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Local Food, Local Rules
March 19, 2011 11:56 AM   Subscribe

A few tiny towns in Maine have enacted new ordinances described as "food sovereignty laws".

Whether towns in other states could pass similar measures is open to debate, but reaction seems to be positive, with the notable exception of a measured response from personal injury law firm Marler Clark, an organization that, among other things, favors the irradiation of all food.
posted by Leta (116 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm okay with this if its all just locals doing commerce amongst themselves, but you know as soon as this becomes widespread, corporations will take advantage of this to sell shit-contaminated cheeseburgers to 5 year olds, or whatever.
posted by empath at 12:05 PM on March 19, 2011 [17 favorites]


I don't really care about local farmers and wealthy foodies enjoying raw food or whatever but I think the correct tactic might have been to lobby their local legislatures for an exemption for small-time producers or something rather than just declaring that the state can't tell them what to do anymore, cause the answer to that is usually "Oh yes we can." Interesting stunt though.
posted by ghharr at 12:08 PM on March 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's an interesting subject but those sure are some axe-grindy links.

From a legal perspective, wouldn't this need to happen at a state level? The Feds may only be able to regulate via the highly elastic commerce clause, but the state can regulate whatever they like.

Anyway, empath, why do you think that the locals won't sell shit-contaminated cheeseburgers (or milk, or whatever) to each other? If there's no longer any legal requirement for, say, sanitary slaughtering and processing of meat, some people just aren't going to bother. Their customers will figure this out eventually, sure, and the Invisible Hand will do its thing eventually, but the idea of food safety laws is to achieve this end without having to wait for a bunch of people to get sick and/or die first.
posted by hattifattener at 12:13 PM on March 19, 2011 [14 favorites]


Stunt indeed. One of the most important cases enabling the expansion of federal power in the New Deal era was Wickard v. Filburn, which dealt with almost this exact issue: a farmer growing grain on his own farm for his own use. The federal government argued they could regulate this, as it affected the national market for grain. The Court agreed. Take that away and you take away things like Social Security and Medicare.

Glad to see ol' Don Quixote has descendants though.
posted by valkyryn at 12:16 PM on March 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


Another symptom of the breakdown in trust of the government. Not a good trend.
posted by DU at 12:18 PM on March 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


Local / small farmer != ethical / safe farmer. Food safety laws exist for a reason, like hattifattener says it's to keep us from having to watch people get sick before avoiding a producer, and having to exhaustively research each piece of food we buy.
posted by wildcrdj at 12:24 PM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Can local ordinances contradict federal laws?
posted by Cranberry at 12:27 PM on March 19, 2011


Folks interested in this issue may wish to consider the case of Estrella Family Creamery, a highly regarded artisanal cheesmaker in Washington State that was shut down last fall by the FDA for unsanitary practices and presence of listeria in their products.
posted by Sublimity at 12:31 PM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Besides, one of two things can happen.

If these laws are really unconstitutional, as the first link claims, challenge them in court. If the courts agree the laws will go away. If the courts don't agree, then your "nullification" laws are invalid.

The question of local nullification of federal laws has been answered (hint: you can't).
posted by wildcrdj at 12:33 PM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Take that away and you take away things like Social Security and Medicare.

Social Security is a tax under Art. 1 § 8. It does not rely on the Commerce Clause. See Steward Machine Co. v. Davis, 301 U.S. 548 (1937) and Helvering v. Davis, 301 U.S. 619 (1937). I believe Medicare has the same constitutional basis.
posted by jedicus at 12:36 PM on March 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


We were just discussing this on this recent mefi post on the politics of food safety regulations.
posted by Thinkmontgolfier at 12:41 PM on March 19, 2011


Wow, that Wickard v. Filburn link just about raises blisters on my skin. For the first time, ever, I'm starting to understand what folks have against the New Deal.
posted by Leta at 12:41 PM on March 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


corporations will take advantage of this to sell shit-contaminated cheeseburgers to 5 year olds, or whatever.

Like that's never happened before.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 12:43 PM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


The "Pretentious Agrarian Hippie" is the second most annoying subculture in the state where I was raised (surpassed only by the "Slack-Jawed Idiots" who elected one of their own as governor). I am in favor of letting them eat all the potentially tainted foodstuffs that they want.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:48 PM on March 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


Was just an outbreak of e coli (15 cases) traced to raw milk in MN. I am actually pretty sympathetic to local food production and participate in a CSA. But I am wary nowadays about anyone who screams unconstitutional at the drop of a hat. Seems like everyone is a constitutional lawyer nowadays.
posted by edgeways at 12:50 PM on March 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


Can local ordinances contradict federal laws?

Nope. Never.
posted by valkyryn at 1:01 PM on March 19, 2011


I'm kinda split on this one: on the one hand, Federal food regulations are one of the reasons why we have a relatively safe food supply -- The Jungle wasn't a fantasy novel. On the other, Federal food regulations are part of the reason why that safe food infrastructure has become deeply non-local and non-sustainable. The regulations tend to lean toward large corporations rather than small-time producers, as does the effect of scale on food prices, and we seem very reluctant to address either issue.

In short: what happened in Sendai can happen here. We have millions of citizens who don't have significant access to food outside of a handful of big-box supermarkets, and that's as potentially dangerous as e.coli in hamburger. Surely there's some way to ensure the safety of local food without discouraging local producers...
posted by vorfeed at 1:02 PM on March 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


Another symptom of the breakdown in trust of the government. Not a good trend.
posted by nickyskye at 1:02 PM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


When truly evil Monsanto has tremendous power all over the planet and gets away with insane control, like putting frikkin' patents on genetically mutant seeds that will not reproduce, causing vast harm to really poor people, desperately in need of basic survival food, I say taking back an iota of power from Food Corporatist Big Agribiz controlled government is a sign that people are fighting back and a step in the right direction.
posted by nickyskye at 1:15 PM on March 19, 2011 [29 favorites]


For fucks sake, it's just a fucking carrot.
posted by I love you more when I eat paint chips at 1:16 PM on March 19, 2011


The FDA needs to change the rules to make small scale pressurization feasible.
posted by Virtblue at 1:23 PM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Social Security is a tax under Art. 1 § 8. It does not rely on the Commerce Clause.

Meh. Take away the expansion of federal power ushered in under Wickard and the cases you cite, and the spending part of Social Security and the Mediplans does start to look shakier. Those two cases were part of the series of cases that permitted the expansion of federal power that was the New Deal.

This kind of attack on federal power does go straight to said New Deal jurisprudence.
posted by valkyryn at 1:23 PM on March 19, 2011


Communities have been producing and consuming their own food since the dawn of civilization. Until very recently, there was always a good incentive not to sell contaminated food: you would lose your business and be run out of town, not to mention most people would feel pretty bad about poisoning their neighbor or neighbor's kids. A small local food production system lends itself to transparency in a way that a commercial food system doesn't.

It's only in the era of factory-produced food that suddenly the FDA became so necessary. And while their rules have replaced the need for you to watch your butcher cutting your meat or drop by the farm where it comes from, you've also lost the ability to do so. Which can be dangerous, especially in an era where regulatory capture and excessive lobbying seem to be rendering most of our regulatory agencies completely worthless. Look into the ongoing controversy regarding tuna, for example. You'd think we'd have learned by now that putting trust in the federal government to protect us isn't always the best idea. Corporations will always be more powerful.

I don't think that this legal stunt will stand. But I do think it would be wise to be less dismissive of local food. In my town, for example, we only have 3 days supply of food available at any time. That's a dangerous and vulnerable position to be in. But that's how things will stay until regulations become much more friendly to small and local farmers.
posted by crackingdes at 1:24 PM on March 19, 2011 [39 favorites]


Wish I said it like you did crackingdes.
posted by nickyskye at 1:28 PM on March 19, 2011


And sorry for the double comment. But this is not just about gaining control over the local food supply, it's also about gaining control over the local economy. Family farms are literally being run out of business by excessive regulations that are meant to keep the commercial food industry in check, but are really not necessary for producing clean, uncontaminated food. (And in some cases -- these regulations are even being lobbied for by Big Ag, because it eliminates their smaller competition). A local food system means local jobs -- as farmers, as processors, as distributors. Without those jobs, the only thing left is grocery store cashier -- bagging food shipped from a thousand miles away.
posted by crackingdes at 1:36 PM on March 19, 2011 [12 favorites]


Take away the expansion of federal power ushered in under Wickard and the cases you cite, and the spending part of Social Security and the Mediplans does start to look shakier.

Well, no, the spending power is virtually absolute (with a few exceptions like the Establishment Clause), and neither Social Security nor Medicare/Medicaid rely on the Commerce Clause for the spending & regulating side of things. For example, if a hospital wants to take Medicare patients, a whole passel of regulations comes along for the ride. If the hospital doesn't want the regulations, it can just refuse Medicare patients (and some hospitals make that choice). That's regulation via the spending power: bribing people and companies into accepting the regulation along with some federal money.

The food equivalent would be something like attaching food safety regulations to agricultural subsidies.

This kind of attack on federal power does go straight to said New Deal jurisprudence.

