The Death and Resurrection of the Virginia Food Freedom Act

By Bernadette Barber – www.virginiafoodfreedom.org

The Virginia Food Freedom Act, HB 135 was introduced by Delegate Rob Bell to the Agriculture Subcommittee in an overflowing conference room at the General Assembly on January 20th, 2014. Delegate Bell gave a strong delivery. Joel Salatin, of Polyface Farms, spoke in favor of the bill as well as Randall Anderson, of Wicked Oak Farms, who spoke very eloquently about it. Dwayne McIntyre,  the farm manager for Roffey Cattle Company of southwest VA, drove 6 and a half hours to speak for 2 minutes, paring down the small farm issues to basic “freedoms.” Another testimony came from Matthew French, the owner of French Family Farms, who car-pooled with Dwayne. Matthew slept his five hours as he had just got off working a shift at a Pepsi plant. He told the subcommittee he wanted “to make bacon” from the hogs he raises on his 250 acre farm. Kimberly Hartke spoke for Weston A. Price Foundation and Farm to Consumer Legal Defense. I did not speak, as they only allowed 5 persons for testimony, but I did bring a petition with over fifty-five hundred signatures, garnered within four days, calling for the passage of the Virginia Food Freedom Act. Kimberly Hartke spoke for Weston A. Price Foundation and Farm to Consumer Legal Defense. I did not speak, as they only allowed 5 persons for testimony, but I did bring a petition with over fifty-five hundred signatures, garnered within four days, calling for the passage of the Virginia Food Freedom Act. The opposition brought out what Christine Solem described as the “medium guns“; they included a *15 member coalition of organizations against the bill brought forth by the Virginia Agribusiness Council. Farm Bureau was not only included, but also had Trey Davis speak in opposition. Aimee Perron Seibert, the lobbyist for the Virginia Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics stated that, “Raw milk carried a serious health risk to pregnant mothers and children”  citing the AAPs December 16, 2013, raw milk press release. The testimony from a veterinarian from the Agribusiness council and multigenerational cattle operation claimed laughably that people will be stringing dead cows up on the side of the road from tractor buckets carving off bad meat to an unsuspecting public. Anthony Bavuso of Seaford Oyster company videotaped the whole meeting and put it on youtube in 21 segments, the first 13 pertaining to HB 135. He has been in a fight with York County about selling the oysters he grows in his own “backyard” of 25 acres of leased river bottom. Danny Marshall, the chairman of the Ag committee, asked Deputy Secretary Travis Hill to look into the matter of the regulatory burdens that small producers face. At the close of the sub-committee hearing of HB 135, I took the opportunity to discuss the issues with him and the creation of a work group to bring forth the obstacles we face. Ruby Brabo, a King George County Supervisor who is a supporter of HB 135, joined the discussion. She had brought with her a constituent Farmer and asked Deputy Secretary Hill a number of questions and gave him a litany of facts supporting the safety and economic boon to a local economy that the passage of HB 135 could create. Kelly Pawlik also spoke with Deputy Secretary Hill, she had been censured by the Department of Agriculture for selling soups from her home in Fredericksburg. Since then, a task force has been created to address the issues and will be meeting in April in Charlottesville. We are still in the game, and hope to have a compromise bill for introduction in 2015 as well as federal legislation to be introduced by VA Congressmen to address the Federal Meat Inspection program so we can  “sell our bacon” A nice story on the Food freedom Act can be found on this website: http://forrager.com/law/virginia/ A continued petition on Peers .org is fueling the next part of the campaign. Please sign it and encourage others to sign on as well. http://campaigns.peers.org/petitions/pass-the-virginia-food-freedom-act *15 Members of the “Coalition” (American Academy of Pediatrics, Cooperative Milk Producers Association, Dairy Farmers of America, Maryland-Virginia Milk Producers Association, Medical Society of Virginia, Virginia Agribusiness Council, Virginia Cattleman’s Association, Virginia Farm Bureau, Virginia food and Beverage Association, State Dairyman’s Association,Virginia Poultry Federation, Retail Merchants Association, Seafood Council, Veterinary Medical Association, and The Wholesale Distributors Association)

Bernadette Barber and her husband Gary own and operate Tall Trees Farm in the Northern Neck. They view themselves as stewards of God’s green earth and conduct their farm in that light. Following the design of creation their cattle graze in lust verdant pastures; their hogs roam freely in the woods; their chickens and turkeys chase bugs and aerate the soil. She picked up her love for farming from her father who beat leukemia with an organic garden.

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