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Archive Contents

Wednesday, May 27, 2009
·Forbidden Fruits (Monica)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009
·Opposition to NAIS Dominates the Listening Sessions (Monica)

Sunday, May 17, 2009
·A Reader Weighs in on the Nature of the NAIS Listening Sessions (Monica)

Friday, May 15, 2009
·The Cost of Pastured Meats (Monica)

Monday, May 4, 2009
·NAIS Hearings Around the Country -- Take Part! (Monica)

Sunday, May 3, 2009
·Some Recent Raw Milk Developments (Monica)

Friday, May 1, 2009
·Swine Flu Likely Started on CAFOs (Monica)

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Forbidden Fruits
By Monica @ 10:10 PM PermaLink

Did you know that the federal government applies fines to farmers that shift from growing commodity crops like soy, cotton, wheat, rice, and corn? Yes, you read right. Farmers across most of the United States literally can't decide what to plant on their own land without the threat of federal fines. Not only will the farmer forego subsidies for failing to plant a "commodity crop" on acreage that has traditionally been used for that purpose, he'll be fined hundreds of dollars per acre for growing fruits or vegetables instead. Read all about the forbidden fruits (and vegetables).

If that isn't outrageous enough, consider that our tax dollars are already subsidizing (and thus, cheapening) foods made of cornmeal, high fructose corn syrup, and vegetable oils like corn, soy, and cottonseed -- all with serious, known adverse health effects like non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, Type II diabetes, and coronary artery disease. Let me make it plainer. Your tax dollars have been cheapening items like Doritos, Pepsi, Twinkies, Crisco, and Wonderbread for almost 100 years now. Meanwhile, the federal government obstructs your access to cheap, local, fresh vegetables in summertime.

This is appalling. If I was prone to conspiratorial thinking, and if I didn't know better than to believe that conspiracies don't last 100 years, I'd be tempted to say that the USDA's true mission is to put the American populace underground in a big hurry.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Opposition to NAIS Dominates the Listening Sessions
By Monica @ 8:00 AM PermaLink

An email update from the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance summarizes each of the National Animal Identification Listening Sessions that the USDA has been holding. It's extremely interesting:

PENNSYLVANIA

Approximately 100 people attended the Pennsylvania meeting. At this first meeting, USDA spent significant time "selling" the program in the morning, and strictly limited people's opportunity to speak. Of the 36 people who did speak, 27 spoke strongly against NAIS, 5 were somewhat indecisive, and only 4 spoke in favor of the program.

The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund provided the following report from a farmer who attended: "The people who spoke in favor of NAIS were mostly from organizations like the Farm Bureau which has consistently supported NAIS. ... In my session the participants continued to speak out against the implementation of NAIS in any form, even as the facilitator kept trying to elicit comments about how the program could be improved."


WASHINGTON

Between 50 and 75 people attended the Washington state listening session, and the speakers were again overwhelmingly opposed to NAIS. "Only three spoke in favor of the program, a dairyman, a rep for an ear tag manufacturer, and the Washington State veterinarian, and even he sounded lukewarm towards the NAIS," reported Kathy and Bert Smith, FARFA and Liberty Ark members.

On the breakouts: "The general consensus was that even a voluntary NAIS is unacceptable. USDA officials were unwilling to answer any questions. Whenever a question was posed, the facilitator replied that they were just there to listen and gather input, not to answer questions. The facilitator kept reminding participants that the USDA was seeking solutions to make the NAIS workable. This group was hard pressed to come up with solutions. The general consensus was an overwhelming majority against NAIS and to do away with it completely. Most were not even willing to compromise with a voluntary program."

TEXAS

Approximately 150 people attended, including many FARFA members and people representing the Texas Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association, Liberty Ark, R-CALF, Livestock Marketing Association, and the Libertarian Party. There were small farmers, auction barn owners, horse owners, consumers, old ranchers, just-beginning farmers all speaking passionately against NAIS. Many of the speakers have been posted on YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/user/somervellcountysalon

USDA attempted to start the day with a video of Vilsack, but had technical problems getting the recording to play! After that ironic beginning, 56 people spoke against any NAIS or advocated for a voluntary, market-driven program only. Only eight people spoke in favor of NAIS, almost entirely from the Texas Dairymen Association and Pork Producers. The afternoon sessions were also strongly anti-NAIS, with one session culminating in a blunt discussion of "how do we stop NAIS?" It was not a question on USDA's list, but it was definitely the one that most of the people there cared about!

