Archive for March, 2010


Before the WI Raw Milk Train Leaves the Station, Let’s Not Forget About Protecting Protesters Like Scott Trautman

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

By David E. Gumpert

From his blog, The Complete Patient

I think it’s a good thing that there’s so much back-and-forth about the specifics of the Wisconsin raw milk legislation currently under consideration in the state senate. The prospect of legalizing raw milk in the nation’s second-largest dairy state would probably not have gotten anywhere near this much consideration a couple years ago, so much has changed in a brief amount of time.

Photo: Wisconsin dairy farmer Scott Trautman addresses protesters outside a courthouse in Viroqua in December–an image that apparently doesn’t sit well with DATCP.

Yesterday saw the politicians engaged in all kinds of horse trading—pulling out the liability exemption, making the legislation temporary, requiring farmers to keep the names of their customers. Steve Bemis of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund went back-and-forth with Bill Marler, the food poisoning lawyer who has a big following among regulators, to possibly eliminate some troubling language limiting milk consumption to those who purchase the milk.

But something else was going on yesterday in connection with the raw milk legislation: retribution.

Two inspectors from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, Consumer Protection visited the dairy owned by Scott Trautman. You may remember him.  He became an activist in the movement to legalize raw dairy sales after he came under attack by DATCP for selling raw milk, helping organize the protest on behalf of Max Kane in Viroqua in December, and then briefly chaining himself to the fence around the governor’s mansion on Christmas Eve.

DATCP inspectors had given Trautman’s dairy passing grades four times before last fall, as a Grade A dairy. (He lost his license last fall after he was dropped by a dairy processor. Under Wisconsin dairy rules, you lose your Grade A license if you fail to sell milk for 60 days.) Now Trautman wants to be part of the proposed new law (as well as sell cheese) that was the focus of all the horse trading yesterday, which could well be enacted and would allow Grade A dairies to sell raw milk. But yesterday, there were suddenly a number of things the inspectors didn’t like about his dairy.

The big problem was that they didn’t approve of his wooden milking parlor, and want him to build a new one. “Anybody sitting on ten thousand dollars to waste on closing in our beautiful parlor and making it ‘safe’ and ‘unpleasant’?” he asks.

“Isn’t it interesting,” he observed to me. “I have perfect inspections in a facility signed off on by DATCP. Then I am sounding off about raw milk and suddenly I don’t pass. Amazing.”

DATCP is highly conflicted about the proposed legislation. I spoke with DATCP’s spokesperson, Donna Gilson, Thursday morning to inquire about the agency’s position on the pending raw milk legislation. “We still don’t believe there’s a way to produce raw milk safely,” she began. Hmmm, not real positive. What about the pending legislation? “This makes it slightly less risky,” she said. DATCP likes the elimination of the liability exemption, and the  requirements for testing and signage. It also approves of the collection of names of purchasers. “When there is an outbreak—you notice I don’t say if there is an outbreak—this is the most efficient means for notification of people.” I guess you could say DATCP will be a reluctant supporter at best of the new legislation.

But one thing DATCP has no hesitation about is payback. Once the legislation passes, it’s going to be payback time for those farmers who pushed things to this point where the agency has to regulate raw milk rather than just stamp it out. DATCP just seems to have gotten going a little early with Scott Trautman.

As long as there’s all this horse trading going on, here’s my suggestion for an addition to the legislation: an amnesty clause. This is what typically happens when wars between countries end—everyone releases their prisoners and starts over again.

But sometimes, following a war, when the original rulers remain in place over an alienated population, there is a blood letting. The rulers tell the ruled via force: yes, you may have won the latest round in the war, but we’re still in charge. And we want you to remember who is in charge.

DATCP has shown itself to be nearly obsessive when it comes to making life difficult for certain raw milk activists. Witness Max Kane. According to one media report, he appeared briefly at a Viroqua courthouse today for what was supposed to be another effort by DATCP attorneys to question him about the names of his buying group participants. He left a copy of a motion to cancel the session because he has appealed a previous order that he testify, and quickly left the courthouse. 

