“Farmageddon”

(11 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Note: There is a Washington Post review on this movie that opens today in major cities. The positive review points out the government’s treatment of small farms and begins with a question “Why is it so easy to buy cigarettes but so difficult to purchase raw, unpasteurized milk?

Yesterday on the The Leonard Lopate Show there was a very disturbing interview. It was another story of government being in bed with big business, this time making our food unsafe in the process. Three people try to explain why the government is turning a blind eye to the large corporations that are making us sick while raiding small farms and food co-ops to address problems that don’t even exist.

The outbreaks of foodborne illnesses in recent years, the salmonella in peanut butter and E. coli in bagged spinach have led to concerns about the way the FDA has been enforcing its food safety regulations. Each of those outbreaks has been traced to a factory farm or large processing plants but small farmers who have had little connection to them are bearing the brunt of government raids, searches and product confiscation. A new documentary called Farmageddon investigates the increasingly tenuous standing of small farms in our food system. It opens this Friday at Cinema Village and joining us today are Kristin Canty, the director and co-producer, Linda Failace, the co-owner of Three Shephard’s Cheese in Vermont and Gary Cox, the General Counsel for the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund. Welcome to our show….

You can listen here. You should be outraged by those three stories, everyone should.  I have a few details below.  

Kristin Canty, her movie Farmageddon has a website with a preview and an introduction.

“Farmageddon exposes the battle over food rights in America. Farmer’s and consumers start food co-ops and buying clubs or homesteads, and then are shut down by the government in the name of food safety.”

In the interview she explained that she could not get the government to discuss what is being done to small farmers other than the claim that “They need to keep us safe.” Her claim is that she uses the documentary to investigate who is being harmed by these safety goals. Her description of raids by the investigative and enforcement services of these government agencies, raids of farmer owned markets and food co-ops sounds more like the treatment you would expect for illegal drug dealers.

“In many of the cases the police are armed. In one case there was a family of  ten children. They were kept in a room for six hours while about eleven armed agents came, you know, held them at gun point for a number of hours while they tore their house apart for a third degree misdemeanor of running a retail establishment without a license.”

Linda Failace described her 2001 run in with the government. During the 5:30 AM raid where the government took away her families’ sheep, the raiders they didn’t actually have their guns out but they came with guns.

It is a story of a real and very successful family farm that was named “Three Shephard’s” after her three children, where one of those children was featured on Martha Stewart. A story that Linda Failace wrote a book about;

Many will be familiar with the invasion of Three Shepherd’s Farm by the United States Department of Agriculture in 2001. Forty armed federal agents and USDA officials stormed the farm in the middle of a blizzard on March 23, 2001 and seized the family’s beloved flock of healthy sheep and killed them for a disease that doesn’t exist to this day. The government’s own laboratories proved the sheep to be healthy but the USDA has engaged in destroying evidence, hiding evidence from Federal court, ignoring the Freedom of Information Act, putting the Faillaces under months of surveillance, and using an outside laboratory which has been shut down for gross negligence. Linda Faillace has written a critically acclaimed account of the story in her book “Mad Sheep–The True Story behind the USDA’s War on a Family Farm” which was published by Chelsea Green Publishing.

In telling her story of being persecuted by the USDA, how they got to that point, what she told to Leonard Lopate should make any American’s blood boil. Unwarranted criminal investigations of her husband, 24 hour government surveillance of the family farm and constant harassment came up empty so the government fabricated a disease that dosen’t exist to take away the families livelihood. The hopeless ending of the story is the most disturbing part.

The USDA lawyer stood up in court and claimed “The farmers have no rights. They have no right to be heard before the court, no right to question the USDA and no right of independent testing and unfortunately that is exactly correct.”

Gary Cox, who is very busy defending small farmers all over the United States from the actions of this government, described how impossible it is to get justice in court against government agencies that claim to be the experts on food. He explained why Linda Failace’s words “unfortunately that is exactly correct” are so true in a nation where small farmers seem to have no representation. He was hopeful that public support will turn around the harassment of small farmers but showed little hope in government.