News coverage:

ALABAMA

FARFA Chapter leaders and Liberty Ark coordinators Susie Stretton, Rhonda Selser, and Margaret Stretton drove more than 450 miles from Louisiana to speak against NAIS at the Birmingham, Alabama meeting. They were joined by individuals not only from livestock organizations, but also from religious and property rights groups. Out of the crowd, 33 people asked to speak and 30 of them spoke against NAIS.

At the breakout sessions, all of the rooms were overwhelmingly anti-NAIS, just like the morning sessions. In one session, a woman claiming to represent the Tribes spoke at length about her qualifications and the cost-benefit analysis, only to be countered by the practical comments of the farmers in the room, who carried the NAIS documents and documented information with them. After participants spoke strongly against NAIS based on the cost, the lack of animal health benefits, and religious objections, the USDA facilitator stated that everyone was of "diverse opinions" and a consensus was impossible. A local farmer with the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund corrected him, pointing out that all but 2 people in the room were against NAIS. There was consensus at this meeting, although not the consensus that USDA was hoping for!

Press Release:
KENTUCKY
In Kentucky, about 150 people attended the session. Thirty-seven people spoke, with more than 90% speaking against a mandatory NAIS. Those who spoke against it were mostly individuals, speaking for themselves. Pro-NAIS speakers all represented organizations or their employers.

Wendell Berry gave a rousing speech declaring that this was the first meeting he'd been at with USDA, after decades of activism, where USDA brought armed police to protect itself. Ralph Packard, a natural livestock farmer, agreed with Wendell Berry, that the government will need its guns if they make the program mandatory and require people to register their farms and animals. Speakers came from Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio.

Break-out groups started early, but no consensus was possible. Some USDA personnel continued to insist that NAIS is voluntary, ignoring the coercion that USDA has funded, and state mandatory programs, also funded by USDA. One USDA staffer painstakingly stated that there are many tagging options and that microchips aren't required "at this time." When confronted that his comment meant this could change, he would not respond. It was obvious that pro-NAIS personnel were uncomfortable, but also did not come prepared to make concessions.

More promising were the connections made among anti-NAIS activists. The Community Farm Alliance held a press conference at noon. Adam Barr, Ralph Packard, Weldell Berry, and Karin Bergener spoke about why NAIS will wipe out small, independent farmers and the meetings still failed to truly provide farmers a forum because of the late notices, and timing during busy season.


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Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Reader Weighs in on the Nature of the NAIS Listening Sessions
By Monica @ 7:13 AM PermaLink

One of my readers recently attended one of the NAIS listening sessions in Pennsylvania. Her comments are below (italic emphasis mine).

In a private email, she wrote

Feel free to share this information with as many people as possible. When you sign in at the meeting, you receive a ticket with a number - if the number is called, you get to speak, so there's no screening process (as far as I could tell). One of the more interesting observations, which I didn't mention in the post, is that uniformed [not sure if they were armed] security people were present in each of the listening session rooms.


I'm releasing the information about this session in order to encourage people to attend. It's quite clear from this session that there is no support for NAIS among the independent farming communities, yet USDA is trying to ram it through and create a perception of consensus where there is none. The fact that they think security guards are needed at public hearings says something, I think.

Some people have privately raised the possibility of lobbying for an exception to NAIS for small farmers. I believe this misses the entire point. The whole point of making NAIS mandatory is to make the program financially viable for meat exporters by putting disproportionate cost onto independent farmers. If Big Ag wants this program (and they do) let them sign up for it voluntarily and pay for it themselves. NAIS must be opposed on a matter of principle. The program is blatantly unconstitutional and violates about five constitutional amendments. Period. Think hard and ask yourself -- do you wish to compromise with people who have no respect for your constitutional rights?

If you would like to learn more about NAIS, please see these links.

What you are about to read is enormously depressing -- a stark picture of how unaccountable our government has become. Our officials appear to need a constant reminder that they are supposed to work for us -- not the other way around. I will be offering my own reminder on June 1 in Loveland, CO -- either orally (if I'm allowed) or as a written statement.

Without further ado, here are the reader's comments:

I attended the NAIS "listening session" in Harrisburg, PA on May 14th. While I don't have an exact count, I know that attendees traveled from all over Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia, and New York state to be there. Many of the public comments were made on behalf of larger groups who were not able to attend. As was pointed out, the USDA had chosen to hold a minimum number of meetings AND they were being held during the farmers' busiest time. There were few consumer or "general public" spokepeople- it seems that the general public is [not surprisingly] largely unaware of the issue.