I’d suggest that the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund make sure that, as part of any legislation to legalize raw milk, that those farmers brave enough to challenge DATCP aren’t setupon by the agency in retaliation. Even prisoners of war get protection under the Geneva Convention.

***

In New York, raw milk protesters Barb and Steve Smith of Meadowbrook Dairy are awaiting the wrath of the state’s Department of Agriculture and Markets, in the wake of the agency’s court victory invalidating Meadowsweet’s limited liability company to distribute raw milk. In the meantime, the couple has some words of warning for Wisconsin dairy farmers:

“As we have gone through the last 3 years of trouble with Ag and Markets we have seen very clearly that their compulsive desire to control all the milk in the state means they will never allow the raw milk farmers to survive if they can help it. Their real agenda is to eliminate the existence of raw milk farming completely. We were told this years ago by our inspector at the time but didn’t really believe him. Now we know he was right. As long as you have a permit you are voluntarily placing the noose around your own neck. You are agreeing that the department has the authority to come on your farm anytime, to control your farm and farm operations, to find violations, to fine you, and even to shut you down if they want. Raw milk farmers around New York who do have permits are in an almost constant struggle with the state as they are threatened with being shut down for test result violations that later prove to be in compliance afterall. And most importantly, if you do have a problem with the way they treat you, there is absolutely NO recourse! Their word is law, period. If you do not have a permit you are technically NOT under their jurisdiction, though they will try to say otherwise. And finally, if you have a permit you can ONLY sell milk on your farm and ONLY milk, no butter, yogurt or kefir.”

Something to think about.

WATCH: Addressing the Injustice of Global Food Distribution: A Primer

Friday, March 19th, 2010

This charming cartoon from Denis van Waerebeke breaks down the problem of global food distribution imbalances in easy-to-understand terms with a pleasing design and a Douglas Adams-tinged voiceover.

To boil it down, the food choices you as an individual make have a real impact on the health and economic situation of people halfway around the world. The first step to fixing the problem is to look at what’s on your plate and make responsible and informed choices.

From Denis van Waerebeke on Vimeo, via Planet Green:

This basic (okay, very basic) video by Denis Van Waerebeke is as good a way as any to begin a dialogue. Encompassing everything from why farmers in poor parts of the world often go hungry to how giving up steak can be a small step towards correcting the unbalanced worldwide food market, the video serves as a sort of “Story of Stuff” for global food distribution.

How to feed the world ? from Denis van Waerebeke on Vimeo.

Read the whole article here.

 
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Which Health Care Changes Will Be Felt Immediately?

Friday, March 19th, 2010

As I’ve said, I don’t want to jinx it, but after more than a year of wrangling and back-and-forth, Republican obstruction, and head-slappingly self-defeating moves by a few conservative Democrats, the rollercoaster ride that is health care reform looks to be coming to its happy conclusion this Sunday.

Politics aside, if and when the bill becomes the law of the land its effects will be felt almost immediately. It moves the bar that much closer to universal coverage and helps a whole lot of sick people. CNN has a partial rundown of which parts of the health care reform will be felt within the first year.

From CNN.com:

Washington (CNN) — President Obama launched his health care reform effort shortly after taking office, saying the country could not afford to continue to sustain the costs and the burden on families.

The House is expected to vote soon on the health care bill that the Senate passed in December, though many House Democrats remain opposed to it.

One of the options for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: having the House pass the Senate bill but following up with another vote in both chambers on a series of changes. The idea is to make the legislation more acceptable for House Democrats opposed to the Senate’s version.

Although some of the provisions in the reform bill won’t be implemented immediately, here’s what Democrats say would go into effect in the first year after passage:

Eliminating caps: If you buy a policy, a health care company will not be able to place a lifetime — or annual — cap on how much they will cover. This is will be especially important for those diagnosed with serious illnesses, such as cancer, who face steep medical bills.

Pre-existing conditions: The Senate bill includes $5 billion in immediate support to provide temporary coverage to uninsured Americans with pre-existing conditions. The money would help you until the new health care exchanges in the Senate bill are put into effect in 2014.

