Gordon Edgar  @  ChelseaGreen

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The FDA and small farmers

Posted on Monday, October 25th, 2010 at 2:49 pm by Gordon Edgar

Something really needs to change at the FDA. The current situation is simply unfair to family farmers. Whether it’s the well-documented case of the Vermont Mad Sheep from a few years ago, the 50,000+ lbs of cheese that the FDA now wants destroyed at Morningland Dairy in Missouri, or the breaking news of the seizure of products at the Estrella Family Creamery these actions can result in destroying small businesses and, in effect, taking the land from people trying to do the right thing with their livliehoods.

I recommend that everyone read Mad Sheep* because it really conveys the frustration and desperation of a family trying to do everything right, but being run out of business by forces beyond their control. Too often, other farmers and cheesemakers will not come to the aid of these folks because fighting the FDA is a scary thing and no one wants to bring that kind of attention to their operation. I was very new to cheese and the American Cheese Society at the time, but I remember hushed bar discussions about the sheep when it was going down and I remember a few sympathetic folks just walking away, too scared for their own businesses to want to discuss it in public.

And let’s be honest as well. There has to be some real accountability and oversight of the FDA, but there are times it needs to move quickly. I think some raw milk advocates are scary. Some claims made for raw milk and raw milk cheese are not based in reality. The website where I originally saw the Morningland Dairy news was ridiculous in its breathless lack of real information, not discussing, for example, whether there were any positive tests for food-borne pathogens or if they were selling illegal cheese. Just acting as if the FDA are the new Nazis acting on some conspiracy basis to end raw milk cheese production.

The Estrella and Morningland issues are ongoing. Perhaps there are valid public health concerns that we don’t know about that merit this kind of reaction. But every time I have ever talked to a farmer or (raw milk) cheesemaker who went through a recall, the lack of clear communication from regulatory agencies, the arrogance of higher-ups, and the changing playing field of what they are expected to provide to the government is what drives them crazy. Even the ones who can hire fancy lawyers get frustrated, the folks struggling to feed their families and make a living have it even worse. As always in this world…

Seattle Food Local has a good post about the Estrella Family Creamery situation and what you can do to help. The Estrellas and I (and many of my readers) might have differences of opinion about many political issues, but the issue of justice for farmers is an important one for everyone to fight.

*This was published by my publisher Chelsea Green, but I read this book a long time before I even finished mine, let alone sold it to CG.

Read the original article on gordonzola’s blog.

Gordon Edgar is the author of Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge.

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