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. Food and Drug Administration and other agencies on producers and distributors of nutrient-dense foods — in California against Rawesome Food Club and the operators of small raw dairy herdshares, and in Pennsylvania against Amish farmer Daniel Allgyer and the Maryland food club he serves. These actions, taken without the impetus of illnesses, or even food contamination, have come at huge costs in scarce budget dollars to finance intensive undercover investigations. Perhaps more significant, the enforcement actions dampen competition, and obliterate jobs.
At Rawesome alone, more than a dozen farmers and food producers have lost a key outlet for their production while the food club is shut down. When food producer revenues disappear, so do jobs.
One of the many ironies in the recent food-crackdown events is that on Tuesday, President Obama was talking up the importance of “rural economic development” at an Iowa conference. According to the Des Moines Register, “Obama announced a handful of initiatives Tuesday that he said would help foster rural economic growth. One would pump an additional $350 million in capital over the next five years to rural businesses, double the previous amount.”
The call for more funding of programs to add jobs in rural areas while his regulators are demolishing them in droves seems, somehow, the height of cynicism. The most significant irony may be that increasing numbers of today’s young people, discouraged by the lack of job opportunities in so many areas of the country, are attracted to the romance of farming. The New York Times‘ Mark Bittman describes this trend, inspired heavily by the success of Maine farmer Eliot Coleman and his all-season growing strategies.
But armed raids on private food clubs can only dampen this healthy trend that inevitably creates jobs. Who wants to enter an industry where regulators, on a whim, can and do cause death via a thousand cuts, and, at worst, throw food producers into jail? These actions are meant to intimidate producers, and would-be producers, at a time when our country can least afford to be trashing jobs and opportunity.