If I had to choose one statement that sums up the public comments it would be "What part of "NO!" don't you understand?" Chosen by lottery, about 25 people presented oral comments; I believe that 4 were supportive of NAIS. In both the morning session and the afternoon breakouts, the supporters of NAIS were either (a) representatives of large meat associations with a large export interest [who urged for implementation ASAP]; (b) Dept. of Agriculture employees [in my world, this would be called a major conflict of interest]; or (c) people who are affiliated with Penn State programs that are associated with the PA and US Depts. of Ag.

Key points that came out during the morning session:

USDA Panel Presentation [the order below is random and is not meant to imply prioritization]

-Meat exporters have suffered losses because of disease scares and are pushing for compliance with global standards in order to receive "premium" recognition and improve perceptions abroad about US meat.

-The current program has had [depending upon whose statistics you believe] anywhere from 10% [independent farm group's assessment based upon evaluation of the way the USDA conducted their study] to 30% [USDA statistics] voluntary participation.

-The current program is not economically viable without "full" participation.

-Government-owned herds would not be required to participate in the program.

-Nobody could provide details about how this NAIS program would be implemented, funded, enforced, or what penalties would be levied in case of non-compliance. They were unable to answer questions about cost with respect to tags, electronic and other equipment, fees, permits, etc.

-The panel side-stepped questions about constitutional authority for implementing such a program.

-At the start of the question session, the panelists stated they would refuse to answer questions about or speculate about the future of the program; they would only respond to questions about their presentations.

Public [taken from my notes with minimal editing, sorry]

-There was little interest in arriving at a "consensus"- the majority is vehemently opposed to participation in a mandatory NAIS program.

-If the large exporters need to have such a program, let them participate and fund it; don't force everyone into the program.

-The USDA and PDA have created a "disease problem" that does not exist, especially at the independent farm level. [Nobody from USDA the could provide examples of recent problems.]

-The raw milk fiasco is regarded by the public as an example of what's in store for them with NAIS.

-Current surveillance problems are working just fine and there is no need to add another bureaucratic entity to the mix.

-The USDA can't assure they have the ability to handle the huge amounts of data the program would generate, nor could they assure that electronic records would remain private [a private company would be handling part of the data management].

-What companies are supplying the technology and what are their relationships with the proponents of the program? [Not answered]

-The implicit (and sometimes explicit) tone was that a line had been drawn; people will not comply and are willing to engage in civil disobedience rather than be forced to participate.

I could go on, but I think those are the key points and the transcripts are supposed to be available at the NAIS website within the month.

My own commentary: As someone who runs focus groups and provides strategic recommendations with respect to programs that "tell a story" I could identify many of the same processes and tactics in play here.

-The USDA materials refer to "stakeholders'...a term that was refuted by many attendees.

-The agenda for the breakout session assumed that NAIS was a done deal and described the objectives of the session as being a way to "solicit ideas about how USDA can bring non-participants into the program."

-During the breakout sessions, USDA employees and supporters tried to get an "on-the-record" vote that at least "we can agree that there is a need for animal identification.." They were called on this tactic and the transcript should reflect the comments that people were not willing to have their opinions be manipulated to show support for the program. No "vote" was taken.

-Once again, the main issues raised by the independent farmers included: the USDA [and the US government in general] is overstepping its constitutional authority; the program should be scrapped; the idea of reaching a consensus was not valid as the majority of participants will not comply with mandatory NAIS program.

I spoke with a woman who, as a representative of a national organization, had attended a higher-level meeting in Washington last week. Her comments were:

-Congress didn't have a clue, and couldn't wrap their minds around, the real issues.

-Homeland Security was present at the meeting; congressional supporters of the Homeland Security aspects of the program wanted to know why "everybody hadn't been brought on board yet."

-The NAIS program is buried in several House and Senate bills. -The secretary would not meet with representatives of independent farm and animal organizations.

I did talk with a genetleman in PA who is working with his representatives in Lebanon County - he's interested in developing a network of people/groups who do not support a mandatory NAIS program with the goal of raising congressional and public awareness of the issues and the extent of disagreement with a mandatory program.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

The Cost of Pastured Meats
By Monica @ 8:47 AM PermaLink

I woke to a nice post and picture in my google reader this AM. Robb Wolf reports on his recent acquisition of lamb meat:

We went in with the Fragosso’s and each bought a whole grassfed lamb. I think we ended up with about 60lbs of meat and the price was about $3/lb. Damn cheap when you consider the quality of the food and the fact we are supporting local, sustainable food production. We are looking at doing a GF cow at some point but will need a larger freezer than what our refrigerator has. If you look around you can usually find a GF meat supplier nearby.