I agree that it goes straight to many New Deal programs and the jurisprudence that upheld them (e.g. the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act), but Social Security and Medicare & Medicaid (which actually came about in 1965 and so are not really part of the New Deal proper) are not the best examples.
posted by jedicus at 1:42 PM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's astroturf: the second link provides a little, tiny hint when it says
Under the new ordinance, producers and processors are protected from licensure or inspection in sales that are sold for home consumption between them and a patron, at farmer’s market, or at a roadside stand.
Now, the nut of the bet is the idea that some hard-scrabble farmer, struggling to make ends meet, should be able to add to her earnings by selling a few ears of corn at a wayside stand without having to follow the big bad state and federal gummints' Orwellian regulations. Fair enough. But a processor? WTF? Cui bono, baby?
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:47 PM on March 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Two words. Supremacy Clause.

The Supremacy Clause is Article IV paragraph 2 of The United States Constitution. It compels federal judges to use federal law when there is a conflict between state and federal law. It means that with very rare exceptions, states can not invalidate a federal law.

Article VIII Section 1 of the Maine constitution additionally states:

The inhabitants of any municipality shall have the power to alter and amend their charters on all matters, not prohibited by Constitution or general law, which are local and municipal in character. (emphasis added)

So, essentially these laws are about as valid as if I proclaimed my back yard a sovereign nation, and declared myself free from the tyranny of pants, aquatic waterfowl, hair gel, and federal taxes. The "law" is a result of a group of semi-delusional sophists trying to argue themselves into believing their own self-importance.
posted by Johnny Karma at 2:00 PM on March 19, 2011


A processor can be small.

I don't own any dairy animals, but I make Greek yogurt (as well as chevre) at home, both from store bought, pasteurized cow's milk and from raw goat's milk I get through a (more or less extra legal) herd share arrangement.

This is processing dairy- I am adding value to the milk via my labor. The costs associated with making yogurt are very small- a little heat fuel, a little electricity for refrigeration, the prorated costs of some very basic kitchen equipment, and the very infrequent purchase of cultures. Oh, and some salt. But I am not allowed to profit from my labors.

Literally every person who has ever tasted my yogurt wants to buy it. I can't legally sell it from a home kitchen. I'd be in a passel of trouble if I sold yogurt made from raw goat's milk, even though yogurt is self pasteurizing.

Furthermore, people who want raw milk yogurt and cheese are typically passionate foodies, and will pay more for a raw milk product. They know the risks. I certainly believe in strong labeling requirements- I would be happy to label my products with "Produced in an UNinspected Kitchen", and one of those warnings similar to what they put on menus about the dangers of sunnysideup eggs- but I am not going to invest a quarter million dollars in a commercial kitchen and/or federally inspected dairy processing plant to sell yogurt. In this way, regulations are stifling small business and entrepreneurship. We can argue the pros and cons of that, but it's the fact of the matter.

Yes, I feed my yogurt and cheese to my children. I've never made anyone sick. But the outcomes don't matter in regs, only the process.
posted by Leta at 2:07 PM on March 19, 2011 [16 favorites]


It's astroturf: the second link provides a little, tiny hint when it says "Under the new ordinance, producers and processors are protected...

Good catch. I bet ConAgra has been throwing lobbyist money at the Board of Selectmen of Dumpy Barrens, Maine so they can sell tainted clams to the 700 residents. For two weeks until the Fed moves in. Just think of the return on that investment.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:07 PM on March 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


Mental Wimp: "It's astroturf: the second link provides a little, tiny hint when it says
"Under the new ordinance, producers and processors"

But a processor? WTF? Cui bono, baby"
I'm guessing that means things like cheese production, artisinal breads, etc... You know, not just raw product...
posted by symbioid at 2:08 PM on March 19, 2011


I support your doctrine of freedom from hair gel and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.
posted by hippybear at 2:08 PM on March 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


Johnny Karma: "The "law" is a result of a group of semi-delusional sophists trying to argue themselves into believing their own self-importance"

Worked for PNAC.
posted by symbioid at 2:09 PM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


In this way, regulations are stifling small business and entrepreneurship. We can argue the pros and cons of that, but it's the fact of the matter.

Here's a con: Someone just as small-time but not as diligent as you sells listeria-tainted cheese and makes their neighbor have a miscarriage. Just because you feel that you can be trusted doesn't mean that everyone can. Ask 100 people who want to sell their own food products whether their food will be absolutely pure. Every one of them will say "oh, of course."

And then a good chunk of them will work on their merely sponged-down kitchen counters, and make their goods when they have the time and inclination even if they have a cough or diarrhea. No thanks.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:17 PM on March 19, 2011 [16 favorites]


Communities have been producing and consuming their own food since the dawn of civilization. Until very recently, there was always a good incentive not to sell contaminated food: you would lose your business and be run out of town, not to mention most people would feel pretty bad about poisoning their neighbor or neighbor's kids. A small local food production system lends itself to transparency in a way that a commercial food system doesn't.

Right, and this network of interrelationship and responsibility breaks down the instant communities organize into cities. Food still gets grown out in the rural hinterlands and the profit motive tempts middlemen to cut corners, adulterate, sell rotten food. Read up on the history food safety regulation in the US and I guarantee it'll turn your stomach.
posted by Sublimity at 2:45 PM on March 19, 2011


Like vaccinations, food safety regulation is one of those things that works so well we've forgotten just how badly we need it, and what it was like before we had it.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 2:47 PM on March 19, 2011 [34 favorites]


Oh, I'm not saying there are no cons. At all. Certainly there are. It's just that people say "onerous regulations" are hogwash, and sometimes they are, and sometimes they aren't.

Look, I don't want to live in a country where all industry is free to do as they please. I like clean air, intact mountaintops, etc. But I also think that if I choose to buy milk from my friend with goats instead of from the store, I should have the right to do that. Would I buy raw milk from a store? NO. But I can go to her farm, see her milk room in the barn, her kitchen in the house, her goats in the pasture, know that she's an RN and her kids drink the milk...

I can't get that assurance from a store. There's simply no way. When you cut out the supermarket chain, you CAN get that assurance. I think that cuts to the heart of this "small producer/processor" thing- the fact that by virtue of buying at the source (or at least closer to the source), you are making an informed decision.

I don't want to dictate what anyone else eats. I just want to be free to choose the foods I think are best, even if some risk is associated with them. I believe in bodily autonomy, that's all.
posted by Leta at 2:50 PM on March 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


Where I live there's a large Hispanic population. It's a normal thing for Hispanic women to make huge batches of tamales during tamale season and sell preorders by the dozen to friends, neighbors, and coworkers. These are some delicious freaking tamales, people. I do not think that should be illegal, nor is it any more dangerous than going to someone's house as a guest and eating dinner that they cooked. Gasp the horror. I imagine they are much cleaner and sanitary than the (legal) roach coach that swings by work around lunch time every day. Or maybe not. But it's a large cottage industry resulting in very few illnesses.

I totally get the need for food regulations in many, many contexts. Reading about the sale of swill milk turned my stomach. But I think small-scale interactions that involve food and limited regulatory oversight should not be automatically taken off the table, as long as there is informed consent on the part of the consumer.
posted by jsturgill at 2:58 PM on March 19, 2011


Michigan's cottage food law went into effect this year... very similar concept.

And, "wealthy foodies"???!!! Nice phrase. Around here many of the folks utilizing farmer's markets and buying pies from the locals are senior citizens and young people trying to make ends meet. But, cute that you put the whole idea down with a single slur. Nice job.
posted by tomswift at 2:59 PM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's an interesting debate, certainly. Like, when does a kitchen move from producing baked goods for, say, a school bake sale into producing them on a commercial scale for sale?

When does, for example, a goat farm cross over from being your friend down the road from whom you're buying a bit of extra product and into being a commercial venture which requires greater level of scrutiny?

Is there a threshold beyond which a small producer ceases to be a small producer? Where does one draw that line? Is it based on number of animals or number of customers or dollars generated per month?

If a small producer begins selling product for resale, i.e. selling to a local health food store, instead of only selling to those who come to their farm to buy directly... is THAT the threshold? What about if the producer sets up a booth at a farmer's market or has a section they rent out inside a local co-op?
posted by hippybear at 2:59 PM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


In my town, for example, we only have 3 days supply of food available at any time. That's a dangerous and vulnerable position to be in.

Wow, really? I live in a crappy little town and I would guess between all the stores that stock food in the area in canned goods alone there's enough to keep people going for at least a few weeks if not a month or two.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 3:00 PM on March 19, 2011


Personally, hippybear, I think that the threshold is right at the point of sale- in other words, if you are selling directly to consumers, with no chain between the place that it's made and the end user, that's the arrangement that typically doesn't benefit from oversight. If you are annoying your neighbors by turning your yard into a parking lot to feed the The masses, you've clearly outgrown yourself. I'd be fine with putting a number on that, though, but I'd like to see it high enough to support someone in middle class way in an urban area- say, $100,000 per year? I dunno if I'd argue for gross or net, though...

Some USDA regs are this way. If you process under, I think, 25,000 chickens per year, you can sell directly, uninspected, to restaurants or any other licensed kitchen. The idea here is that the restaurant kitchen has its own inspection process, and would be badly hurt if it bought/sold tainted chicken. But this is just one example, of one food. The regs are a patchwork, and they are all over the place.
posted by Leta at 3:07 PM on March 19, 2011


But I also think that if I choose to buy milk from my friend with goats instead of from the store, I should have the right to do that.

If your kids get sick and need medical treatment, will you expect government or your insurance to help pay for that? Would you be ok with being denied coverage because you've knowing taken a risk not covered by a policy, or would you expect the cost for your additional risk to be borne by everyone in the insurance pool? Would you be ok with a paying for a higher-priced policy with covers being able to drink raw milk, just as drivers of riskier, fancier sports cars pay more for auto insurance?
posted by bonehead at 3:11 PM on March 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


I believe in bodily autonomy, that's all.

