Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Small farmers fighting back

Sorry for the absence lately. Besides too much desk work, I (alongside a veritable army of passionate supporters) have been helping a farmer friend try to save her flock of rare breed sheep from being slaughtered by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) under the government's scrapie eradication program -- even though the sheep have so far tested negative for any disease.

The 41 Shropshire sheep, including 20 pregnant ewes due to lamb in a month, were supposed to be confiscated from her farm on Monday, but when the CFIA arrived the sheep were already gone -- stolen.

(To read the backstory, I've been sharing the details about the order to destroy, Monday's rally, the theft and the ensuing press reaction on the Rowangarth Farm Facebook page.)

I hope to eventually write down my thoughts about this madness in a more cohesive and comprehensive way (not yet though -- I'm far too mad and emotional, and this kind of issue requires input from the head, not just the heart) because it's not just about my friend's farm and her flock, or even this particular breed of sheep -- this kind of heavy-handed government action is destroying the lives of small farms across Canada and the United States.

To highlight just one: I recently read about the Baker family of Baker's Green Acres in Michigan whose farm is under attack because the U.S. government has designated the heritage free-range pigs they raise as "feral." Let me repeat: the government has said the pigs they raise are in fact feral, and are thus a risk to crop growers. This kind of action isn't to protect farmers -- it's to protect industry, as in Big Ag.

(For more information on the Michigan Department of Natural Resources actions under an Invasive Species Order, go here or here. This second page also features a YouTube video of the farmer, Mark Baker, sharing his story.)

While governments profess to be supporting small farmers, these kinds of actions -- and any regulations that make it impossible for farmers to grow, process or market their products without intrusive bureaucratic interference (for example, the loss of local, small-scale abattoirs is making it increasingly difficult for farmers, especially organic ones, to have their livestock butchered, and it is still illegal for farmers to sell raw milk despite increasing consumer demand) -- only serve to destroy and "depopulate" small farms.

And it's not just the loss of small farms that is at stake here: biodiversity is lost, consumer choice is lost, food sovereignty is lost, personal freedoms are lost.

When I first started posting news updates on my personal Facebook page, a few friends expressed concern thinking that I was the one under attack. I told them no, it's not me -- but it could be. It could be any small farmer. And that means it should be everyone's problem.


Linda J. Spencer said...

...Not to mention government regulations, such as in Quebec, that require farmers to install $50k+ holding tanks for manure, because it might seep into groundwater - What's next? Require farmers to go around and pick up the manure in pastures? Stop spreading manure on crop fields (and use more chemical fertilizers instead)? It's complete madness!

Anonymous said...

I love that you have a label for rants and rabble-rousing. Rant as much as you want, and please, raise some rabble. This is disgraceful conduct by corrupt governmental agencies. Maybe I should leave this post as Anonymous. ;O)

MaineCelt said...

Never mind Big Brother. Seems we farmers have Big Farmer (Corporate Ag)looming and lurking and lording it over us every way we turn.

Here in Maine, several communities have passed "food sovereignity" (sp?) ordinances and there has been a good deal of local organizing around the right of local producers to sell fresh farm goods, unimpeded, to local customers. So far, our farm hasn't been hit, but state and federal agencies are definitely going after small farms with spectacularly out-of-proportion raids. Yep, Big Ag's got to be the power behind this. The "keeping customers safe" defense just doesn't wash.

Erin said...

I've been keeping updated through your Facebook links, what crazy and amazing stuff is going on up in your neck of the woods! I loved waking up one morning to that crime scene tape photo and link! :) said...

@Linda -- I've heard of this happening to large industrialized hog producers (which makes sense, as I know there have been problems with groundwater contamination) but to hold small farmers to the same standard seems ludicrous.

@Laure -- hahaha! Thanks! I rant and rabble much more in person than on the blog. But I had to share this one because you're right -- it is disgraceful.

@MaineCelt -- I've been thinking lots of Orwellian thoughts lately... sounds like I'm not the only one! Thanks for letting me know about these "food ordinances" happening in your parts -- more grist for the mill. Glad to hear you're keeping under the radar -- so far.

@ Erin -- crazy indeed! And yes, that crime scene tape photo made Lucas just a wee bit nervous, as in "What trouble have you gotten yourself into now?!" I'd already promised him (and my dad) that I wouldn't chain myself to a sheep or anything, but it was alarming to him all the same!

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