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Friday
Jan182013

Big Bureaucrazy Versus Freedom To Farm

In Virginia, home to the Pitchfork Rebellion, citizens have introduced the “Freedom to Farm Without Fear” bill.  It is hoped that this legislation will make life better - a bit more free - for the state’s agricultural producers. 

Do you eat?  Do you wear clothes?  Then your life depends on specialists who farm, cook, manufacturer, distribute and retail food and fiber products.

But sometimes all these tasks are handled in-house by a small tribe or family unit, vertically integrated multi-taskers farming a few miles from your kitchen. 

They’re industrious souls, cottage cooks and family farmers, who create on a small and very personal scale and sell locally via roadside stands and farmers’ markets.  They’ve tapped into the global marketplace via farmers’ co-operatives, eBay and Etsy. With all that work, they can still have trouble making a profit and hang onto the land through off-farm jobs.

But they’re not complaining about the work or low pay.  They are complaining abut being absolutely bedeviled by regulations, codes and restrictions limiting what they can and can’t produce and sell on their own land with the fruits of their own labor.

The World’s Most Famous Farmer Tells His Story

The view, Martha Boneta’s Liberty FarmJoel Salatin of Polyface Farm in Shenandoah Valley, Virginia is a leader in the Pitchfork Rebellion.  He’s given speeches all over the world, was profiled in Michael Pollan’s bestseller, The Omnivore’s Dilemna, and been called “the world’s most famous farmer.”

He’s passionate on the subject of “death by regulation” and has written a book called Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal

Salatin believes “there is strength in decentralization and spreading out, rather than in being concentrated and centralized.”  His compelling testimony moved Virginia legislators considering the merits and morality of the “Freedom to Farm Without Fear” bill, HB 1430.  An amendment to the state’s Right to Farm Act, HB 1430 is also called “the Boneta bill” in honor of local farmer/activist Martha Boneta of Liberty Farm.  If enacted, testified Martha, the law will preserve farm land by liberating people to succeed at the business of farming.  

Bigger Picture Focuses On Food Safety

The State of Virginia’s response to complaints that restrictions on commerce are burying small farmers under layers of laws is not unusual.  30 states passed similar laws in 2012. 

Since many of the restrictions were originally enacted for health and safety reasons, clearing this regulatory minefield requires us to consider some basic questions:

  • Do we really need all these restrictions on our freedoms to ensure our food is safe?
  • Must we place a full-time government inspector in every farm kitchen in America - checking every kettle, can and box - to keep our population healthy? 
  • Or, recognizing that farmers have a financial interest in not poisoning their customers, are there other, simpler, more cost-effective, less restrictive ways to protect consumers?

Before the era of refrigeration, transporting cattle to centralized slaughterhouses close to markets was a necessity.  It’s the reason we have a history that includes the Chicago stockyards.

But with electricity and refrigeration – even flash freezing – available in the most remote parts of the country, why can’t producers make their own jams, jellies, jerky and bacon and sell it direct? 

Farmers know that if one is producing woolen goods and yarns, then sheepskin boots and lamb chops are the inevitable byproduct of that process.  It makes no sense to limit on-farm activities to just making yarn, forcing farmers to ship their livestock hundreds of miles so the meat is marketed by a wholesaler.  It only makes sense if you support what is convenient for the centralized powers-that-be and want to create larger and larger facilities for handling our food production needs.

But big and centralized is not always good.  Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle taught us that and there have been many high profile cases in the modern era proving that big does not always guarantee better.

Big Bureaucrazy Versus Private Solutions To Risk Management

So, why can’t a small producer keep a clean kitchen and work area and simply add a binder to the home/farm insurance policy in case anything goes wrong?  That would give everyone, paying customer or freeloading neighbor, protection from a bad batch of whatever. 

If you’re putting up your own marmalade or customers are knocking on the back door to buy your brioche, what are the odds you’ll actually poison someone?  Pretty darn low.

Competition forces private insurers to measure real risk and price it accordingly.  Government?  Not so much. Government solutions work well for big producers - top-down, one-size-fits-all.

If you’re handling meat products, sanitary and safety requirements would be set by the insurance underwriter and based on real risk, measured from real reports of real injuries - not conjecture by government agencies with nothing but an endless supply of tax dollars and time on their hands.

Coverage for potential damages to a consumer - let’s say $2 million - should be plenty for most operations and would probably only run a few hundred dollars a year at most.  

Federal food manufacturing regs 1997-2010. Source:regdata.mercatus.org/queryFarmers would still have to comply with all nuisance laws and rules and regulations - federal, state or local - for food safety.  But if the farmer invested in food handling courses or a state-of-the-art industrial kitchen, insurance premiums would drop along with the risk.  Since the insurance market rewards the safest producer, the trend is naturally positive for the consumer.

More good news: government taxes the insurance company’s profits as it engages in “regulation” by free maket.  The free market solution is an income generator to government, not an expense to the taxpayers.

This is the free market solution to handling risk. 

Over the last 50 years, we’ve gone the other direction, pushing for more and more centralized government control, ever-larger bureaucracies. 

We’ve created an expensive Big Bureaucrazy that is slowly but surely driving small farmers crazy.

The result is huge farming operations, lots of jobs for bureaucrats and lawyers and the loss of the “little guy.”

Big Bureaucrazy also acts as a barrier to entry frustrating Americans who want to follow their dreams and return to the land.  It also stifles consumer choice.

Too many layers of regulation, combined with fear of fines and penalties, Big Bureaucrazy, bedevils freedom-loving citizens in their pursuit of happiness - and the perfect peach cobbler!

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Top Photo: iStockPhoto.com; all others: Teresa Platt

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