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David Gumpert's Posts

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In New Legal Initiative Against Cheese Maker, FDA Seeks Oversight Over Entirely Local Operation

At first glance, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's two-year legal assault on Estrella Family Creamery in Washington state appears entirely vindictive. The FDA seems intent on using its enormous enforcement powers to cruelly stomp on and obliterate a tiny business that serves as the livelihood of the Estrella family, and a source of eating pleasure and important nutrition for a community of hundreds of devoted customers. As a prime example, the agency's latest legal action in federal district court in Washington state rejects efforts by the Estrellas to negotiate a compromise that would allow the agency to continue monitoring …

Read more: Uncategorized

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Raw deal: Maine residents’ fight for unregulated food draws crackdown

Farmer Dan Brown has been sued by the Maine Dept. of Agriculture for selling raw milk, despite the passage of a food sovereignty ordinance in his town.

New England town meetings typically include dozens and dozens of proposals for citizens to vote up or down, on quickly forgotten matters like new stop lights and bridge repairs.

But this year, things have been different. The residents in eight small Maine towns have all voted to declare "food sovereignty" -- and they won't be forgetting the issue any time soon. In other words, they've passed ordinances that explicitly allow local farmers and ranchers to sell their food — meat, eggs, unpasteurized milk, honey, veggies — directly to consumers within town borders, without state or federal licenses, permits, or regulations.

Towns in Massachusetts, Vermont, and California have all replicated these experiments, which in Vermont have all been based on a single template [PDF]. And while the mainstream media is referring to the ordinances as “symbolic,” it is yet to be seen how the courts will rule.

Read more: Food, Food Safety

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The raw milk martyr

Schmidt in January 2010, after winning his court case.For nearly a month now, Canadian rancher Michael Schmidt has been engaged in a hunger strike. For over 17 years, Schmidt has been crusading for the right to distribute raw milk to a few hundred Ontario consumers who own shares in his herd of cows. He says he has been unable to convince anyone in a position of power to discuss how he and other raw dairy farmers can simultaneously service their herdshare members and abide by public health safety concerns. Instead, as he told me last week: "My farm has been …

Read more: Food

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As Obama pushes for rural jobs, his regulators obliterate them

President Obama has been talking up rural job creation even as his regulators discourage it.Photo: Will MerydithWhen I'm not writing about food rights, I serve on the board of a small high-tech information service company that is growing quickly by serving a global market. Earlier this week, we had a board meeting -- it felt refreshing to be bouncing around ideas for increasing market share, dealing with competitors, starting new partnerships, and bringing aboard new talent to handle emerging sales initiatives. It was refreshing because it was a stark contrast to covering the crackdown around the country by the U.S. …

Read more: Food, Sustainable Food

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Moms rally to defend raw food club after federal raid

Private food clubs and small producers of raw milk and cheese have witnessed all manner of regulatory and legal interference in recent years -- confiscation of raw milk deliveries, quarantining of raw milk, searches of dairies carried out by armed state and federal agents, shutdown of cheese plants. But last week's multi-agency assault on Rawesome Food Club in Venice, Calif., marked the first time individuals associated with a food club or a small farm had actually been thrown into jail, in this case charged with 13 felonies and misdemeanors, and held on high bail (requested between $60,000 and $130,000). The …

Read more: Food

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Would the FDA let raw milk politics influence its food safety alerts?

This past weekend, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) put out a press release stating it had epidemiological evidence connecting three illnesses from campylobacter to raw milk distributed in North Carolina. Possibly five other people might have been affected, the release stated. The consumers obtained the milk via a private food club that arranged delivery of the milk from South Carolina, where raw milk can be legally sold, to North Carolina, where it can't. A couple things were notable about the press release. First, it was issued on a Saturday, which isn't normally an FDA workday. That suggested it …

Read more: Food, Food Safety

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Don't ban raw milk because of the E. coli outbreak

CNN is milking the raw dairy angle for all it's worth. As someone who follows closely the relentless campaign by the nation's medical and public health establishments against raw milk, I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop in the European food-borne illness disaster. The "other shoe" is for some scientist or government public health official to seek to link the European tragedy to the battle here over raw milk. Sound crazy? I'd say. Verge on the paranoid? Definitely. After all, among all the culprits publicly linked to the tragedy -- cucumbers, tomatoes, and, most recently, sprouts -- dairy …

Read more: Food, Food Safety

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Family (farm) affair: my connection to Eliot Coleman’s rise to prominence

Portrait of the farmer as a young man: Eliot Coleman with children, circa early 1970s.Reprinted with permission from Melissa Coleman. I'm not sure exactly what it means to play a cameo role in a family memoir exploring the roots of today's food movement; but certainly it makes you keenly aware of how quickly the years are piling up. I'm referring to the tale of my brief, but apparently significant, role in helping launch organic farmer and author (and occasional Grist contributor) Eliot Coleman toward fame, chronicled in the new memoir by his daughter, Melissa, This Life Is in Your Hands, …

Read more: Food, Locavore, Organic Food

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Small is ornery

Maine towns reject one-size-fits-all regulation, declare ‘food sovereignty’

Photo: Chewonki Semester SchoolIn 2009, Maine farmer Heather Retberg learned that new regulations prohibited her from bringing her chickens to a neighbor's approved slaughtering facility. She’d have to invest some $30,000 she didn't have to build her own facility. So Retberg shifted her focus to raw dairy instead, selling directly to local neighbors. When she received a notice last year from the Maine Department of Agriculture that she needed a permit, requiring investment way above what she could ever hope to justify with her minimal sales, she’d had enough. She got together with four neighbors similarly upset with the new …