Children and pre-existing conditions: Another thing that’s going to be very important, CNN Senior Political Analyst Gloria Borger said, is that there will be no exclusion of children with pre-existing conditions.

Read the whole article here.

 

In Washington, Violence Prompts Debate Over Medical Marijuana

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

A couple of high-profile episodes of violence against medical marijuana growers in Washington state has helped stir law enforcement officials and marijuana advocates to call for increased protection for growers and consumers.

Police officers don’t seem to be overly concerned with protecting marijuana growers, and marijuana growers probably aren’t particularly inclined to trust them in the first place. There’s fault on both sides. Of course, legalizing and regulating marijuana for recreational use might help curb violence, but I don’t think Washington is quite there yet.

From the New York Times:

SEATTLE — A shooting and a beating death linked to medical marijuana have prompted new calls by law enforcement officials and marijuana advocates for Washington State to change how it regulates the drug and protects those who grow and use it.

In the past week, a man in Orting, Wash., near Tacoma, died after he reportedly was beaten while confronting people trying to steal marijuana plants from his property. On Monday, a prominent medical-marijuana activist shot an armed man who is accused of breaking into his home in a suburban area near Seattle where he grows and distributes marijuana plants.

On Tuesday, the police arrested five people on robbery charges in connection with the shooting incident. One of those arrested is in critical condition after being shot by Steve Sarich, who runs a group called CannaCare out of his house. Mr. Sarich suffered minor wounds from a shotgun blast fired by the intruder he shot.

The crimes are the most violent that advocates and law enforcement officials said they could recall involving medical marijuana in Washington. In both cases, they said, the victims appear to have been chosen because they were known to have relatively large amounts of marijuana in their homes. They say the crimes underscore conflicts in state policy that have become evident since Washington legalized medical marijuana in 1998.

Read the whole article here.

 
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Health Care Reform Could Also Reform Student Lending

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

I don’t want to jinx it—I really don’t want to jinx it—but it looks like Congress is poised to pass comprehensive health care reform within the next few days. It’s not perfect (alas, Public Option, you were too beautiful to live), but the status quo is completely out of the question and this legislation will help provide insurance for 30 million Americans who would have gone uninsured without it.

On top of that, lawmakers are sweetening the pot by tackling predatory college lending—cutting out the subsidies for private lenders and instead lending directly to students. Win/win.

From NPR:

The vote on a health care reform bill could turn into a two-for-one deal. Democrats are planning to tack onto the bill an Obama administration plan to reform the federal student loan program.

The administration says the government could save tens of billions of dollars by cutting out banks and lending money directly to students. It’s a risky move that could revive — or sink — two of the administration’s top priorities.

A Potential ‘Twin Victory’?

Removing private lenders from the federal student loan program was never going to be easy. But why is this proposal now part of the up-or-down vote on the health care bill? Even Education Secretary Arne Duncan says he doesn’t know.

“But I know this is the right thing to do for our nation’s students. It’s the right thing to do for taxpayers,” Duncan says.

Duncan says bypassing private lenders and having the Education Department lend directly to college students would save at least $67 billion. That’s money that could be put back into much more financial aid for needy students and other education programs.

“This is excellent public policy,” said Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, speaking to reporters last week. “It’s also good politics for Democrats and Republicans alike.”

He helped craft the plan to attach the direct lending proposal to the health care bill.

“I also want to add that our bill would reduce the budget deficit — yes, you heard me right. Our bill would reduce the deficit by at least $5 billion,” Harkin says.

Harkin called this “sweetening the pot,” but that assumes it would attract the votes to pass both health care and major education legislation. Harkin says it would be a “twin victory.”

Listen Now

 
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Goodbye Rat Race, Hello Vegetable Garden

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Proving the international appeal of a “radical homemaker” lifestyle, Canada’s Globe and Mail profiles local families that have made the transition. These are people who have chosen to opt out of the rat race and live their lives according to their most precious values: environmental sustainability, social justice, family, and community. They’ve stopped defining themselves by what they do to make money and are re-learning useful skills, like growing their own food, cooking, mending clothes, raising chickens, keeping bees—even making handcrafted jewelry and blacksmithing.

