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Monday, September 26, 2011

Farmageddon Cries For Small Farms and Raw Milk

Posted By on Mon, Sep 26, 2011 at 10:40 AM

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The US government is at war with small farmers who try to raise animals for meat and milk in sustainable ways. Regulations are written for -- and often by -- agribusiness. And the situation has actually gotten worse under President Obama, with gun-toting agents raiding family farms to confiscate milk.

These are some of the key points of "Farmageddon," a documentary made by first-time filmmaker Kristin Canty, that is playing this week at the Roxie Theater.

I couldn't agree more with Canty's points. She decided to make the film because of the difficulty of buying raw milk, which the government thinks is dangerous, famously raiding a SoCal collective earlier this summer.

The film is fresh enough that it includes powerful security-camera footage from that raid of agents covering each other, handguns held high and in front of them, as they walk through a grocery store in the early morning hours, looking for the dangerous milk dealers -- who according to the film have not yet been charged with any crime.

Canty also points out an argument I hadn't considered but will now use until raw milk is legalized:

Why is raw milk illegal, but tobacco is not?

Raw milk from grass-fed cows, goats or sheep is believed by many scientists to be good for you; one farmer speaks of the number of buyers he had who are college professors at Cornell. It's recommended for people, even young children, with asthma or allergies. Yes, there are some health risks because it's teeming with microbes, most of which are good or at least neutral for you. Raw milk is what people drank for millenia before pasteurization was invented within the last two centuries.

What health benefits does smoking tobacco have?

Canty also points out, regrettably without the numbers (that exist) or anecdotes to back it up, that the overwhelming majority of serious food-borne illness outbreaks in this country are caused by agribusiness selling products anonymously under a variety of names, not small farms selling food to people who want to know who they're buying from.

Yet it's the small farms that the hammer of enforcement falls on. Moreover, because government regulations are written for large farms, absurdities exist, like forcing small farmers to drive their pigs hundreds of miles to process them in a USDA plant that's not necessarily cleaner than the farm itself.

My problem with the film isn't the message -- the message is perfect, and important. It's that Canty, who introduces herself as a mother, gets a little too emotional when other mothers are briefly detained by law enforcement.

We spend a long time hearing about a raid on a farm where the family was forced to sit in its living room for six hours, leaving only with permission, and hear over and over about how guns were around the woman's children. But nobody was hurt, and ultimately it turned out to be nothing more than an inconvenience, so the time expended on it and the melodramatic music distract from Canty's true points.

The raids by government thugs are terrible, but the power is in seeing them -- that security-camera footage -- not hearing people cry about them later.

It's a minor niggle, but an important one. The film is new enough that it could be re-edited. "Farmageddon" has plenty to say about crucial issues for everybody who cares about our food supply, and I'd like to see it formatted so the right people -- government officials -- will pay attention.

After the film, my wife turned to me and said, "I want to try raw milk." Me too. But where?

I can go buy marijuana, semi-legally, in about a dozen shops within walking distance. I can buy tobacco or 190 proof alcohol around the corner. I could score a hooker of any gender fairly easily. I could also probably buy meth, heroin, acid, crack, and drugs I don't even know of within walking distance of my apartment.

But how to buy raw milk? I have no idea. What's wrong with this picture?

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W. Blake Gray

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