I think that out the window back when Nancy Reagan said "Just Say No."
posted by localroger at 3:17 PM on March 19, 2011


The problem may be real, but this is the wrong answer. The trouble is, the right answer would be to somehow give small producers as much influence with the FDA and other regulatory agencies that the big boys have. I'm not sure how to accomplish that, and sympathize with the folks in these towns.
posted by meinvt at 3:17 PM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think, like gay marriage, it's inevitable but slow in coming.

I don't know how widespread local food movements are, but my friend recently brought me to a meeting of this group in my town (pop. 160,000, a total metro area of 436,000). The basic idea was this: Decades ago, local food/products were just the way things were; the whole economy was more localized. Supermarkets would sell local produce, local factories would use local materials etc. They want to re-create that kind of customer/producer culture. They seemed very passionate about it.

I wonder if this kind of thing could be helped by Tea Party libertarian sentiments. It's one of those issues that liberal and conservative-minded people might find themselves agreeing on. I agree, ghharr, this may not be the best way to go about it.

Then there's the culinary entertainment industry, which is international and, I would say, is promoting the use of fresh local market ingredients and might subtly undermine U.S. codes in favor of taste, art, and multicultural traditions (which often include rawer forms or forms perceived by modern thinking to be "dangerous"). Or maybe this is just my hopeful thinking on my part.

Personally, I believe that food is overregulated, and that overregulation is an indicator of the low quality products we are regulating. As I said in a previous post, the idea is to grow unhealthy organisms, to then compensate with unhealthy drugs/hormones/pesticides, kill the food with extremes of heat that are not even supported by science, decreasing its nutritional value to humans...so you won't die from it. The message is "Food Is Dangerous."

I think that the pathogenic potential of food is supported more by unnatural agricultural practices, and more by the suppressed immune systems of the eater than a either/or reading of "has x microorganism" / "doesn't have x microorganism". Eating well and living well generates a healthy immune system. A person eating fresh local organic kale everyday, while they may technically ingest more bacteria (I don't believe they would), might receive an immune benefit from the food.

Doctors actually used to prescribe raw milk. Raw, healthy milk may be superior for immune system and the body, superior in enzymes and nutrients, but no one's doing research on that (I wonder why?). I wouldn't want any of the raw milk from a standard modern dairy farm, I can tell you. But I would buy it at my town's farmer's market where I can ask the farmer about his cows.

(My 88-year old grandma complained to me that, though she used to be able to curdle milk--that is, leaving milk off refrigeration and making yogurt by causing bacterial culture on purpose (!) from the natural bacteria found in it--like her mother and grandmother taught her, when she moved into the city she couldn't do it with the homogenized, pasteurized stuff from the store.)

I don't think local automatically makes it safer, but I think in general it can be tastier and healthier. I think food rarely "makes people sick." (Food that makes some people get sick is eaten by others who don't.) Food doesn't need to be "made safe". It needs to be well-produced, as naturally as possible. It's just food.

I don't think anyone's going to agree with me, that's not the point... I am trying to explain my point of view and point out that a lot of people might feel this way, too.
posted by Thinkmontgolfier at 3:21 PM on March 19, 2011 [8 favorites]


kill the food with extremes of heat that are not even supported by science, decreasing its nutritional value to humans.

You're referring, I take it, to the process known as "cooking"?
posted by Horace Rumpole at 3:26 PM on March 19, 2011


Cooking is one thing. This is another.
posted by Thinkmontgolfier at 3:44 PM on March 19, 2011


If your kids get sick and need medical treatment, will you expect government or your insurance to help pay for that? Would you be ok with being denied coverage because you've knowing taken a risk not covered by a policy, or would you expect the cost for your additional risk to be borne by everyone in the insurance pool?

***

I have to admit that I think this is a silly question for a bunch of reasons, but I'll try to give a variety of answers to it.

One, if it were up to me the U.S. would move to a single payer system modeled on Canadian Medicare. (I did a thesis on flaws in various national health care plans and while imperfect, I think it's the best one.)

Two, no, I don't expect health insurance premiums to borne the way car insurance premiums are (ie, more for sports cars), precisely because I believe in bodily autonomy. I don't want my husband's coworkers who drink like fish, smoke like chimneys, eat powdered sugar for breakfast, and only get exercise walking to their cars to pay more. I don't care if someone snorts crank or has unprotected sex with IV drug users, either. I am not interested in telling other people what to do. If it means our insurance premiums go up, am I thrilled? Not really, but I'd prefer a single payer system anyway. I'm not interested in becoming a nanny to save a few bucks on insurance premiums.

If we write laws specifically to make insurance companies happy, I think that's pretty fucking problematic, honestly.

And, like localroger suggested, yes, I absolutely extend bodily autonomy to taking drugs in any/every form. If you want to wash belladonna down with moonshine, as long as you know what you're doing, it's none of my business.
posted by Leta at 3:49 PM on March 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


This kind of thing only really works in a state like Maine. A guy I know makes his own sour cream. More than a few acquaintances have gone to completely uncooked food (including meat).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:58 PM on March 19, 2011


I'm in Michigan, and I make sour cream sometimes. My husband makes bacon.
posted by Leta at 4:02 PM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a farmwife who is torn on this issue. As pointed out above, small does not directly translate into ethical; think of puppy mills on some Amish farms, small money-making enterprises that can be run on the farm (as far as the Amish puppy breeders are concerned) but which animal welfare officials have found in violation of laws, and which many community members have found to be outrageous in their treatment of livestock. (Not food, of course, but a related point to consider.) Not everyone who grows food is going to be scrupulous in the absence of some sort of regulation, enforcement and penalties. Language like "sovereignty" is loaded, and there's something odd about hearing small-town Mainers talking about low-level secession, even in the (very smart, imho) cause of strengthening the local foodshed. My gut instinct is to agree that this is stunt law, and will be smacked down legally.

But the spirit of the thing appeals to me--increased employment locally, dollars staying in their communities, the opportunity for fresher food (in that it hasn't been reconstituted, stored, shipped and shelved), the direct link between the one who grows and the one who consumes, the reassuring knowledge that most of these farm families are also eating or putting by these same foods (and therefore must trust them--no guarantee of microbiological correctness, true, but Og didn't die when he ate that raspberry so it's an acceptable risk for me), reduced impact from transportation, the emphasis on *by hand, by people* in the age of manufacture by machines run by anonymous workers thousands of miles away. The *story* of local foodsheds is something to be reckoned with, and shouldn't be dismissed as catering only the preferences of rich foodies or liberatarians. That's a powerful narrative, and could help drive changes--however small--in eating and buying habits. More veggies for all! Eat a carrot and help your neighbor! It opens the possibility of legislation that addresses local, small-scale production of safe food in a way that makes compliance possible for the little guy.

In planning my gardens this year, I worry about waste and have this lovely daydream about a vegetable stand at the end of the driveway. As someone who will never answer to shareholders or employ anyone in such an undertaking or even make any money at it, I shake my head over the time and money that would be involved in researching and complying with federal/state/local regulations. I know my food is safe...but not everybody is me, and I do think there has to be some degree of external oversight. How much? How much in this age of microbiology and advanced medicine and insurance and litigiousness? I don't know. I don't have corporate lawyers to figure it out for me. If I'm being held to the same standards as agribusinesses that have millions of dollars, lobbyists in D.C. and huge legal resources, then I'm not sure it's worth it for me to even attempt to have a stand at all. So for now, I stick to canning and freezing in my own home kitchen and eating samples from each batch before giving any of it away to friends and family.

All the same...I'm going to whip up some of the Pioneer Woman's cinnamon rolls for my library's upcoming bake sale and take my chances on eating my neighbors' shoofly pie and red velvet cake. I don't know if that makes me sovereign, or safe, but it sure as hell makes me happy.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:05 PM on March 19, 2011 [8 favorites]


I think that the pathogenic potential of food is supported more by unnatural agricultural practices

***

Science confirms this. E. coli O157:H7 is a fairly new mutation of an ancient, harmless bacterium. It mutated under feedlot conditions.
posted by Leta at 4:05 PM on March 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


"If you want to wash belladonna down with moonshine, as long as you know what you're doing, it's none of my business."

… until you end up in the hospital, costing public money.

Look, I'm a fan of local production and food, but my philosophy regarding regulation is a lot looser than a lot of people's: I'm simultaneously in favor of regulations regarding food (and many other things) and the recognition that morality doesn't flow from the law, and breaking the law in an informed way. I support a more informal relation with the law.

I don't actually think that breaking the law is that big of a deal, especially with regard to unlicensed food in small production; I think that people who are worried about doing so are generally seeking formal sanction on their entrepreneurial adventures. But the probability of enforcement should reflect the risks involved — dangerous food poisoning is a high risk, low rate occurrence. Therefore, enforcement should generally be a low priority, but carry heavy penalties, because the infraction is most likely to be caught after the poisoning has occurred. The penalties should be sufficiently high to act as a caution for food producers — they should be assuming the risks that they promulgate.

But regulations don't really stop anyone from doing small-level artisinal production, regardless of Leta's anecdote. It just turns regular market goods into gray market goods (where the producer or seller could be punished, but not the consumer). That keeps batches low and keeps the responsibility for good action more firmly on the producer.

