although a fine article, it forgot to mention one thing:

GET INVOLVED in fighting for your food!

It's good that one buys from local farmers and learns more about their local food system. It's admirable that people are going 'green'. Voting with your fork is a good thing and a 'cutsie' way but it's too easy! You aren't really doing anything to CHANGE what is right now! Get off your butts, America!

Be aware, though, that it is the consumer who has the power to actually help small farmers by standing up and being VOCAL to help change the food system in this country.

Washington is full of lobbyists from 'big chemical' (Bayer, Monsanto etc) 'big ag' and 'big food' who have deep pockets & lots of cash to influence USDA, FDA and EPA policies.

Meanwhile there are activist groups on the side of the small farmers & the organic industry who see the writing on the wall that the present way our food system runs isn't working and needs to change. The health of our planet and all who inhabit it is at stake.

However, Washington, while nodding 'yes' to it and pretending to be concerned, is turning a blind eye and has its hand out for the cash. It's business as usual. He who pays the most gets to play.

We've let the 'big guys' play for too long!


Consumers (us) outnumber the government, the lobbyists, big ag, food & chemical (them) but the only way things will change is for CONSUMERS to get in the trenches and TELL THEIR LAWMAKERS what they want!

Case in point: Starbucks stopped buying milk for its coffees that contained bovine growth hormone. Why? CONSUMERS spoke up and told them they don't want growth hormones in their coffee! How many millions of cups of coffee do they sell each DAY?

Silence is acceptance, folks!

Join a group in your area and be proactive.

Speak up!

Get your friends, co-workers, relatives and neighbors to learn more and open their mouths! Unless you are actively out there voicing your opinion and getting heard, you are not really accomplishing much.

Badger, (yes I said BADGER!) your elected representatives, with phone calls and e-mails --- constantly! Not just once!
Don't say.., Oh, the OTHER GUY will do it" because you ARE 'the other guy!'

Learn about proposed legislation (Senate bill S-510) which has already passed the House and will go for a vote in the Senate ~any day~ that, if passed WITHOUT the Tester-Hagen amendment - will put an undue burden on ALL small farmers and the organic industry.

Learn about what really goes into your food and how the government and the food industry has been using us as Guinea pigs for the past 50 or 60 years with food additives, pesticides and agricultural practices that are slowing killing us and making us sick!

Learn about GMOs and the increasing amount of evidence that we humans should not be eating genetically modified products!


That is the most powerful thing that YOU can do to really change the food system for you and generations to come!

Christine Heinrichs

Poultry meat is seasonal, too. See my article in this month's Backyard Poultry magazine, http://www.backyardpoultrymag.com/issues/5/5-4/seasonal_chickens.html. Learn more about raising traditional breed poultry in small flocks from my books, How to Raise Chickens and How to Raise Poultry.

Walter Jeffries

So, Mr. Krinkle, you devalue the farmer. Fortunately you're not making the rules. It's a free market economy and if you want what the farmer has then you must pay for it.

Rebecca, the more I think about it the more I see how this post of yours hits the nail on the head. Adam and Henry's comments emphasize this. Food is not free and it must be maximized in its usage. Everyone can't expect to eat high on the hog for free. If people want to improve things they need to do a lot more than just make idealization statements like everyone should have free access to food, but of course rare metals and cell phones are not free. It takes a lot more than occasional feel good buying to make a revolution.

Take this article to the next level, Rebecca. With some rewrites it should be submitted to magazines, NYTimes, etc for a wider reading audience to get this message across.

Earlene Busch

Your article added "fuel to my fire"!! I have a small inn and restaurant in Cape Breton, NS and I serve as much local food as I can lay my hands on. I can tell guests exactly where their food came from, the farmers who grew it, etc. I wait for their eyes to glaze over but it does not happen. They appear to love it. We put the names of the producers, the items we get from them and the "food miles" on our menu.

The good news is that the Province of Nova Scotia is really beginning to put an emphasis on local food and wine.

