By Bernadette Barber www.virginiafooedfreedom.org
Dear friends, I represented your voice in the House Agriculture Subcommittee in Richmond, VA on Monday, February 2nd, 2015, which was Chaired by Delegate Danny Marshall, (R-14). House Bill 1290 was introduced by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58). It is the third time the Food Freedom Act has been introduced in the General Assembly. Delegate Marshall made it clear he knows the issue and did not want more time on it. It was videotaped so the people can see the proceedings and how each member considered the bill, what questions were asked by those members and how they voted.
When Delegate Bell introduced the bill, he made the case that although most everyone shops at major grocery stores, many people would like the opportunity to purchase directly from a food artisan and we should be able to make that responsible decision. He made three points. One was that small producers should not be impeded by over burdensome regulation, two that consumers should have the right to choose via caveat emptor, and three, Virginia was founded on small farms who sold locally.
Dwayne McIntyre, farmer, father of five and chairman of Russell county republican party was the first speaker. He stated that his testimony last year was on liberty. This year he chose common sense as a theme and used examples of common food items that are currently purchased that are deemed as potentially dangerous, but still available for sale requiring only a label. Among those items were steaks, alcoholic beverages, tobacco, peanut butter, and honey. He mentioned all his children were raised on raw milk.
I spoke next and I addressed the issues of raw milk and the federal meat inspection program’s cooperative agreement with the state. Knowing the VA chapter of the American Academy of Pediatric Association’s lobbyist would bring up misinformation about raw milk, I shared the story of the healing of my own son, who for the first four years of his life was heavily medicated for allergies and spent too many times in the emergency room for febrile seizures. When he was four years old, I took his health into my own hands and got him on raw milk and he since has been allergy free for four years, off all medication, not since been to a hospital or even a doctor. He is that healthy.
The final point I made addressed the false claim I knew would be made by the opposition – that the passage of the food freedom act would jeopardize the cooperative agreement the state has with the USDA on the Federal Meat Inspection Program. Since meat processing is controlled by the federal government, all slaughter and primary processing are done in inspected facilities. Foods being made for sale in home kitchens would have to have meat that came from an inspected facility.
The next person that was allowed to speak was Holder Trumbo, a supervisor from Fauquier County. He brought with him a resolution passed by the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors in support of the Food Freedom Act. He made an excellent appeal for the small producer, even though he owns a grocery store. He knows the Food Freedom Act will benefit all farmers and citizens.
Farm Bureau’s lobbyist, Lindsay Reames, VA Agribusiness Council’s Brad Copenhaver and Virginia State Dairymen’s Association’s Eric Paulson all spoke in opposition to the bill. The major objection was the raw milk. Lindsay Reames made the point that it was because of Farm Bureau that the local food movement exists. She used the wrong causation, it was from a rejection of the licensed, industrially processed globalized foods that farm bureau promotes, that the local foods movement has sprung.
Thomas Massie, a representative for Virginia Veterinary Medical Association, who could not argue the meat inspection issue, said he had concerns about the way animals were raised. Dressed in a white lab coat, Dr. Bartle, a member of the Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics spoke against the bill citing CDC statistics. After testimony was heard, Del. Charles Poindexter, (R-09) made a motion to table the bill, Del. Barry Knight (R-81) seconded the motion. Del. Will Morefield (R-03) was the only delegate to object to the tabling (killing) of the bill.
The next bill of Food Freedom interest was the Three Cow exemption, hb1461, also known as the Raw Milk bill. Del Rick Morris (R-64) introduced it. He spoke of how in 1948 VA code allowed for a three cow exemption so farmers could sell direct. In 1950 when the code was rewritten, the exemption was omitted. As a part of his testimony, Rick drank a glass of Raw milk provided by his constituent Micah Beachy. He
shared that when he was a child, he would ride his bike to the neighboring dairy farm, fill a jug from the tank and leave a quarter in return.
Micah Beachy was the first to speak. He passed out folders to each delegate that held statistical information and studies on raw milk. He had brought half pint jars of raw milk from his own cow that were carefully labeled and gave one to each member of the subcommittee. He also brought a half gallon jar of it to share with the crowd which was poured into cups, passed around and drank during the meeting. He specifically offered some to Eric Paulson, who is known for not trusting the raw milk from his own dairy’s bulk tank.
Mr. Beachy cited many statistics and studies in favor of raw milk. He brought up the fact that he is a member of Farm Bureau and that Farm Bureau does not speak for him and the commercial dairy farmers he knows about this issue. He also said that we are in a peaceful food revolution that this issue is not going away.
Christine Solem, a twenty-five-year veteran of the raw milk and local foods movement was brief in her testimony in favor of the bill. She said that although she was no longer milking and seeking to sell, she was 71 years old and seeking to find good raw milk to keep her bone density and longevity.
Joanna Moyer spoke next and was quite eloquent in her testimony, also reiterating the position that although she is a member of Farm Bureau, they do not speak for her on this issue. Joanna is the milkmaid in her family and wants to be an entrepreneur and stay on the farm, making artisan dairy foods. She stated that historically her mountainous region of VA which is very favorable to grazing animals and dairy farming was a lucrative sideline for many diversified farms and helped families keep cash flow in hard times.
Eric Paulson of the Virginia State Dairymen’s Association spoke against the bill. He claimed to the House Subcommittee on Agriculture stating breaking news on the CDC website on reported deaths from raw milk. Upon further investigation, there were none.
Again, after testimony, Del. Charles Poindexter, (R-09) made a motion to table the bill, and Del. Barry Knight (R-81) seconded the motion. Del. Will Morefield ( R-03) was the only delegate to object to the tabling of the bill.
A video of the hearing can be seen here on our youtube channel http://bit.ly/1zfX4Nv
Please stay tuned for a Food Policy Legislative Workshop that will be held this summer. Thank you so much for following this issue and promoting Food Freedom.
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 lush 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.