If the producer is making enough money to want a formal relationship with the general public market, they should invest in making sure that they comply with relevant regulations — regulations are more a barrier to expansion than production in the beginning (barring things with significant start-up costs, which necessitate a formal relationship). I have no doubt that Leta could sell her yogurt to friends if she wanted to — I've certainly bought unregulated dairy and produce products. But my sense from talking to people that produce these sorts of goods is that those who complain about regulation are generally seeking a higher class, a more luxury artisinal production mode, in order to capture a higher return on their investment. In which case, again, they should be prepared to deal with a more formal regulation schema.

I will admit that this is all heavily influenced by my experience with buying and selling pot, something ostensibly regulated but regularly available.
posted by klangklangston at 4:10 PM on March 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


But I am wary nowadays about anyone who screams unconstitutional at the drop of a hat. Seems like everyone is a constitutional lawyer nowadays.

Lately to me this all seems like a reaction to the otherness of the president of the last 2+ years.

there's something odd about hearing small-town Mainers talking about low-level secession

Yeah, recently the motif seems to be to throw off all government and all protections. Numerous people have noted that it seems to be an "I got mine, screw you" statement that extends in a number of ways. In my opinion more than a few people who have land, property and wealth are now freaking out about having to still participate in society as increasingly "society" looks like someone with brown skin.

It's not a completely novel thing, and the evidence is far from clear, but a lot of this certainly has that familiar xenophobic, regressive feel to me.

regulations don't really stop anyone from doing small-level artisinal production, regardless of Leta's anecdote.

That's what I thought as well.
posted by cashman at 4:15 PM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you want to wash belladonna down with moonshine, as long as you know what you're doing, it's none of my business.

It really isn't because those two aren't illegal. In detail, belladonna isn't controlled, and moonshine is ok as long as you're not trying to sell what you distill.
posted by telstar at 4:27 PM on March 19, 2011


Can local ordinances contradict federal laws?

Of course they can. But I'll leave it to you to guess who typically wins.
posted by b1tr0t at 4:28 PM on March 19, 2011


I, like Leta, am also a local, small-scale processor who uses local ingredients--so we buy, we employ, and sell locally. We also have found ourselves promoting and being promoted by other producers--its a community, really, and I do hope that eventually this results in a local food economy that is significantly independent.

Why this is thought of as "pretentious" by some, I don't know. The status quo system is really the historical anomaly, not the other way around. It also makes sense on macro-scale--the U.S. would be better off making its own food instead of importing from China.

I think its probably a good idea to have laws that demand inspected kitchens. Good sanitation is one thing, silly overregulation is another. Saying people can't buy a certain food or it cant be sold normally like everything else--in a grocery store, for example--because of a wrongly perceived danger, especially when the food is recognized culturally as being palatable, even traditional.

I want to echo the common sense that others have been saying: Surely its possible to have reasonable standards that could prevent, say, the listeria case? It seems to me that the cases of listeria are caused by basic failures of sanitation and food safety. Food safety classes are given free in our county. I think it makes sense to not require such basic training and inspections of food processing areas by county inspectors. I can't see how that could straight-jacket local food producers.

Luckily, in our town we have a rentable shared commercial kitchen. The regulations we have to follow, unless I'm mistaken, are effectively county controlled, not federal. Cooking temperature requirements, for example, are a little higher than FDA requirements. I'm not sure any of the standards we have to follow while making our product would change even if the federal gov't repealed all their regs.
posted by Thinkmontgolfier at 4:45 PM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's too bad that a reliable study on food safety probably can't be done. Correct me if I'm wrong. But: someone like me (a Southwesterner) who buys breakfast burritos out of someone's cooler, and someone who buys fancy locavore unpasteurized llama yogurt or whatever...our numbers are small. We usually (me:never) get sick from devouring unregulated food. And God knows how many potlucks we've gone to without getting sick. But the news reports food illness borne by Big Food, which is what most of us eat most of the time.

The money it takes to comply with Fed regs is part of what is at stake here, of course, aside from the philosophical or political problems have with Big Gummint.

But is there any way to determine how effective FDA regulations are, especially compared with all the tiny under-the-radar operations there are out there? I would not trust big corporations to act in my best interests regarding food safety or anything else, in general, given their historical record...but am I being naive in trusting the neighborhood burrito guy?
posted by kozad at 4:48 PM on March 19, 2011


I've never made anyone sick. But the outcomes don't matter in regs, only the process.


The regs exist precisely because of statistical outcomes. Yes, you don't wear your seatbelt and you've never had an accident so you've always been fine. The regs exist because of the impact of statistical processes.
posted by modernnomad at 4:48 PM on March 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


Many people will do whatever they can get away with, whether it's individuals or corporations.
posted by blue_beetle at 4:49 PM on March 19, 2011


Should read: "it makes sense to require such basic training and inspections"
posted by Thinkmontgolfier at 4:49 PM on March 19, 2011


From the Bangor Daily News: "Farmers expected to testify in favor of local food processing and sales bills".

"The bill to clarify the sale of raw milk is one of five bills relating to the sale and processing of local food that will be heard Tuesday, March 22, at public hearings before the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

The other four bills are LD 330, which centers on home-prepared food for sale; LD 363, which exempts certain food producers from the Maine bottle bill; LD 738, which refines the definition of a farm stand; and LD 922, a resolve to study and streamline the laws governing small slaughterhouses."
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:54 PM on March 19, 2011


I grew up drinking raw milk and eating lots of vegetables, fish, eggs and poultry from small producers who worked below the radar of food control. All of much higher quality than anything you'll get at a supermarket today. But - trading with these people required tons of skills on my grandmother's side. Finding the sound producers, and cooking the food correctly. She was a farmer, but bred horses, so most food-stuffs came from neighbours and friends.
Today, my gran hates food from food stalls or farmers markets, if she (at 90 and disabled) hasn't been with me "shopping". In her view, one has to know every single producer personally and well. Slowly, she is acknowledging that I have learnt from her, and it is OK. I know exactly what she means. Small producers can be as sloppy as big ones.
Most younger people have no idea what to look for when it comes to food quality. And even young professionals are sloppy when it comes to hygiene. I've cleaned up more than one professional kitchen before cooking there.
posted by mumimor at 5:01 PM on March 19, 2011


"If you want to wash belladonna down with moonshine, as long as you know what you're doing, it's none of my business."

… until you end up in the hospital, costing public money.

***

No, not even then. Look, it's NOT MY BUSINESS. I pay taxes, and it's still not my business. I want tax money to go to hospitals for the good of the country, for society, not so I can nitpick other people's health choices. Truly, I'll pay more in taxes to avoid going down that road. I don't want anyone to have that kind of responsibility for someone else, outside a parent/next of kin type scenario, be it a person, a corporation, or a government entity. Just no.

What you do with your body is not my business. Ever. At all.
posted by Leta at 5:08 PM on March 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


Just so I understand correctly, Leta, it sounds like you are completely against any regulations that affect anything a human can ingest. You would support the abolishment of the FDA no?
posted by ozomatli at 5:12 PM on March 19, 2011


Well said, Thinkmontgolfier.

It would be nice to see federal regulations change to accommodate local food markets like this, regardless of their socio-economic status. At the very least it should increase food diversity and provide more delicious stuff to much on.

It would also be very interesting to find a bunch of local issues like this and build a Republican platform on it, shifting them away from the religious issues and fear-mongering. But then I've always been partial to flying suidae.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:17 PM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


"You'd think we'd have learned by now that putting trust in the federal government to protect us isn't always the best idea. Corporations will always be more powerful. "

Not if we fund the government and give them power to regulate. We have a massive army. We tax every working adult. We distribute social security checks. The federal government is as powerful as we make it. This kind of thinking is like saying "There's nothing wrong with me, but I can't lift ten pounds right now, so I'll never be able to lift ten pounds."


"Eating well and living well generates a healthy immune system. "

...unless you're pregnant. Or a small child. Or you have an autoimmune disorder. Or you're on chemo. Or you're elderly. Or...
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:38 PM on March 19, 2011 [9 favorites]


Hah, I grew up and currently live in one of those towns.

I'm behind these local rules. Regulations meant for large-scale industry don't work for small farmers around here- they can't fucking afford to comply, anyway.

I get the feeling like some people on Metafilter don't understand what Maine is really about.
We can't keep on depending on tourists for income. It's degrading and humiliating, we hate them and at some point, it's going to stop working. We need to keep local farms going, be using land to produce stuff instead of having fucking summer homes built on it.

My mom walked down the road to buy a dozen eggs today. These rules work because in towns like mine, you know everybody, including your farmers.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:06 PM on March 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


Um, no, definitely not. Like I said upthread, I'm very much in favor of stringent labeling requirements (and I don't want other manufacturers, of, say durable rather than consumable goods, to be regulation-free either).

This is a problem of the progressive movement, pretty much from its inception. The original, turn of the 19th to 20th century progressives noted the squalor of tenements in rapidly urbanizing, industrializing America and thought, "Hrm, maybe these babies are dying because of inadequate food. Maybe this child is out breaking windows because his mother won't let him in the apartment because she is employed as prostitute and is entertaining johns." These were valid observations, and the laws that came to pass out of them were of noble intent. But the thing is, making prostitution illegal didn't make it stop. Making raw milk illegal didn't stop city dairies from feeding cows brewery slop that made them sick and produced substandard, disease ridden milk. These laws did not address root problems- they played into the understandable fallacy that making something illegal makes it go away, or, worse yet, "sets an example" that people ought not to do a certain thing.

