I get a daily digest of news from google about a few topics that interest me, one of them being raw milk. Today it turned up this depressing story from a website called agriview.com. The Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation held its 90th annual meeting recently and established some new policy directives. In particular they “expressed support for Wisconsin’s prohibition on the direct sale of raw milk to consumers.” Why? Why would they support this? What harm can it possibly do them? Well their point of view is clarified by a later mention in the notice:
And in the wake of the controversy that surrounded the selection of author Michael Pollan’s book “In Defense of Food” for UW-Madison’s “Go Big Read” program, Farm Bureau members adopted policy that encourages the UW System to incorporate literature into its curriculum that reflects a balanced perspective based on sound science and technology when discussing food production systems.
Its funny. I was speaking to a dairy farmer at a raw milk event in November and asked him what he thought the backstory was behind DATCP’s new crusade against raw milk was. He told me that he thought it was big business and the conventional farmers it employs who were rattled by all the press local foods were getting here in Wisconsin all of a sudden, in large part due to Pollan’s visit to Madison this fall. I smiled and nodded but I didn’t really believe him – it seemed to far fetched that they would even care let alone start pouring their money and influence into stomping out the tiny farmers who are involved in local milk operations. But apparently its true. I’m almost more surprised by the fact that they are being so ingenuous as to say so straight out in their own press information.
I’m reminded of the agribusiness community’s response last April to Michelle Obama planting an organic garden at the White House. The Mid America Croplife Association wrote a letter to her congratulating her on starting a garden but deploring the fact that she was making a point of keeping it organic. From their start point of ‘a garden is great’ they moved quickly onto how it was impractical for most American’s to be involved with their own food production and how great agribusiness is for helping us out there:
Starting in the early 1900′s, technology advances have allowed farmers to continually produce more food on less land while using less human labor. Over time, Americans were able to leave the time-consuming demands of farming to pursue new interests and develop new abilities. Today, an average farmer produces enough food to feed 144 Americans who are living longer lives than many of their ancestors. Technology in agriculture has allowed for the development of much of what we know and use in our lives today. If Americans were still required to farm to support their family’s basic food and fiber needs, would the U.S. have been leaders in the advancement of science, communication, education, medicine, transportation and the arts?
They remind us that:
We live in a very different world than that of our grandparents. Americans are juggling jobs with the needs of children and aging parents. The time needed to tend a garden is not there for the majority of our citizens, certainly not a garden of sufficient productivity to supply much of a family’s year-round food needs.
So, basically, ‘nice try Michelle, but don’t bother.’ And then they hasten to point out that pesticide and fertilizers are our friends and are just getting a really bad rap from all the mean organic people. Bring on the contradictions: local and conventional aren’t mutually exclusive … but are you going to deny people the freedom to buy strawberries out of season for their children? Their children? You see – its about the children.
Much of the food considered not wholesome or tasty is the result of how it is stored or prepared rather than how it is grown. Fresh foods grown conventionally are wholesome and flavorful yet more economical. Local and conventional farming is not mutually exclusive. However, a Midwest mother whose child loves strawberries, a good source of Vitamin C, appreciates the ability to offer California strawberries in March a few months before the official Mid-west season.
I honestly can’t decide whether I’m more incensed or disheartened by this but certainly its something we all need to be aware of. Big business is getting rattled by the local food movement. I guess that’s a good thing from a certain perspective – we must be doing something right. But on the other hand that just means they are going to work harder to lobby us all into an early processed-food related grave. Just one more reason to stay strong and focused on the goal – good local food for everyone that wants it!