“In our lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration. the FDA in court papers that they filed with the court  made three really outlandish statements. Number one, they said “We do not have the right to eat any foods we want.” Number two, FDA said “Parents do not have the rights to feed their children the foods of their choice.” Number three, FDA said “Nobody has the right to a healthy body.” And these are just, to me, their mind blowing statements and it really shows how out of touch the government is when it comes to the well being of its citizens.”

All three argued that the U.S. government is actively colluding with agri-businesses to keep our food unsafe and support the factory farms. The revolving door of employees of large corporations becoming government food enforcers comes up. In explaining the ways the FDA and USDA has been enforcing food safety, agencies that are both promoting big agriculture and regulating food are presented as a conflict of interest.

Is it an individual’s right to produce and eat whatever they want in this deregulation obsessed nation? How does anyone justify a government working against our food and causing such suffering for our small farmers? The answers from that interview were not good for the individual but the underlying theme, just like in so many other areas of government involvement, is offering increasing safety to big business at the expense of the people.

As Nicolas D. Kristof recently pointed out in When Food Kills.

Every year in the United States, 325,000 people are hospitalized because of food-borne illnesses and 5,000 die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s right: food kills one person every two hours.

After listening to three people claiming that this government thinks farmer’s and people have no rights and hearing who the government has decided to persecute, I need to ask “Does the government think we have the right to survive our next meal?”

7 comments

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    • Eddie C on July 8, 2011 at 3:34 am
      Author

    Obviously the persecution of Linda Failace and the Three Shephard’s Farm was back during the Bush administration. Perhaps the treatment of small farmers have improved some during the Obama administration but the other two guest (one pushing a new documentary the other pushing a farm defense fund) seemed to be offering very depressing present day issues.

    Like many Democrats, I’m having much trouble following the Obama administration and finding good news.  I seem to recall the grassroots having some modest success with protecting small farmers in the Food Safety Modernization Act but stories like these and many others about the government being in bed with big business while state governments go so far overboard in supporting Big Ag, sounds like more assaults on our food.

    I do recall writing The Quest for Safe Beef and Moral Fiber Continues back in January of 2010 and coming cross the most outrageous comment by Dr. Kenneth Petersen, assistant administrator of the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

    ‘I have to look at the entire industry,’ Petersen said, ‘not just what is best for public health.’

    The death toll from food is the same now as it was then. The people want answers and they support small farms. What about the government?  

    At the risk of sounding too liberal for America, if they really want to look at the entire industry then they should be looking into Big Ag’s role in climate change, what factory farming is doing to our water supply and the problems caused by all of those antibiotics.

    Outside of talking points to end estate taxes I can’t think of any national elected officials worried about small farmers and they have already killed the medium sized farm.    

    • Eddie C on July 8, 2011 at 3:35 am
      Author

    but here’s the preview.

    You can see some of the people in the story.

    • RUKind on July 8, 2011 at 11:12 pm

    “We will have to take care of ourselves. We will have to rapidly create small, monastic communities where we can sustain and feed ourselves. It will be up to us to keep alive the intellectual, moral and cultural values the corporate state has attempted to snuff out. It is either that or become drones and serfs in a global corporate dystopia. It is not much of a choice. But at least we still have one.”   from Christopher Hedges

    I guess that solution is no longer an option. All choices are now off the table (no pun). Next up – permits for backyard gardens.

    • mplo on July 9, 2011 at 2:00 am

    However, people need to be made aware of what’s going on.

  1. It’s another very clear example of how corporations are running this country.  It seems obvious to me that when a agri-corporation gets knowledge of the success of a small farmer, it is they who inform the USDA and demand that the USDA find a means of shutting them down.

    No matter where you look, no matter the business, all you can see is the tyranny, the immorality and the pain that is caused by the corporations and those in our government that are in bed with them.

    Disgusting, sickening that so many people should die because of the filthy, disgusting, inhumane farming methods of major agri-corporations.

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