What I'm saying is that I don't want to have decisions made for me. If I work as a prostitute, regulate me and tax me, sure, but don't tell me that I can't do that work, or that I am incapable of doing that work and being an adequate parent. Don't disallow me from making an informed decision to purchase the kind of food I'd like to eat, or for that matter, grow. We can make the argument that what the government is regulating is not food, but, in fact commerce, and I can get down with that, too. But you have to have food to live, and most of us have to buy food. If I can't choose my fuel for living, my bodily autonomy is compromised, and I think good government has a responsibility to not limit those freedoms more than strictly necessary.

Look, someone pointed out that lots of folks are immunocompromised for one reason or another, and that's true. But should we force the entire food supply to be irradiated for that minority of people? Can't we just label what is or isn't sterilized? Lots of people have food allergies to all kinds of stuff. And we changed food labels to clearly and unambiguously let people know if their food contains common allergens. Which is great! A lifesaving, wonderful change that manages to respect the bodily autonomy of everyone who isn't allergic. There's no need to remove peanuts, eggs, and shellfish from the entire food supply, compromise that protects everyone is possible.
posted by Leta at 6:17 PM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Such a timely thread. I just put in (probably) too many tomato plants, if they all bear a decent amount, I'll be swamped. Unless I learn how to can them, I'll be fobbing them off on coworkers--of course it would be nice to sell them.

On the other hand, my mother-in-law just got 25 chickens (the smallest number she could order) and I'm thinking she's going to be equally swamped in eggs once they start laying.
posted by emjaybee at 6:22 PM on March 19, 2011


Local / small farmer != ethical / safe farmer.

Like my sheep-farmer neighbor, who recently had an illegal coyote or bobcat trap out that was illegally baited with a hawk wing.

my mother-in-law just got 25 chickens . . . I'm thinking she's going to be equally swamped in eggs once they start laying.

In a few months, she'll get 20 to 25 eggs each day.
posted by Camofrog at 6:37 PM on March 19, 2011


I'm behind these local rules. Regulations meant for large-scale industry don't work for small farmers around here- they can't fucking afford to comply, anyway.

I understand all this. And, I understand that passing these rules are the only direct action that can be taken locally. I just don't think that in the long run it is the best thing for our country to allow local jurisdictions to outlaw federal law. I like the specifics in this case, but would like them less if a small town in the south outlawed inter-racial marriage or a county in the mid-west made firing legal on the basis that the individual's sexual preference.

As I said above. I agree the problem is real, but this isn't the solution. Unfortunately, the real solution is to get regulations in place that work for small producers as well as large, or even encourage local production. In the meantime, at least I hope this brings attention to the issue as it is being struck down.
posted by meinvt at 6:43 PM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Look, someone pointed out that lots of folks are immunocompromised for one reason or another, and that's true. But should we force the entire food supply to be irradiated for that minority of people?"

No, and no one is saying that. But it is a societal good for almost everyone to be able to eat everything in a grocery store. The FDA doesn't go around wantonly fining and arresting people who sell yogurt to their friends, so if you know people who want to buy/sell these products, go for it. Small artisanal raw-milk cheese and other food operations do exist so it's not a matter of only big agribusiness having the clout to sell food in the US. Should regulations be more lax? I don't know that they should.

There seems to be the idea here that smaller = better or that people won't poison their neighbors. Local, family-owned, or artisanal doesn't necessarily mean safe. In terms of local--[eople put their neighbors in danger all the time, either because they underestimate the risk, don't think they'll get caught, or don't realize that they're taking a risk at all. See: people talking on their cell phones while they're driving, or driving drunk, or speeding, or smoking in a bar, or any number of things.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:56 PM on March 19, 2011


moonshine is ok as long as you're not trying to sell what you distill.

Not so. In the US, possessing an unregistered still, using an unregistered still, and distilling at home are all illegal, even for personal consumption. 26 USC 5601(a)(1), 5601(a)(6), and 5601(a)(8).
posted by jedicus at 6:57 PM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thanks, jedicus. My 7-y.-o. asked me to explain "Copperhead Road" to him today. Now I can cite chapter as well as verse.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:00 PM on March 19, 2011


The FDA doesn't go around wantonly fining and arresting people who sell yogurt to their friends.

***

But state agencies do. If you want information about the dozens of these cases, I would suggest starting by reading this book. Many small farmers and producers have been put out of business by state governments, and it happens all over - PA, CA, NY, and throughout the midwest. These are not profligate people, most cannot afford a long legal battle, whatever the stereotype about "wealthy foodies" may be.
posted by Leta at 7:28 PM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


"What I'm saying is that I don't want to have decisions made for me. If I work as a prostitute, regulate me and tax me, sure, but don't tell me that I can't do that work, or that I am incapable of doing that work and being an adequate parent."

But these regulations are killing local prostitution!
posted by klangklangston at 7:34 PM on March 19, 2011


Also, I am less than impressed with the young rope rider's and klangklangston's suggestion that I (or anybody) should just defy the law and do [X] anyway. I think that suggestion cleanly misses the point of this thread.

I also think the implications of this notion of, "oh, that law doesn't really apply to you" are bad for our legal system and democracy in general. Yeah, people sell dope, even though it's illegal in most places, but I went ahead and voted in favor of legalizing medical marijuana in my state, because I think it's important that smokers, particularly sick ones, aren't criminalized. The difference with food is that people just get fined out of a livelihood, rather than thrown in the can for ages, but I think both those scenarios suck.
posted by Leta at 7:37 PM on March 19, 2011


How long can a human survive on nothing but potatoes and maple butter?
posted by zippy at 8:05 PM on March 19, 2011


Comparing prostitution with selling food is a really bad comparison for many reasons, by the way.

I don't think that it's horrible to risk being fined for unsafe practices, but I'll have to read more on enforcement and state agencies as linked above. From my minor research into cases like the Estrella one mentioned above, the FDA is actually rather cooperative, veering into lax.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:09 PM on March 19, 2011


The FDA doesn't go around wantonly fining and arresting people who sell yogurt to their friends.

Um, I buy raw milk yogurt from a local farmer and we have to meet in shady places like he's a drug dealer. I don't even think I'm supposed to be writing about this online. The odds of us getting shut down if I mention his name or business are quite high. It's happened before.
posted by melissam at 8:13 PM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is there a threshold beyond which a small producer ceases to be a small producer? Where does one draw that line? Is it based on number of animals or number of customers or dollars generated per month?

Yes, there are numeric limits for regulatory exemptions. In WA, for example, there are three classes of poultry processing license, <1>20,000. That's just off the top of my head. In the case of the 1000 bird license, a food processing facility is not required. This means that such dramatic processing technologies as "freezing" are prohibited.

In the case of Organic certification, a farm doesn't need to be certified to claim their product is Organic (note caps) if their annual gross is less the $5,000.

There are also a lot of exemptions that require the end consumer to travel to the farm to pick up the product. Presumably, this has two effects. The first being that the consumer will at least be able to eyeball the operation. The second is that the barrier to entry is such that the consumer has to jump few a few extra hoops to buy a product with a higher potential for danger. I doubt it's intentional, but if I have to go out of my way to drink raw milk, I'm more likely to be educated on the risks thereof.

When does, for example, a goat farm cross over from being your friend down the road from whom you're buying a bit of extra product and into being a commercial venture which requires greater level of scrutiny?

Amusingly, when discussing whether to continue our commercial venture (permits, licenses, llc and all) this season, we pretty much realized that we couldn't tell the difference between our commercial customers and our friends and neighbors. That one of our customers offered to donate a ton of feed to us as part of her charitable giving for the year made it even harder to tell the difference.

emjaybee: I haven't heard of anything regulating the sale of fresh produce like you describe. Of course, I've no information about your local regulations, but I'd suspect that on-farm sales of uninspected eggs are perfectly legal. The easiest way to find out is to call your local Extension agent and ask. They have no regulatory authority so you don't need to worry about them calling the FDA to report you and your violations.
posted by stet at 9:01 PM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


crackingdes
...Look into the ongoing controversy regarding tuna, for example. You'd think we'd have learned by now that putting trust in the federal government to protect us isn't always the best idea. Corporations will always be more powerful.


I disagree and I would really like to see you defend this statement. Because it seems like it's at the crux of your argument and, unless you've got a lot of evidence to back it up it, invalidates it. I will completely agree that having the federal government be the only thing protecting you from tainted food isn't a good thing. Which is why everyone should do their best to know where the food they're buying comes from and whether it was produced in an ethical way.

Saying corporations are more powerful than the federal government is a statement that sort of seems incomprehensible to me though. Unless you are saying that corporations should be more powerful than the federal government, which is something some people believe. They're complete fools for doing so, but fools are sort of a human constant so...
I just want to make sure you don't think that corporations will somehow protect you. They won't, they don't have any vested interest in doing so, and nobody yet has come up with a system that gives them any interest in doing so besides the big stick that is the federal government.
posted by Peztopiary at 9:58 PM on March 19, 2011


FWIW the recently passed federal food safety bill that led to a lot of the excitement about this issue (I saw numerous email chains on the topic myself) actually ended up with what appear to me to be pretty generous exceptions for small producers and those that sell directly to end users or local restaurants and the like.