From the Globe and Mail:

It can get a little awkward when people ask Rick Juliusson what he does for a living.

“I – I’m a stay-at-home dad,” is his standard reply.

Mr. Juliusson notes he’s also many other things – an independent farmer, a writer and a contract consultant for non-profit organizations. But since he quit his job as an executive director of a Vancouver-based international development agency a year and a half ago and moved his family to a five-acre farm in Duncan, B.C., Mr. Juliusson considers his main role as a father to his two young boys.

“It’s very hard for people to slot me in as ‘Dad,’ ” he says. Even though he embraces his identity as a stay-at-home parent, he says, “to get out of the habit of defining myself by what I do to make money – that was the habit that’s hard to break.”

Yet Mr. Juliusson proudly counts himself among a new breed of homemakers, a growing movement of men and women who are choosing to give up the rat race in favour of looking after their families and communities. In pursuit of a more personally fulfilling and ecologically sustainable lifestyle, these so-called “radical homemakers” are relying less on monetary income and are, instead, picking up domestic skills such as vegetable gardening and cooking to help meet their basic needs.

But don’t think radical homemakers are falling into the same trap of mindless drudgery and relentless servitude suffered by 1960s housewives, says Shannon Hayes, U.S. author of the new book Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture. Although today’s homemakers are returning to the home front, they’re doing it “with a sense of not being consumers in the home but being producers, which takes a whole other level of sophistication,” she says.

When Mr. Juliusson decided to step off his career path, his wife, a childbirth educator, became the family’s primary breadwinner. Although that meant slashing the family’s income of $90,000 a year to about a third, the couple have also cut down on their consumption and learned to grow much of their own food.

Mr. Juliusson tends cows and chickens and grows his own fruits and vegetables. He also intends to learn how to keep bees.

Read the whole article here.

Photo: iStockphoto.com

 
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David Gumpert: Whole Foods Discontinues Sales of Raw Milk

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

By David E. Gumpert

From his blog, The Complete Patient

The flow of negative news for raw milk drinkers today continues with word that Whole Foods is pulling raw milk from all its retail stores nationwide, effective tomorrow (Saturday) morning.

When shoppers show up at any Whole Foods that has been carrying raw milk, they will be greeted with signage telling them the chain is no longer stocking the product. This includes stores in at least four states: California, Washington, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. Whole Foods had just in the last couple months introduced raw milk in Pennsylvania, over the objections for anti-raw-milk advocates.

Mark McAfee, owner of Organic Pastures Dairy Co., reports he was given four hours notice that all deliveries of raw milk to Whole Foods have been suspended. He says he was told the order came from Whole Foods’ corporate based on difficulties the company had gaining insurance coverage. “The insurance will not cover any liability if they include raw milk,” according to McAfee.

He says he was told he will be paid for all milk already delivered. He also says that losing Whole Foods as an outlet will cost him at least 6% of his sales; he expects to counter the loss with additional sales to existing health food retail outlets.

Expect lots of consumer resentment over the action. Indeed, you can see that the logo accompanying this posting looks like a shell of the real logo, and in that respect, it’s symbolic of what Whole Foods has become. I, for one, have been a long time Whole Foods advocate. I defended the company on this blog when the Weston A. Price Foundation recently encouraged consumers to consider taking their business elsewhere because of the chain’s strong vegan leanings. I saw Whole Foods as a defender of food rights overall. But this move to drop raw milk changes my view, and I think it will change the view of many other customers.

I’ll look for every way I can to avoid making purchases at Whole Foods. I’ll try to avoid buying its vitamins, which I tend to do for convenience, and instead buy online from small independent sellers. I’ll seek out places like Wilderness Family Naturals for even more items than I currently purchase, like nuts, coconut oil, mayonaise, and other such staples. My personal goal will be to reduce my purchases there until, eventually, I’m not doing any business with the company.

