Chareva and I watched an excellent documentary over the weekend. Farmageddon is a look at how our federal and state governments are beating up on small farmers who sell real food directly to the public. If you still believe the fiction that we live in a free country, this film should change your mind.
Farmageddon was released in 2011, but I somehow missed it. I became aware of it last week only because Passion River Films, which is placing Fat Head with schools and libraries, sent me a proof of a promo sheet that included both films. Intrigued by the description, I asked them to send me a copy.
The film was written and directed by Kristin Canty, who wondered why it’s legal to buy processed junk food for her four children, but often illegal to buy real, fresh, unprocessed food directly from a local farmer. As she put it:
“I decided I needed to tell this story. My goal was to let these honest farmers using centuries old farming practices tell their side of the stories. So, I set out to make a film. Farmageddon is in no way meant to convince anyone to drink raw milk, or eat grass fed beef, but rather an argument to allow those that want to make those choices to do so. It is simply about freedom of food choice.”
Much of the film is exactly that: small farmers and co-op owners telling their own stories — often augmented with video footage they shot while being raided by government agencies. Those stories ought to horrify you. They did me. Imagine hearing a noise in your kitchen downstairs, taking a peek down there, and seeing some burly guy dressed in black pointing a gun at you and ordering you downstairs. (That particular farmer believed for a moment that a serial killer had broken into her home.)
In raid after raid documented in the film, police and government agents showed up in SWAT gear, guns drawn. The raid on Rawesome Foods, which I wrote about in a previous post, was one such raid caught on video and included in the film.
I always wonder why raiding a co-op or small farm compels these government thugs to pack enough heat to take down a Central American drug cartel. What do they think the farmers are going to do? Hurl gallon jugs of raw milk at them? Slap them with some unwashed spinach? Splatter fresh eggs all over those cool SWAT uniforms?
Before anyone protests that the farmers who were raided must have been breaking some laws (we’ll set aside the stupidity of those laws for now), in many cases they weren’t. In what struck me as the most outrageous episode documented in the film, federal agents seized and destroyed a flock of milk sheep from a family farm. The family had legally imported the sheep from Belgium and New Zealand and jumped through a number of federal hoops in the process. So did the feds raid the farm because the family was selling raw sheep milk illegally?
Nope. The USDA decided – based on zero evidence – that the sheep might be carrying Mad Cow disease. Rather than do something legal and logical, such as testing the sheep, they seized the flock and destroyed it. When the family demanded the results of tests the feds had conducted after killing the sheep, they were told (for months on end) that the results were pending. They only learned later, in court during a lawsuit they filed, that the results were negative and the feds had known as much almost immediately.
Since this was a government operation, the idiocy didn’t stop with destroying expensive sheep. No, the feds decided the entire farm might be contaminated and also seized valuable equipment – they even carted away the hay that the sheep had been eating. The feds claimed the hay had to be destroyed in a special facility to avoid the risk of spreading Mad Cow disease. The farm husband became suspicious, followed some feds who took away his hay, and saw them dump the stuff in a nearby landfill.
When it became clear that the federal agents had destroyed a family’s livelihood to prevent a non-existent threat, the USDA expressed its deep regret by offering the family a fraction of what they’d spent to import the sheep.
And you wonder why I’m a libertarian? As George Washington put it, Government is not reason; it is not eloquence; it is force. Force and the threat of violence should not be employed to prevent willing sellers from making voluntary exchanges with willing buyers. It always amazes me how many people can’t wrap their heads around that simple idea.
On my other blog, I’ve been debating a big-government lover I knew when I lived in Los Angeles. In one round, I sent him a link to an article about a raid on a farm-to-forks dinner, during which the food cops destroyed all the farm-fresh food. Since admitting that government regulations can be wrong would cause his head to explode, he of course immediately replied that for all we know, the uninspected food would have made people sick.
Yes, whenever you sit down for a meal (whether the food has been inspected or not), there’s a small risk you’ll eat something that will make you sick. Whenever you drive, there’s a small risk you’ll be killed by an oncoming vehicle. Whenever you jet ski, or play football, or hike in the woods, or do pretty much anything besides lie quietly in bed, there’s a risk you’ll be injured. The point is, you should be allowed to take those risks if you choose.
I can choose to smoke cigarettes, drink 44-ounce glasses of Coca-Cola, buy a pint of bourbon and chug it or have unprotected sex with strangers, and no armed authorities will try to stop me. But if I want to buy raw milk from a farmer who certainly knows it would be bad business to make his customers sick, suddenly it makes sense to some people to send in men with guns to stop us. Amazing.
And let’s be honest here … these raids aren’t about protecting the public from the horrors of raw milk or unwashed vegetables. They’re about protecting large producers from the small farmers whose food more and more consumers are coming around to prefer.
Sally Fallon of the Weston A. Price Foundation makes several appearances in the film, as does Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms and an attorney who’s battling to give consumers the right to buy real food from real farmers. Let’s hope he wins those battles. As Thomas Jefferson said (quoted in the opening of Farmageddon):
If people let government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.
This is an important film, and I urge you to find a way to watch it.
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