A rundown of the exceptions for small producers:
The amendment exempts farmers who sell more than half of their product to consumers at the farm, a farm stand or farmers markets. Those farmers don't have to register with FDA. The law provides a less costly safety control alternative for farmers who sell more than half their products directly to consumers, stores or restaurants, and have under $500,000 in gross sales, and sell to consumers, stores, or restaurants within 275 miles.
posted by flug at 10:42 PM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


The trouble is, the right answer would be to somehow give small producers as much influence with the FDA and other regulatory agencies that the big boys have.

Working for one of the big boys (in the pharma sector) I have to ask what influence you think the big boys have? I've seen things that a small company took through phase I with an analytical package that made me cringe and FDA blessing. I'm pretty sure they partnered with us when the FDA balked at their phase II plans.

If you have a couple research campuses and 50 potential products in your pipeline and you're not all going to retire young an rich if you one product makes it to market, you kind of have a vested interest in not pissing off the regulators.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:40 PM on March 19, 2011


That's not to say a big company can't come down with a bad case of people who fail to grasp the big picture.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:41 PM on March 19, 2011


I wrote: ...Look into the ongoing controversy regarding tuna, for example. You'd think we'd have learned by now that putting trust in the federal government to protect us isn't always the best idea. Corporations will always be more powerful.

Peztopiary writes: I disagree and I would really like to see you defend this statement. Because it seems like it's at the crux of your argument and, unless you've got a lot of evidence to back it up it, invalidates it. I will completely agree that having the federal government be the only thing protecting you from tainted food isn't a good thing. Which is why everyone should do their best to know where the food they're buying comes from and whether it was produced in an ethical way.


peztopiary, I realize that that last statement about corporations is a sweeping generalization. Perhaps I should have added the caveat "under our current political system and international power structure." And it's a subjective statement of my impression, based on what I'm observing about the world; it's not something I can back up with a cite. You're obviously welcome to disagree. But right now I observe things like Monsanto introducing risky GMO products into the ecosystem that are threatening naturally-bred crops that have been in development for generations; unproven & possibly dangerous drilling for natural gas in southeast; an enormous oil spill in the gulf that is damaging the ecosystem and the livelihoods of untold fisherman and every day people; watersheds that were public property being privatized for profit (not just in the US but all over the world); major department stores and retailers that still sell clothes produced by young women and teenagers overseas in obscene and filthy conditions; and a high unemployment rate and endless struggle for middle class americans while the wall street fraudsters who created the recession are making more money than ever. These are things that I think the federal government should have protected us from; these are the kind of things that I believe regulatory structures are meant to stop. So I don't think those regulatory structures are going to work unless something major can change. Obviously it's something MORE major than putting that new guy into office, because we tried that already.

However, after reading your comment, I don't think we really disagree. I definitely don't think corporations SHOULD be more powerful than the federal government. And I definitely don't think corporations have any vested interest in protecting me. The crux of my argument is the same as what you wrote here:

I will completely agree that having the federal government be the only thing protecting you from tainted food isn't a good thing. Which is why everyone should do their best to know where the food they're buying comes from and whether it was produced in an ethical way.

Except basically I feel that the federal government is failing in protecting us from tainted food. Maybe there aren't fish hooks showing up in our tuna cans or human finger bones in our ground beef, but the commercial food system is tainting the world in a broader sense, whether through feedlot ground water pollution, over fishing, cereal crop subsidies, GMO experimentation, and a host of lab-created ingredients in our food that may not kill us but may not be good for us either. And I feel that having the security blanket of the FDA is keeping a lot of people lulled into a false sense of safety about their food. Meanwhile, for those who are curious, the system is designed to be opaque; they aren't meant to go to the factory farm and see what's really happening; they aren't supposed to know the Chinese farmer who grows their apples; it's all happening somewhere else.

Local food puts the onus back on the consumer to know what's in their food, but more importantly it gives them the ABILITY to know what's in their food.

As to corporations, most of them I would prefer not to support at all. The ones I do support, it's because I feel like I know enough about them, their practies and their goals that I think they're on the right track.

Idealistically, I imagine a future in which corporations WILL have a vested interest in protecting people, because people will take responsibility for holding them accountable and will vote with their dollars; I imagine a kind of "consumer wiki" culture where enough people across the globe contribute to keeping tabs on a company's social utility that companies live or die based on their cloud-based reputation. I like to think that this historical period right now is a global stutter, the rough and choppy transition while the global power of the masses is catching up to the global power of the corporation.

Of course, this is likely just naive fantasy, so in the meantime, I want the option of supporting small local producers I can keep tabs on, instead of the corporations I don't like.
posted by crackingdes at 7:16 AM on March 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


there's something odd about hearing small-town Mainers talking about low-level secession

What?! I admit, I haven't heard many Mainers express semi-serious desires to blow up the Piscataqua River Bridge much in the past decade or so (due in part to the "two Maines" phenomenon perhaps - it wouldn't be enough to cut them off at the bridge anymore)....
posted by eviemath at 8:32 AM on March 20, 2011


Doesn't food safety regulation take place at all levels: federal, state and local? There are many complaints about regulatory hurdles here, but hardly any concrete examples with citations. I have an anecdote as well: in my area local stores resell food made in home kitchens all the time. Here, it's impossible to tell if we are talking about a few specific foods or all of them, or even who the regulator is.
posted by cheburashka at 9:30 AM on March 20, 2011


Mayor Curley: And then a good chunk of them will work on their merely sponged-down kitchen counters, and make their goods when they have the time and inclination even if they have a cough or diarrhea. No thanks.

I see you've not once in your life eaten at a restaurant. You, my friend, are a very rare breed, indeed.
posted by hangingbyathread at 9:50 AM on March 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


a farmer growing grain on his own farm for his own use. The federal government argued they could regulate this, as it affected the national market for grain. The Court agreed.

And it doesn't make the decision correct then or now.

Another symptom of the breakdown in trust of the government. Not a good trend.

Consider "governments" that plan things like Operation Northwoods, The Black Panther coloring book, the Czar funding Lenin, Faking Poland attacking your government, putting weapon shipments on a cruise ship - then complaining when it gets sunk, dressing up as another nations people and attempting to bomb a 3rd country, et la. (Hint: not every one of that list was a US government action - people in Government using the color of authority to act like an ass is not unique to the US of A )

"The Government", be it yours or theirs, have a history of "fibbing". So why should citizens trust 'em? Even the US Supreme Court is on record that if you are told something by a Government employee you need to confirm the veracity of what you have been told.

If you have an interest in reversing the trend, there are efforts like the Sunshine Foundation or the stalled whisleblower act are examples to attempt to effect change VS 'oh noze! The guvernmet isn't being believed! That is doubleplus ungood!'

If these laws are really unconstitutional, as the first link claims, challenge them in court.

One can't challenge them unless one has standing. What happens to your "standing" if, in the middle of a challenge, "the government" decided to drop their prosecution? I believe at that moment there becomes no controversy before the court and the "standing" goes away. So if, at any time, "standing" to challenge can go away by the party who has the unconstitutional law can go 'Meh, this is boring. We shall now ignore you...this time' - exactly how is your proposed solution gonna work?

Federal food regulations are one of the reasons why we have a relatively safe food supply -- The Jungle wasn't a fantasy novel.

And most of the outbreaks have come from violations of the existing rules/laws.
So why do we need S 3767 if all the rules and regs in place are not enforced?

we only have 3 days supply of food available at any time. ... I would guess between all the stores that stock food in the area in canned goods alone there's enough to keep people going for at least a few weeks if not a month or two.

Toyko in the now has empty shelves in some locations.
England had empty shelfs in 3 days in spots during the petrol price strike back at the start of the 21st Century.

The simplist test of your theory would be to watch how often the local stores get cans delivered. I'm guessing more than once a week.

moonshine is ok as long as you're not trying to sell what you distill.

The taxing of distilled spirits is a no-go unless you have Government sanction.
This topic can be argued as one of the 1st protected by government markets and the result being the 1st rebellion of citizens VS the government.
posted by rough ashlar at 10:40 AM on March 20, 2011


I think Leta is making a lot of sense. And I'm not sure I don't believe in what ozomatli textualized as:

"completely against any regulations that affect anything a human can ingest. You would support the abolishment of the FDA no?"

I might agree with that 90%, with Leta's qualifications of having clear labelling and information so people know what they buy. The whole idea of a democracy is that people have the freedom to choose, that they have the intelligence to make choices--that, in fact, it's better to let them do so even if we think some aren't acting wisely. Of course, I'm libertarian in my beliefs; I'm less inclined to think of every casualty in the world as an indicator of a national problem that the government needs to solve. Anyway, it's something to think about.

So the question is: Is the FDA juggernaut exactly what we would expect from a system that assumes people cannot and are not smart enough to make their own food choices?

And: Has this ideology actually made us stupider about food and diet?

I would say yes to both. The FDA can be unscientific, is bound to the interests of big corps, sometimes arbitrary and usually untransparent. Some would say inconsistent. And they dumb at least some information down in order to get us to act the way they believe is best, instead of telling the complete truth about food safety & nutrition.

I think we are so used to the idea of certain limits to freedom that we don't question them. The idea of freedom is not, Will we be as safe or safer with it? Freedom is the starting point. Then the question is, is it right and necessary to limit it? We get so used to the limits, though, and in time we are scared to get rid of them. It can be the same as overprotecting children which, in the long run, does more harm than good.

