by Lily Gutterman
Smuggling raw milk across state lines. S.W.A.T. team raids in a small organic cooperative. “Why is the USDA so afraid of freedom?” a farmer asks.
The film Farmageddon gives life to the story of USDA regulation, and how it oppresses the autonomy of small farmers and consumers in this country.
My team watched this film with the Bradford Conservation Committee on Monday evening as a part of their monthly documentary series. Farmageddon elucidates some of the shocking state and federal policies that plague small farmers throughout the USA. It is a must-see film.
We were lucky to have the opportunity to hear from local farmers after the film screening, and learn from them about their experiences with the USDA. Raw milk was particularly important to the conversation.
Only legal in 28 states, raw milk is unpasteurized and nutrient dense. Federal law prevents it from being transported across state lines, and even within legal states there are strict regulations for sale. In Farmageddon, milk facilities are raided, small farmers livelihoods destroyed, and consumers are denied the product they desire. Also in the film, myths about the danger of unpasteurized milk are debunked, and validity is given to its health benefits.
The farmers who came to the film screening spoke about their experience selling raw milk. To them, the elements of the film were no surprise. One of the women joked that her own business selling raw milk felt like some kind of drug trade—particularly ironic given the nutrients and health benefits of the product. Another woman pointed out, however, that raw milk can be hard to digest for those raised on pasteurized milk. There are inherent risks, but the general opinion was that consumers and farmers should have the right to weigh the costs and benefits of drinking raw milk without government intervention.
Another intriguing part of our discussion began when one farmer mentioned that he was not worried about being raided by the USDA because he wasn’t making enough money. He suspects that it is only when small farmers are bringing in significant revenue that the USDA begins to flag them through the IRS and “investigate” the situation.
It seems to me that most of the farmers in the film who were harassed by the USDA did not break any laws, but were targeted for one reason alone: money. As these small farmers became successful, the USDA cracked down and intimidated them into submission. This is the age of industrial agriculture, and for some reason, our government is intent on keeping it that way.
After seeing the film, there is no question in my mind that the local foods movement must come from the grassroots. We must continue the fight for small farmers to earn a decent living, encourage them to do so with sustainable practices, and protect consumer rights to choose healthy, affordable food. If our federal government isn’t going to support small farmers, we need to do our best to fill that gap.