Yes, I’ve already changed the way I acquire food to avoid the dairy case and meat counter at Whole Foods. Now, I want to broaden my efforts, and actively avoid dealing with any and all supporters of the ever-more-sinister campaign against food rights…and make as many purchases as possible a political statement in support of those who are serious about providing nutrient-dense foods, even in the face of the government-business-sponsored onslaught.

 

Photo: Flickr/Tortuga One

WATCH: “I love workplace democracy and I love cheese!” Gordon Edgar’s Punk Rock Cheese Story

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

This video comes to us from Gordon Edgar‘s book launch at Amnesia Bar in San Francisco’s Mission District. Somehow, the red lights and the casual boozy nightlife vibe of the place sort of fit, even though instead of a beat poet up on the stage, it’s the Rainbow Co-op’s resident cheesemonger reading from his punk rock cheese memoir.

From MissionLocal.org:

It’s not a traditional foodie memoir, which tend to be kind of upper class and bougie and what have you. It’s writing by someone who comes out of punk rock DIY culture, who works at a recurrent co-op, who has a really unique take on land, farming, food, fancy food culture, working class food culture, the weirdness of working in retail—kind of all of the above, and he does it in a really kind of take no prisoners style that is really enjoyable.

Read the whole article here.

 
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Why a Big Mac Costs Less than a Salad

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

We knew that government subsidies to Big Agribusiness were screwed up, but we didn’t know how badly screwed up until we saw this chart from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (by way of TreeHugger).

Want to know why a Big Mac costs less than a salad? It’s because the US government prioritizes meat, dairy—even alcohol!—above fruits and vegetables. And by a huge margin.

From TreeHugger

In a classic case of contradictory government policy the…pyramids [below] clearly show the inverse relationship between federal government agriculture subsidies and federal nutrition recommendations. Originally published in 2007 by Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) in Good Medicine Magazine to outline the committee’s concern about the impending farm bill. The graphic recently resurfaced in food security circles and found its way to the Economix Blog @ The New York Times.

Federal Subsidies Food Pyramid

Read the whole article here.

 
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The Allure Of For-Profit Universities Grows

Monday, March 15th, 2010

The growing popularity of online-only and for-profit colleges like the University of Phoenix is causing some to worry about their quality and legitimacy compared to traditional (“brick and mortar”?) colleges. But others see them as one important component of a new model of higher education—what author Anya Kamenetz calls “DIY U.”

From NPR:

RAZ: Most of the 400,000 students enrolled at the University of Phoenix take classes online. Very few have ever seen the main campus in Phoenix. The school is one of a growing number of for-profit universities. Universities that operate like publicly-traded corporations complete with listings on the stock exchanges. The quality of these schools has come under scrutiny by the Department of Education.

Anya Kamenetz, a reporter for Fast Company magazine, has written about the for-profit model. She says about 10 percent of students in America are now enrolled at these online universities.

Ms. ANYA KAMENETZ (Reporter, Fast Company; Author, “DIY U”): It’s growing really under the radar. You know, these universities, the Kaplan Universities that arise, they don’t fit what we think of as being higher education. And that’s for a good reason.

A lot of them just don’t have the same offerings that the traditional colleges do. You know, they obviously don’t have independent research going on. They don’t have the same extracurriculars. They don’t have community service. But they’re granting an increasing number of not only bachelor’s degrees but actually advanced degrees. University of Phoenix certifies tens of thousands of teachers. They give MBAs.

And, you know, all of this is happening without a clear understanding in the part of the public, I think, of exactly what online education or for-profit education constitutes. It’s a very different model. Their interests are different. The way that they operate is different, yet, it’s not something that the public thinks of that comes to mind when we think of higher education.

RAZ: Well, is it substantially cheaper for a student to attend a school online than to go to a campus?

Ms. KAMENETZ: Well, no, it’s not. You’d be surprised. A two-year degree at a for-profit college costs often significantly more than a public community college. And the cost for a four-year degree at a for-profit college is a little bit more to about the same as one at a public university.

Listen Now

 
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