David E. Gumpert  @  ChelseaGreen

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Two More Maine Towns Vote on “Food Sovereignty,” Different Outcomes Underscore Potential Divisiveness ; MN Farmer Picked Up By Police; FDA Takes on French Cheese

Posted on Wednesday, March 9th, 2011 at 2:48 pm by David E. Gumpert

A view from the Blue Hill peninsula, where Sedgwick, Penobscot, and Brooksville are located. I think because the “Food Sovereignty” ordinance described in my previous post passed so easily in Sedgwick, Maine, last Saturday–without obvious pushback from state and federal regulators–there was a tendency to assume that such ordinances could easily be passed elsewhere.

But when two more Maine seacoast towns voted last evening on essentially the same ordinance as I described in my previous post on Sedgwick, the results weren’t quite as clear-cut.

Deborah Evans, a Maine farmer who has been a principal backer of the ordinance, describes what happened in Penobscot, where the scenario played out much like in Sedgwick.

“In Penobscot, the ordinance was on the warrant [item #39] to be discussed and voted on at Town Meeting, just like Sedgwick [item #42] did on Saturday. There were about 100 citizens gathered in the Penobscot Elementary School gym to go through the warrant, item by item, including a couple of proposed ordinances. When #39 came up, several people stood and spoke their piece in favor of it, each ending with an enthusiastic round of applause! One comedian in the audience suggested that since everybody he buys local meat and milk from is operating under the radar anyway, we should just leave it alone. We laughed. A motion was made to call the vote and high into the air went every voting hand in the room - it was a resounding ‘unanimous’ once again! Oh my.”

But in nearby Brooksville, a different scenario unfolded. Once again, Evans describes the situation: “A Town Meeting this evening just like other towns, but instead of being on the warrant, the proposed ordinances were voted on by secret ballot the day before. Results were 152 Yes, 161 No. It was so close. Only 5 votes would have reversed the outcome. Several unhappy people at tonight’s meeting where the voting results were announced asked if we would be putting it up for a vote at the next town meeting, probably in June, and I answered ‘Absolutely. Brooksville just needs a little more time to get it’s brain around an ordinance that takes away ridiculous rules instead of piling on more.’”

The opposition to the Food Sovereignty ordinance had come up a few weeks previously, according to one local paper, when Brooksville’s ordinance review committee voted not to recommend passage. Among its concerns: that “it is unenforceable” and “opens the town to potential liability issues and legal costs.”

A few things worth pointing out at this early stage in the emerging Food Sovereignty issue. Even in small towns like Sedgwick, Penobscot, and Brooksville (polulations 900-1,300), proponents must  carefully lay the groundwork; Evans and her allies met in advance with town officials to educate them on the proposal. Second, fearful opponents will make their voices heard, worrying about legal issues, and maybe even safety issues.

But as Evans noted, “two outa three ain’t bad. The fourth and last town to take up the proposed ordinance will be Blue Hill on April 2.
***
A Minnesota farmer, Alvin Schlanger, was served with a search warrant while passing out eggs and raw milk to members of his food club, in St. Paul, earlier today. He was forced by St. Paul police to accompany them to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, which towed his truck. It wasn’t clear if the police arrested Schlanger or he voluntarily accompanied them. Clearly, though, the police didn’t want a repeat of a December incident in which consumers gathered at a dropoff point in suburban Minneapolis and pointed their video cameras, and verbal assaults, at MDA agents who confiscated food being passed out to customers of the Hartmann farm.

Schlanger is understood to make food available only to members of his food club, who pay dues and sign a written agreement. 

***

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s hysteria over raw milk apparently knows no bounds. Now the agency dairy chief, John Sheehan, is justifying a crackdown on raw milk cheese by suggesting French raw milk cheeses are unsafe. These are the cheeses renowned worldwide, for centuries, for their delicacy and wonderful taste.

Here’s what the FDA in a recent article: “Consumers are also seeing more raw milk products because of the growth of the artisanal cheese industry, Sheehan says. These cheeses are made by hand using what are considered to be traditional methods—often on the farm where the milk is produced. Some of these cheese makers use pasteurized milk in their products, but others use raw milk that could contain disease-causing bacteria…

“In countries where pasteurization of milk is less common, outbreaks of foodborne illness attributed to tainted milk or milk products occur more frequently than they do in the United States. In France, for example, the rate of foodborne illness attributed to milk and milk products was reported to be roughly three times what it is in the U.S., says Sheehan, citing a 2001 study by researcher Marie-Laure De Buyser and other French scientists.”

The real point here, aside from the fact that Sheehan and cohorts haven’t the taste to appreciate fine French cheeses, is that the agency has its sights set on eliminating raw milk cheeses from the American food landscape. That’s why efforts like those in coastal Maine are so important–we may well require “Food Sovereignty Zones” to access the foods of our choice.

Read this article on The Complete Patient.

rawmilkrevolution David E. Gumpert is the author of The Raw Milk Revolution.
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