The Politics of (food) Politics

Farm bills in da house!

“Contentious,” “spirited,” “nail-biting” . . . another instance of the little guy against the Man . . . that’s what we’ve seen in the first session debates of the 2011 legislature. What we talking here, prisons? Taxes? Moral turpitude? Heck no, what we got ourselves is some contro-vershal agricultural legislation.

House Bills 2336, 2222, 2872 and 2947 all address the concerns of small farmers and producers, and ultimately affect you, the eater. So far, three of the bills have made it past the House and are now in the Senate (“I’m just a bill, yes I’m only a bill sittin’ here on Capitol Hill . . . now I’m stuck in the Senate . . .” remember Schoolhouse Rock?), while 2222 remains in process in the House. Here’s the gist and why you should care.

HB 2336 Pickle Bill

A committee bill that goes like this: farmers/growers can sell their products directly to consumers, either at stands or markets without the hassle of having food establishment licenses. This includes veggies, fruits, nuts, legumes and grains that you cook before eating, jams, fruit-based syrups, shell eggs, honey, popcorn, salsa, pickles, and so on. Producers must make less than $20,000 per year on these products; must process the goods themselves; pH levels must be below 4.6; and labels must show ingredients, address of producer, and the ominous “This product is homemade and is not prepared in an inspected food establishment.” If offenses occur, the Dept. of Ag can require producers to get a license. Basically the bill just clarifies the law, which was fuzzy, about what constitutes a “food establishment.” It’s good for the farmer because they can make small batches of value-added products without having to have a commercial kitchen, as well as sell their wares without having to worry about licensing. A plus for the eater ‘cause the goodies will be available at market.

HB 2222 Family Farm Act

The (relative) big guns showed up to fight the first hearing of the “Family Farm Act,” including the Oregon Dairy Farmer Assoc., Tillamook Creamery, the Northwest Food Processors and the Farm Bureau. The raw milk provision of the bill really got the debate underway; it is already legal for farmers with three cows (nine goats) or fewer to sell raw milk to Oregonians who physically go and pick up the milk themselves. The bill ups the allowable animal totals. Many states are looking to ease legislation for raw milk and raw milk products even as the Feds are cracking down on regulations for raw milk cheese. Though much of the population couldn’t care less about raw milk, those consumers that want it want it bad, and drive a quasi-underground market all around the country.

The bill also allows for small farms to slaughter up to 1,000 chickens for use as people food, without having to be inspected. Federal law already allows this exemption for small producers, but Oregon has failed to recognize it, making it illegal for anyone to sell poultry that hasn’t been processed in either a state or USDA inspected facility—of which there is only one in Oregon. This bill is, again, friend of consumer and farmer alike, allowing eaters to get fresh local poultry direct from farmers, and create more of a supply for the growing demand for raw milk.

HB 2947 Honey Bill

This bill also passed the House, and basically requires the Oregon Department of Agriculture to adopt rules and establish standards of identity, quality requirements, and labeling requirements for honey sold in Oregon. Small scale honey producers benefit as do consumers who want pure honey as opposed to honey with undesirable stuff added (i.e. high fructose corn syrup).

All these bills help small farmers keep their costs down by not having to meet regulations created for industrial models, and they ultimately create more product diversity for the consumer. Local is the buzz these days and good reason: increased health and prosperity for us as individuals, small businesses, and communities.

The fears of legislators come in the form of food safety concerns, but as Cannon Beach Rep. Deborah Boone pointed out in the debate, few food recalls come from cottage industries. Recent recalls of eggs, peanut butter, and milk all have come from large producers who are supposedly inspected and “safe.” At the end of the day, knowing who you buy your food from and what kind of a show they are running is the best guarantee for consumers.

For info on small farms issues in Oregon,

By Elia Seely

eating the coast/food groove is a bright new slice in HIPFiSH showcasing the burgeoning local food scene in the columbia pacific region - from farm/sea to fork, community gardening, growing, consuming, eating out, and raising a living - stay tuned and watch as we nurture and grow this section in sync with the locovore movement . Eating the Coast Editor
Elia Seely wants to hear from you - news, events, issues.