I'm not sure where I stand with all of this--alot of the people on this know more than I about the issues. But I don't care what people ingest (food or drugs or otherwise), like Leta, and I'm not worried about the public cost--insurance and the like. I'd rather pay and everyone enjoy the freedom.
posted by Thinkmontgolfier at 5:06 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's not just the FDA, it's also the USDA that regulates food. And I don't believe the FDA or the USDA makes us stupider about food and diet, the companies who produce it do, since they have a financial interest in our ignorance and spend beaucoup dollars to "educate" us on food they wish to sell us. They can sell us what they find most profitable if we are sufficiently uninformed. The FDA and USDA basically don't want people being poisoned by the food they buy because it makes them look bad. They are not invested in nutrition, per se, although they do dabble in it.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:02 PM on March 20, 2011


Doesn't food safety regulation take place at all levels: federal, state and local?

Yes. Federal regulations are most important when the product is going to cross state lines. And my state agency declines to complain about some violations of federal regulation if a facility is compliant with state regulations. At the local level, inspectors in our state are given broad discretion over the interpretation of the regulations.

There are many complaints about regulatory hurdles here, but hardly any concrete examples with citations.

Here are the regulations for small farms in the state of Washington.

My friend with the licensed raw milk dairy reports that our inspector two-years ago (who had a reputation as a hardass and a stickler for rules) was incredibly helpful in designing her facility. I found him very helpful when we worked with him.

As for hurdles, I asked the aforementioned hardass inspector about using lactic acid as a bleach substitute citing a published study demonstrating it to be a much more effective sanitizing agent than bleach. He said, basically, "Can't be done. Rules is rules. Besides, I only sanitize with vinegar at home because that's what works the best." Hurdle? Maybe, but it's a regulatory hiccup.

Oh, and the same inspector had a real problem with the fact that our license is for on-farm slaughter only and, as it happened, we were farming three parcels that year and had our birds on a parcel without water and need to truck them (never again!) a couple of miles to the parcel with our house and running water. His boss agreed with us that, being as we had two registered places of business associate with our llc, we're fine. The next season, when I was saying hi to him after he presented at our poultry co-op, he told me that they'd spent all winter arguing about it but the official interpretation is now that moving between parcels is kosher. Had he and his office not signed off on moving the birds last year, my hurdle would have been transporting about 500 gallons of potable water from a tested source to the dry site and figuring out how to pump it.

Last years inspector was new to the job, which was an interesting experience. She required me to replace some of my hoses with new ones with an official NSF stamp on them. Exact same material in the hoses, it's just she needed the stamp. Likewise, I had to replace a chill tank with one labeled food safe.

Interestingly, the state requires a calibratable thermometer which my NSF-rated digital thermometers are not. My workaround on this is sticking crappy grocery store thermometers that don't work for shit and aren't NSF for regulatory compliance and then checking for reals with my NSF thermometer. I pointed out that this is kind of dumb and she rolled her eyes and replied, basically, "Rules is rules."

These are concrete examples, mostly from firsthand experience. Whether you consider me to be a citation is up to you. Pseudonymous posters on the internets have been known to be wrong or to make things up.

While I've previously only visited state-licensed slaughterhouses in the past, I'll be touring a USDA-licensed slaughterhouse (mobile!) later this week while the line is running. If what I've already seen personally is indicative, most the the rules will really well thought out and reasonable. And there'll be a tiny percentage of them that are kind of dumb.

I have an anecdote as well: in my area local stores resell food made in home kitchens all the time.

Why would you assume that a kitchen in someone's home can't be licensed?

Here, it's impossible to tell if we are talking about a few specific foods or all of them, or even who the regulator is.

Poke around your state's department of agriculture website for a while. Or give them a call. This should be very easy information to obtain. I've no interest in marketing across state lines so I can't provide you with as much information about federal regulations.
posted by stet at 10:18 PM on March 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Very interesting, stet. It sounds like things in WA are extremely different than they are in MI. For example, there is no explicitly legal way to buy raw milk here. It's just not allowed, even as pet food or a cosmetic. The legal work around is that I own part of a herd of goats that reside on my friend's farm, and instead of paying her for the milk, I pay her for boarding and feeding my goats.

I am happy that my friend is legally protected in this capacity, but frankly, I don't think it's enough for the milk to be a gray market good. I think she should be able to hang a shingle out at her driveway and advertise and make some money. And, for this ability to conduct commerce, I know that both she and I would be perfectly comfortable with the kind of regulation and inspection that you describe.

The kind of inspector you describe is a far cry from this kind of situation. (Yes, they were crossing state lines and that was stupid of them. But I think the governmental response was out of proportion, regardless.)

There are also all kinds of stories about, for example, New York state, which ostensibly permits raw milk dairies, but did not actually certify a single one until legally forced to. And milk is truly the tip of the iceberg. Obviously, states are allowed to regulate within their borders, but since local eating and food rights appear to be a nationwide movement, I think that it will be interesting watch places like these little Maine towns try to cope with the overlapping patchwork of state and federal rules.
posted by Leta at 5:20 AM on March 21, 2011


But regulations don't really stop anyone from doing small-level artisinal production, regardless of Leta's anecdote. It just turns regular market goods into gray market goods (where the producer or seller could be punished, but not the consumer).

The FDA doesn't go around wantonly fining and arresting people who sell yogurt to their friends...


The FDA came to my house, seized, and destroyed two gallons of raw milk that I had purchased for my own use. I live very near the Georgia-South Carolina state line. This was milk that I had legally purchased from a dairy in South Carolina, licensed Grade A by both the USDA and the state of South Carolina. It is not illegal in Georgia to possess raw milk. However, the FDA claimed (on camera) that it is a federal crime for me to cross state lines to bring the milk to my home. I was a consumer, and they came to my house and seized my property without any compensation (or warrant, for that matter). Consequently, a year ago I sued the FDA. They argued in pre-trial motions that I didn't have standing (a common tactic, as someone else above mentioned), but thanks to the video evidence, I was granted standing and the trial is ongoing.

As for regulations not stopping anyone from doing small-level production, I have to turn people away from selling at the farmers market I run every week because they don't have some little license or another. There were two just this morning. One was a woman I've known for years who started more tomato seedlings than she can use in a tray on her windowsill (the minimum license to sell a single live plant costs $75). The other was a woman who makes noodles for her family, and wanted to double her recipe and sell the excess to help reduce her own food bill. To sell five pounds of pasta, she needs a certified and inspected restaurant kitchen as well as a license that costs several hundred dollars. Both women went away discouraged. This happens week in, week out. Maybe a few of them go to the grey market, but most just give up.

I wish I just turn a blind eye to absurd things like ten tomato plants sold without a license, but the state has made it clear to me that if a vendor is breaking the rules at a market I manage, than I can be held as legally responsible as they are. So there we have examples of the producer, the customer, and anyone who introduces the two can be punished for not following the letter of the law.
posted by ewagoner at 12:37 PM on March 21, 2011 [8 favorites]


So there we have examples of the producer, the customer, and anyone who introduces the two can be punished for not following the letter of the law.

But then again, not following the law punishes others. For example, kids can die of E. coli.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:21 PM on March 21, 2011


Mental Whip, the milk purchased in the article you linked to was bought and sold legally under the laws of Minnesota. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find a death from e coli, kid or adult, where the product was bought or sold illegally. Are you saying our current rules aren't good enough, that they need to be stronger, and that there should be no exceptions, period?

(Here's a good analysis of the Hartmann Dairy case.)
posted by ewagoner at 1:32 PM on March 21, 2011


ewagoner, do you have links about your FDA case? I'd love to read about it.

As had been stated already, e. coli mutated into a dangerous bacterium under feedlot conditions. Harmless e. coli lives in your intestinal tract. (If you are reading this, you must be a mammal... right?)

And at this point, when e. coli has gotten on spinach, what is safe? If you can't eat raw spinach, you can't eat raw anything. So we just need to irradiate all food? What about people like me, who really do not want to eat irradiated food? Do my rights matter at all? Or do you just get to decide for me what I'm allowed to put in my body?

The point is not that all regulations are bad, the point is that these regulations did not exist for food, primarily because they didn't need to, until the industrialization of the food supply divorced people from where their food came from. Most small producers eat what they make, and sickening your children/friends/neighbors/self is a powerful disincentive to be sloppy. A very tiny number of people get sick from food produced in home kitchens.

Have you ever eaten fried chicken from a grocery store's hot case? Or a sandwich from a deli? They aren't health department inspected. They are USDA inspected, and the USDA is so short on inspectors that they have a hard time meeting their once every five years inspection guideline.

The kind of food that is least likely to give you food borne illness is the exact kind of food that we don't need to be eating- stuff that is starchy and loaded with shelf stable trans fats and preservatives (including sugar and/or salt). In this way, I'll take the risk; I'd rather accept the tiny chance of my diet killing me fast than the huge chance that a diet of potato chips and lollipops killing me slow.

People get sick all the time from restaurants and other inspected food producers and preparers. No amount of regulation or inspection can eliminate all food borne illness. Honestly, as person who did her undergrad in public health, I think that the jury is still out on whether or not our current regulations even do an adequate job of minimizing food borne illness- if we really want to eliminate e. coli and other antibiotic resistant bacteria, regulations aren't going to do it. We need to stop subsidizing corn, which will make it cost prohibitive to run a feedlot, which will eliminate, or at least vastly reduce the problem.

The food problem runs really deep throughout our regulatory system. If I want to avoid commerce because I think most of the food that can be bought is not very healthy, I have to grow my own. In most places, that means I'm limited to a virtually vegan diet because I can't own any livestock at all. There are even cases of local government fining people for farms that don't involve animals at all.

