Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Salatin at Pharsalia

Joel Salatin held court at Pharsalia this evening, a 150-year old estate over the mountains northeast of here.  Salatin, the "beyond organic" Polyface farmer, author of many books on farming, including "Everything I Want to Do is Illegal:  War Stories from the Local Food Front," mainly discussed three principles the original owner of Pharsalia followed that still rule industrial farming: (1) focus on importing (guano then, fertilizer now) and exporting (hams and wheat then, more stuff now), rather than local community production; (2) use of labor from outside the community (slaves then, immigrants now); and (3) now what was the third, a senior moment hits (who was there, Liz?, finish this, please)?

Questions led to comments about the US-Duh (USDA) and regulatory restrictions on food as a means of promoting agri-business interests.  He mentioned how the government regulates both sides of drugs -- both the seller (distribution and selling are crimes) and the buyer (possession is a crime) -- while it only regulates the sellers of food (selling without complying with restrictions is a crime, but you can give it away and possession is not a crime).  Not that he thinks possession should be a crime, but the laws suggest it's the selling, not the product, that is the problem being addressed (in other words, little guys competing with the big boys).

He didn't address this, as I recall, but it's curious that agribusinesses push food safety as a reason for regulation, yet the problems with food safety we've been hearing about involve agribusinesses, not the little guys. This is no different from other areas.  Some lawyers don't want nonlawyers handling real estate closings, even though west of the Mississippi most closings are handled by nonlawyers, and the reason given against nonlawyers doing the work is consumer protection.  Same thing with banks in the ongoing debate about debit card interchange fees -- the consumer will end up paying, they say.  When the regulated uses consumer protection as its argument for or against something, a little skepticism is appropriate.

"It's getting late," says Virginia.

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