This is strikingly cheap. I've never seen leg of lamb cheaper than $5 in any grocery store. Rack of lamb in the grocery store is obviously considerably more expensive.

In the fall we'll be getting pastured pork from the farm where we get our amazing milk, Ebert Family Farm. This pork is $1.25 per pound with an added cost of $250 to butcher a hog. (See where a good portion of the cost comes in?) They usually finish the hogs at 250 lbs. which means the total cost per pound for the pork is around $2.25 per pound. I've never had pork that tastes quite as good, and when you consider the quality, that's damn cheap. Must be all the skim milk the pigs are getting. The hogs are also not confined in a building and thus, have more vitamin D in their flesh.

Who said local pastured animals aren't competitive in price? All the consumer needs is a freezer. All the farmer needs is access to a local, USDA-approved slaughterhouse that butchers the type of animal in question, which is a mandatory requirement. This last one often proves to be the real problem. Read to find out more about how this inflates the price of your food and decreases your access to quality and choice in the supermarket.

For more information on where to find meat from animals raised the old-fashioned way, on pasture, visit Eat Wild and/or your local Weston A Price chapter pages.

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Monday, May 4, 2009

NAIS Hearings Around the Country -- Take Part!
By Monica @ 9:57 AM PermaLink

The USDA is hosting NAIS listening sessions in seven states. These public meetings will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. local time, with registration one hour prior to each meeting. The meetings will be held:

* May 14 in Harrisburg, Pa.;
* May 18 in Pasco, Wash.;
* May 20 in Austin, Texas;
* May 21 in Birmingham, Ala.;
* May 22 in Louisville, Ky.;
* May 27 in Storrs, Conn., and
* June 1 in Greeley, Colo.

Additional information on the meetings can be found here.

I encourage you to take part in these meetings. Usually, you can present an oral statement no longer than three minutes long. I will be presenting a statement in Greeley, CO on June 1.

Judith McGeary of Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance notes:

Last week, Secretary Vilsack held a round table in DC, inviting 29 organizations to present their views on the NAIS. More than a third of the organizations at the meeting opposed a mandatory program, showing a growing trend among a wide range of organizations to question NAIS. But some of those who claim to support a "voluntary" program agree with the use of coercive tactics, which we have already seen happen under the current so-called voluntary program. And multiple Big AG organizations, who have a lot of influence with USDA and Congress, still openly support a mandatory NAIS. So we have a tough fight in front of us.

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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Some Recent Raw Milk Developments
By Monica @ 9:51 AM PermaLink

Possible contamination at CO raw dairy

About a month ago, an outbreak of campylobacter may have been linked to a raw dairy in Colorado. I say "may have been" as non-raw milk drinkers also succumbed to the illness, and only about 6% of the shareholders originally reported illness. I believe the investigation is still ongoing and the dairy is still shut down. You can find the specifics on David Gumpert's blog, The Complete Patient, here and here. The comments lines of these threads are informative.

It's no surprise that the vast majority Freeman's shareholders are standing with him, and to the health department's surprise, most people just want their milk supply to start flowing again. This speaks to the fact that the majority of raw milk consumers understand the potential risks, yet see the benefits as outweighing those risks. It also highlights the importance of having a good independent association of raw milk consumers and producers, such as RMAC, committed to producing safe milk. When one buys food from a local farmer, a personal connection is usually forged. This creates the ultimate incentive to produce safe food: the farmer's reputation. The power of market forces is really more than enough to ensure safe food from local farms.

I do not wish to diminish the gravity of some serious food-borne illness cases that may have been tied to raw milk in recent years. However, one must keep perspective. There may be as many as 3 million raw milk drinkers in the United States. Some people are extremely susceptible to food-borne illness. I've never experienced a case of food poisoning in my entire life. I know several other people who have experience several cases each of food poisoning just this year. So, there is individual variation in immune response. Not everyone exposed to a pathogen will become ill.

Second is that the raw milk program under Guidestone Farms has been operating safely in Colorado for 30 years. There are now around 30 independent raw milk dairies in Colorado that have been operating for several years. Despite this incident, the record is still quite good.

Third, it's important to remember that even in a free market, accidents and mistakes will still happen, especially with newer operations. That doesn't mean we need government regulators to come in and "solve" the problem.

