by Heather Callaghan
Hey, I know that we extol the virtues of fruits and veggies over flour-y baked and processed goods – but if you can’t be free to make, buy and sell muffins, cookies and other goodies in this country then what the heck are you free to do?
Answer: Free to to keep funding government raids on edible goods?
And in this case we are talking about wholesome goods that come from a small dairy farm – a recent target of two parts of the Michigan state government.
The president of Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund* recently reported:
The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) has filed a complaint with the Livingston County Circuit Court asking that the court order the destruction of, among other foods, 18 homemade oatmeal cookies and 17 homemade apple muffins.1 MDARD seized the cookies, muffins, and other foods during a September 1, 2016 raid of Dairy Delight Cow Boarding, LLC, a herd share dairy farm owned and operated by Kris Unger in Cohoctah Township.2
FTCLDF members have been subject to food seizures since the organization’s inception, but just about all of the seizures have been of either meat or dairy products; the enforcement action at Dairy Delight marks the first seizure of baked goods. The Unger case is great testimony for why a legal distinction needs to be established between the public and private distribution of food and why government agencies should leave the private distribution of food alone.
A herd share program is a form of a private buying club where an agreement exists between owners of cows and the farmer who will board and take care of them, and preserve the goods in food products that the herd share owner later picks up. Often times the share owner has an integral part in production which further emphasizes their ownership. This form of exchange is never open to the public and it is not a retail establishment no matter how many times the authorities bust onto to the farm like the Kool-Aid man claiming it’s a store or otherwise commercial establishment.
Just as in raids of the past, when there are complaints of or reports of illnesses such as e.coli, authorities set their sites on small farm clubs often without a whisper of proof. A raid will often take place on a Friday afternoon or perhaps when the farmer is gone, and personal items like computers are stolen for “evidence” and/or member contact lists are demanded.
In “August 23, 2016 when the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) contacted the Livingston County Department of Public Health (LCDPH), informing it that two children had been infected with E. coli O157:H7,” reports FTCLD.
Although the parent of one of the children told Unger that the children had both consumed tacos before both becoming ill and that the father was “pretty sure” the other child never consumed milk, the farm became a target. Unger check on her members and there were no reports of illness – sent samples to a lab and all came back fine. Having been an FTCLD member, Unger wisely barred inspectors from entrance into the farm and did not hand over the herd share owner contact list.
On September 1st, inspectors from MDARD and LCDPH, accompanied by two deputies from the Livingston County Sheriff’s Department, returned to the farm with an administrative inspection warrant. While conducting the inspection of the dairy, the officials seized the baked goods and other foods including honey, eggs, kombucha, and sauerkraut. The inspectors seized the products because they were “not properly labeled” and because they “were not from regulated sources and were being offered for retail sale.” MDARD’s position is that if a food is supposed to be from a regulated source and is not, it is adulterated.
While the government pretends they are invading an unregulated food establishment, they are actually simply stealing and destroying homemade food made by individuals for said individuals. It wouldn’t be much different than stamping a boot on your neighbor’s cake that was actually requested by you for your bridal shower. In this case, the food was produced for share members and is only sold them as an accommodation – for instance, if I help grind my spelt, but I ask someone to make it into bread for me, because they totally can.
“The shareholder who made the baked goods only sold them to the other shareholders, no one else. The two dozen eggs that were seized had already been paid for by the shareholders who ordered them, but Unger was told she needed a warehouse permit to continue with that arrangement,”
But if you think that’s ridiculous – inspectors also took Unger’s very own half-consumed bottle of kombucha. It was unlabeled, but so is a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice.
MDARD has yet to release their sample tests and this behavior is all too typical – one of the most ridiculous cases being Morningland Dairy where literal tons of cheese were destroyed over two years later with agents never once revealing sample test results.
Now, “MDARD is seeking a court order permanently enjoining Unger from selling food without a license, selling food that is not from an approved source, and selling food that is either adulterated or misbranded.” And there you have the government actually forcing someone to stop providing food yet again.
This writer agrees with FTCLD that the farm is “a closed-loop transaction, which is none of the state’s business.” They didn’t have to seize food – not even to inspect. It is ironic that you you cannot even give food away for free without facing arrest or being forced into a humiliating ritual of destroying your own food with a chemical so that even animals can’t enjoy it. Michigan’s draconian Food Law is so broad that you could be liable for “selling a pumpkin pie to your neighbor” – yet they have one of the worst economies in all the United States.
The only reason the general public doesn’t flinch when it happens is a matter of engineered perception – we need to change that perception back and let the government know that our food is non-negotiable.
*FTCLD’s work goes beyond legal representation. Aside from grassroots demands for changes in food laws, they rely on member donations to protect farmers.
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