Henry Krinkle

Surely though, overcoming the limitations of Nature should be part of the human project? If food was tremendously scarce like rare metals for cellphones, rather than tremendously mal-distributed, their statement might provoke more outrage. At this point in civilization it should be easy enough to feed everyone

Walter Jeffries

Hmm... GMOs, fossil fuel fertilizers and pesticides are not forced on us. We do not use any of those on our farms nor do I know of any farmer who does use any of them - and I do know a lot of farmers. Most are organic or even Big 'O' Organic (certified).

I don't like the way Adam phrased his argument against private ownership and said that food is a right. It isn't. Food is a privilege. Seeking food is the right. The two are vastly different. In the wild if we do not forage or hunt we starve. When he says "ensure equal (financial and geographic) access of nutritious food to ALL as a requisite." he is devaluing me as a farmer. I have no obligation to ensure anyone eats. If they want what I produce then they need to pay for it. Likewise, if I want something someone else offers then I must pay for it.

This is the nature of Nature, not just Capitalism. Surely you do not expect the to get a free automobile, computer, cellphone, etc? Even my hero Castro has said that Communism failed. It took him a long time. The reality is the best system is a mix where Communism operates at the most intimate levels (family) and we move towards Capitalism as we move away to larger groups.

Farm is not sustainable if we expect the farmer to do it for free. Rather the point of Rebecca's post.

Henry Krinkle

@Walter Jefferies
Private ownership works great when the people working the farm do the owning. When people suggest farming cooperatives I think they share your vision of it.

However, its not just the government that swoops in to control how your farm is run. What's frustrating about our particular implementation of private ownership is that it allows finance capitalists to force farmers off their land, on to seeds with terminator genes, and onto fossil fuel based fertilizer and dangerous pesticides.

Cheers to a free market among farmers who work their own land.

Walter Jeffries

"What we need is a country of cooperative, community supported farms in and outside cities, not privately owned businesses that don't ensure equal (financial and geographic) access of nutritious food to ALL as a requisite."

I disagree with you. I don't want to have someone else controlling my farm or life any more than necessary. Communism works fine on the micro-scale but fails miserably as the number of people increases. This is historically documented plus I have extensive personal experience with this. The problem is the hard workers like myself get taken advantage of by the slackers. Far better to have a true free market economy. You can then form a small cooperative but there should be nothing forced on it. To ban private business is foolish and misses the lessons of history. Private ownership is the backbone of the good parts of how our economy works.

Of course, there is always a communist country you can move to to live under your ideas. Oh, wait, even the last bastion of communism, Cuba, is implementing capitalism. So much for that. And I always liked Castro. The best dictator we've ever seen.


Glad to see your back up blogging :)

My offering this time is that the food system isn't going to change by people acting as individual consumers and producers. As Berry writes, we must all become participants in food production.

I don't think perpetuating the commodification of food will ever fix the food system because that is precisely THE food system we live under. The pastoral / agrarian visions of the family farmer only perpetuate the astroturfing of food. What we need is a country of cooperative, community supported farms in and outside cities, not privately owned businesses that don't ensure equal (financial and geographic) access of nutritious food to ALL as a requisite. Neither the laborers nor the investors should have privilege over one another, nor should nonhuman animal bodies and lives become commodities to exchange and replace.

Agriculture should move toward more integration and participation, not stubbornly maintain the urban/rural, producer/consumer, human/animal dualisms of modernity.

FarmHander V

Statements like these are just what consumers need. It's enlightening to speak with farmer's at markets about their practices, but an opportunity to work on a farm can offer a slap in the face with good honest truth. I'm inferring to that positive slap everyone could use to wake up from their "eco -conscious-selectively-consumerist" ways and feel the real realities of farm life, business, and the struggle to sustain not just a quality product but also themselves. Farmers constantly struggle with a consumer network pushing them to lower their prices. I have no children, no home ownership and have never owned a business, but it doesn't take personal experience to realize the costs associated with raising children, managing business in a slumping economy, and trying to put non food product on the table.

So a question for consumers: Do farmer's have an obligation to lower their prices and in turn lowering their livelihood for health care coverage, a roof over their heads and their families, business expansion to supply more quality product, and all the other joys finances bring, all for your economic satisfaction? Would you do the same? Don't forget we all live in America and quality products come as a privilege that everyone is trying for. Quality of life comes at a price.
You tell it as it is Rebecca.

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