Interstate raw milk shipments

In other raw milk news, Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures Dairy in California recently made a pitch to a government-industry juggernaut, the National Conference on Interstate Milk Shipments, to lift a ban on interstate raw milk shipments. (Ron Paul is also a sponsor of a bill that would legalize interstate raw milk shipment.) The proposal was unanimously vetoed. Here are statements from two milk industry representatives:

Robert Byrne of the National Milk Producers Association, said “the federal ban (on raw milk shipments) should be extended to include an intrastate ban.” In other words, a national ban on raw milk.

Jim Howie of something called the Southern Marketing Agency, a consortium of Southeastern milk processors, scoffed at McAfee’s claims about the economic advantages of raw milk. “This should not be a marketing issue...I market organic milk. Organic milk is not raw, and raw is not organic. Yes, there is a black market for raw milk. I cringe when I see it. Use the laws they have to close that black market...If someone gets sick (from raw milk), the newspaper article will not say raw milk, it will say milk...will hurt dairy farmers around the country. This proposal would be a step backwards.”

Of course, what the industry reps fail to note (although they know it full well) is that increased availability of raw milk would make them less relevant and their market share would decrease. And of course the milk industry is adamantly opposed to anyone in the milk industry -- raw milk producer or not -- besting what amounts to a government-run cartel. If you wonder why I call NMPA a government-industry juggernaut, you should read this article and see how these government-run milk cooperatives attack any milk producer that attempts to defy federal milk marketing orders. Federal milk marketing orders result in production quotas and price fixing in order to "support" milk producers. In other words, it protects them from competition and raises prices above what they would be in a free market. Agricultural marketing orders date back to the FDR era. This is another minor reason I buy raw milk. I would not buy raw milk if it was an inferior product. However, it is a superior product in my opinion. And if I can help it, I won't willingly give money to a bunch of thugs who think they have the right to keep a 75 year old government-supported cartel in business.

An interesting conversation with the biggest milk regulator of all

Finally, Gumpert reports that he was finally able to meet John Sheehan in person at this meeting after doing lots of investigation, without much fruit, to try to figure out more about Sheehan's professional background. John Sheehan is the FDA's head of milk safety who has repeatedly stated that drinking raw milk is like playing Russian roulette. According to David, here is the conversation with Sheehan after snapping a couple of photos of him at the NMPA meeting:

“Hi, I'm David Gumpert.”

“Yes, I know who you are.”

“I wonder if we could chat for just a few moments.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because I don't want to.”

Well, you have to give the guy credit for being honest... He just doesn't want to be f****ing bothered. If a guy doesn’t want to talk to you, not much you can do, even if you do help pay his salary.
Obviously, it's high time our government officials were reminded that they are supposed to work for us -- not the other way around.

A closing note

I highly recommend David's blog, The Complete Patient. He covers raw milk regulatory issues quite well. One finds strong support for individual rights in his writing and in many of the blog comments. Although there is often disagreement on the concrete specifics of raw milk benefits and safety in the comments, most of the commenters are quite intelligent. While the exchange can get heated, the tone is usually remarkably civil for such a controversial issue as raw milk.

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Friday, May 1, 2009

Swine Flu Likely Started on CAFOs
By Monica @ 8:23 PM PermaLink

Well, it appears that my prediction/assertion that thousands of people could die from swine flu isn't coming true. I guess this time around, swine flu is turning out to be rather like SARS: big on scare, small on delivery. Not that I'm complaining!

The story that it spread from the hog CAFO near La Gloria, Mexico (that raises 1 million hogs yearly) might have something to it, however. The virus hasn't been found on the hog CAFO yet... according to authorities. However, that doesn't surprise me. This flu is a recombination of four viruses. I doubt the actual virus now circulating would ever be found in the pigs at La Gloria. What I think is more likely is that a virus from the pigs infected a human who was experiencing another viral infection at the same time, and a recombination event then took place, with that new virulent flu strain infecting and killing people. After all, the conditions the townspeople say they had been experiencing for weeks before the outbreak are quite disgusting, to say the least. 60% of townspeople reported respiratory distress and the whole town had been complaining of strong odors and flies. The town of La Gloria is eight miles downwind of this CAFO. That gives you an idea how big and filthy these operations are. If you have ever driven through the midwest and smell something utterly vile that you can't see, you know what it probably is. A CAFO.

Richard Nikoley has a good piece on how these flus quickly evolve toward lower virulence under lower host crowding conditions.

While I'm not a huge fan of the Centers for Disease Control (nor Scientific American for that matter), this article indicates that H1N1 got its start on hog CAFOs in the 1990s... in the United States.

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