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Protecting Local Food Access and Traditions

By Mary White

There is a widespread blooming of interest in local food around the country producing a growth in farmers markets, restaurants serving locally grown food, Community Supported Agriculture farms, and increases in community and home gardens. All of this creates more vital and resilient communities. People have become more appreciative of the benefits of locally grown food as a healthier alternative to that of huge agribusinesses with their use of untested GMO seeds, toxic herbicides and pesticides, and hormones and antibiotics which they give to livestock.

Locally grown is now 1% of the total food market in the US. That may sound small, but it has awakened the interest of big agribusiness which seems determined to nip it in the bud. The film, Farmageddon: the Unseen War on American Family Farms, produced by Concordian Kristin Canty, recently shown in Concord by ConcordCAN, documents incidents where farmers from Vermont, New York and Pennsylvania had their livelihoods destroyed by local health officials under the apparent direction of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Food co-ops in Ohio, Georgia and California suffered similar treatment.

Farmers and communities in Maine began having similar experiences. Small chicken farmers were told that they could no longer share the USDA licensed and inspected processing facility on a neighbor's farm. The only licensed facility they could use is a three hour drive each way; mobile chicken processors in Maine have been regulated out of business. A two cow farm could no longer sell directly to customers. They were told that if Maine allowed these things the state would lose federal funding for inspections. They were also alarmed by reports from other states that their Departments of Agriculture were forbidding community events in non-licensed facilities – no more church suppers, bake sales, or community potlucks. They realized some kind of coordination was going on nationally.

The FDA is pressuring states to pass regulations “equal to or more stringent than” FDA regulations. Power to regulate food is being consolidated by the FDA. What does this have to do with big ag? There is a revolving door between large food processing companies and agribusinesses, and the FDA and USDA. One example – the current FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods appointed by President Obama in 2010 is Michael R. Taylor, former Monsanto Public Policy Director. The Future of Food film, shown last week by ConcordCAN, shockingly states that the federal government even co-owns Monsanto’s patent on terminator seeds. These produce plants that cannot reproduce thus forcing farmers to buy their seeds each year rather than saving their own.

There is good news. Maine towns began taking action to preserve their local food traditions. After studying their state Constitution and laws on agriculture and home rule, they drew up local food ordinances proclaiming their “right to grow, sell and eat the foods of our choice”. Of the federal government they ask for scale appropriate regulations. Five towns passed such ordinances at their 2011 Town Meetings – two unanimously, three by large majorities. Since then they have received calls from across the country from people interested in passing their own ordinances. Shall Concord join them and work on an ordinance?

The cause of protecting local food production and traditions is being taken up in the US legislature too. The Local Farm, Food and Jobs Act has been introduced in the House (HR3286) by Representative Chellie Pingree of Maine, a former organic farmer, and in the Senate (S 1773) by Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio. We can all call our congresspersons and ask them to cosponsor these important bills.

Mary White is a Concord resident and a member of the Steering Group of ConcordCAN..

Mary White 221 Monsen Road Concord, MA 01742 (978) 369-1181