I really don't think that suggesting a serious reassessment of our regulatory system is any more radical than ignoring the law or suggesting that anyone who cares about their diet moves out of the city and onto a farm.
posted by Leta at 1:36 PM on March 22, 2011


Well, FWIW, I'm back from my visit to the slaughterhouse/trailer. The best part is definitely the photo I got of blood spatter across the government plates and very, very white hood of the USDA inspector's very, very clean car.

When my brain is less tired, I'll relate some more substantive details.

Metafilter's own thread on ewagoner's FDA adventures.
posted by stet at 11:30 PM on March 22, 2011


Are you saying our current rules aren't good enough,

I'm just saying that unpasteurized milk is dangerous. The idea that there was a marvelous time in the past before food safety laws when food was safe is nonsense. Pasteurization came about because raw milk is dangerous. Full stop.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:59 AM on March 23, 2011


No. Raw milk is not dangerous. This is why we let our most vulnerable breastfeed. It's kind of what we, as mammals, do.

Improperly handled or contaminated milk is dangerous. The fact that heifers and does have udders with a tendency to drag in shit and that the milk from said udders needs to be packaged and transported far beyond the originating orifice vastly (astronomically?) increases the risk of contamination and the danger of consuming the milk.

Pasteurization came about to mitigate the contaminants in milk, not because milk itself is dangerous.

That proper handling and, yes, regulation are needed to keep milk safe is true. Whether proper handling as (hopefully) mandated by well-written and thoroughly enforced regulation requires pasteurization is up for debate. Beef carpaccio is legal and, if served in a restaurant, a disclaimer on the menu is required. No-one is going to stop you from consuming raw beef on your own, despite the obvious dangers thereof. And from what I've seen personally, legal raw milk is a lot less likely than beef to be contaminated with fecal matter.

Raw milk is not inherently a hazardous material and I fully support the right of informed adults to make their own conclusions. Personally, I'm not fully convinced that permitting sales of a potentially less safe product is all groovy. OTOH, we soak our chicken in bleach so that ship has pretty much sailed.
posted by stet at 11:44 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


New Jersey Assembly passes bill to legalize raw milk sale at farms. It's for on-farm pickup only, no retail.
The legislation lays out specific standards for the raw milk producers to follow and mandates testing every other month by a state-approved independent lab. State officials would also have to conduct health tests on the cows used to produce raw milk.
Also, it's on-farm pickup only, not retail or farmers' markets.
posted by stet at 3:29 PM on March 23, 2011


Pasteurization came about to mitigate the contaminants in milk, not because milk itself is dangerous.

"Guns don't kill people, people do."
posted by Mental Wimp at 7:36 PM on March 23, 2011


You are absolutely right. There are no circumstances under which a mammal should ever consume deadly, deadly milk without pasteurization.
posted by stet at 8:04 PM on March 23, 2011


You are absolutely right. There are no circumstances under which a mammal should ever consume deadly, deadly milk without pasteurization.

Yep, that's a pretty fair paraphrase of what I said. Why don't we go with that?
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:27 AM on March 24, 2011


Mental Wimp, no one wants you to buy or drink raw milk (even though it's less dangerous than salumi). You should only buy the food you want. I fully support your right to buy and consume pasteurized milk, irradiated vegetables, and saline plumped chicken. I am in no way being sarcastic.

All I'm saying is that I want the right to purchase unpasteurized dairy, truly raw veggies, and meat that is not produced or processed under industrialized conditions.

Can anyone explain to me why Mental Wimp's right to his/her preferences are legally protected, but mine aren't? Not just a "rules is rules" explanation, or a "corporate politics" explanation, but a real, logical explanation?
posted by Leta at 11:02 AM on March 25, 2011


Like it or not, there are risks and costs to people other than you associated with the consumption of tainted food. Here are three:

1. If you have a food-vector illness, you become a resevoir for that illness yourself, at least until you are cured. this increases the risks to everyone who comes in contact with you or with milk that you have been in contact with.

2. As a sick individual you impose costs for that sickness on others: you use healthcare resources, you expend public coverage (in my country) or private insurance (pooled from many individuals) to cover your treatment. Society loses your productivity as well when you are sick.

3. Perhaps most undesirable to you, the choices you make for your children may not be considered wise by those who have to make policy for the general public. Drinking raw milk is riskier in general than drinking pasturized. Fewer sick kids and elderly folk is seen as a public health good. This choice has been made because bad or sloppy producers can hurt a lot of people. Some of these bad and sloppy producers have stands at the local farmers' markets. Regulations like these keep people from being hurt by producers they don't know very well.

My mother was involved in food inspection for many years. They had chronic problems with small, individual producers cutting corners. The industrial dairies generally produced much, much safer milk products (cheeses mostly). A regulated industry means that you can buy from a farmers' market and be farily certain that you or your family are not going to get sick. Everyone doesn't need to be a food safety expert.

Another non-monetrary problem with your approach in general is that individual, intimate producer-consumer relationships don't scale. The population of a metropolitan area the size of NY or LA or Atlanta could not manage to sustain the personal relationships you have with your provider for everyone who wants milk or cheese. There simply aren't enough farmers. Some level of industrial agriculture is necessary, and that means food safety mechanisms are required.

That said, that doesn't mean I don't agree with at least some of your arguments. I do think there needs to be space for artisinal craft production. I have a brother-in-law who is a dairy farmer and regularly make fresh cheeses with his surplus milk. He's quite scrupulous with milk safety, but even so we do pasturize for the fresh cheese. For the 60 day+ cheeses, we don't. I'm quite uncomfortable with the thought of giving unpasturized fresh cow-milk feta to my b-i-l's four year old. I don't want her in hospital because there was a fleck of cow shit in the milk.

Under law where we live, we're not allowed to sell our cheese without getting the full inspection deal, but we can make for ourselves. Farmers can drink the milk they produce, but not sell it off the farm, except to a regulated dairy. That's a compromise I can live with.
posted by bonehead at 12:02 PM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thanks, bonehead. Well said.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:56 PM on March 25, 2011


Bonehead, I can live with compromise, too, and ideally, that's what I'd like to see- as I said, I don't want to see large corporations unregulated.

But all your arguments are not news to me- I have a bachelor's degree in public health and my husband teaches ServSafe classes. I know more, probably a lot more, about chain of disease and food borne illness than the average person.

This may well be unique to my school, but we learned humility in my program. We learned that all we could do was to present information in an understandable way, offer the resources to assist in positive behavior change, and trust the client to make the best decision that they could. We learned how to not be authoritarian. We learned that the best defense to bad ideas is not censorship; it's better ideas.

I have a strong desire to promote public health, but I am not at all willing to take away individual freedoms in order to do that. The best analogy I have is population. Overpopulation is problem. The answer is NOT China's one child policy, which takes away reproductive freedoms and women's rights. The answer isn't less freedom, it's more: more contraceptives available, more reproductive services and education, more opportunities for women. In every single place where these options become available, the birth rate drops to replacement levels or below, and quickly, within a generation or two. Most people make personal decisions that benefit themselves AND others when given the opportunity. This is a fact that the brief history of public health bears out over and over again.

Not to mention, there isn't consistent scientific accuracy on many of these food issues. Raw milk is the most obvious one- raw milk research is like marijuana research. Follow the funding and your conclusion is determined before the research even started.
posted by Leta at 6:54 PM on March 25, 2011


I am making the "we ought not to limit bodily autonomy" argument in three simultaneous threads right now- about food, abortion, and drugs. I guess someone needs to post about assisted suicide and prostitution and I'll have all the bases covered.

It's a little funny to me that there is the most resistance to this particular facet of the bodily autonomy argument. Weird, too, that there's any resistance to it on MeFi, where pretty much everybody is left leaning.
posted by Leta at 7:04 PM on March 25, 2011


This isn't just body autonomy, a personal choice that has no ramifications for others. Your choice to engage in risky behaviour affects not just you, but other around you, both directly for their own health and economically.

Your "right" to choose risk ends, in my view, when your choice pushes those risks and costs onto other people. They've lost autonomy by your choice: you're making a decision that affects others, not just yourself or your family.
posted by bonehead at 8:00 PM on March 25, 2011


Yeah, we have a fundamental disagreement then, I'm afraid.

We have to share this world with other people, and I respect their rights to self determination, even if it means that I might have to pay higher taxes or insurance premiums. Virtually all our choices have ramifications for others; we are a social species.

The further this goes, the more it looks like the abortion threads.
posted by Leta at 8:43 AM on March 26, 2011


I don't think your bodily autonomy argument holds up, Leta. No one is criminalizing or preventing an individual from ingesting raw milk products if they wish. What is being regulated is the commercial selling of those products to other individuals. This is where your analogy to abortion most obviously. Regulating abortion is indeed a matter of regulating a woman's right to do what she wishes with her body, because of the impact upon her body/life if she does not have that right. But comparing it to the right of a farmer to sell a particular kind of dairy product seems silly.

You can argue for a commercial freedom (fair enough -- I disagree for the reason's bonehead outlines and what I mentioned myself earlier in the thread), but attempting to paint it as a 'bodily autonomy' argument I think falls flat.
posted by modernnomad at 9:24 AM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


modernnomad: "I don't think your bodily autonomy argument holds up, Leta. No one is criminalizing or preventing an individual from ingesting raw milk products if they wish."

Ah, but you see, by your logic it would be legal to perform an abortion on yourself, but not for a doctor to do it.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:53 AM on March 26, 2011


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