Drink Local, Support HB 502, And A Book Review

February 28, 2013 § 4 Comments

LOCAL FOOD

The ‘Eat Local’ movement has steadily gained traction over the past few years.  Municipalities advertise farmer’s markets showcasing local farm products and giving shoppers the opportunity to talk face to face with the folks that grow their food.  CSA’s are sprouting up, giving farmers a way to guarantee at least a portion of their income and share the risks of farming with people in their community who value and support local agriculture.  Trendy restaurant menus tout the names of local farms supplying the ingredients behind their culinary creations.  But absent from the majority of main stream conversations on local food sourcing and getting to know your farmer is the topic of drinking local: local milk, that is.

In many states such a conversation is moot because people do not have the option of buying milk directly from farmers.  In my state of Maryland, the law states that milk producers {farmers} may only sell milk to holders of milk processor permits and in 2006 the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued a regulation redefining the term “sale” to include milk obtained through cow-shares.  In milk purchasing, we are not given the priviledge of supporting local aggriculture.

As the food processing industry continues to grow, family farmers are increasingly squeezed by the ever consolidating industry.   In a 2012 article that appeared in US News, David Balto wrote

“Although food prices have increased significantly over the past several years, the family farmer is receiving less and less of the American food dollar: The overall share farmers receive of each dollar spent has dropped considerably, from 40.9 cents in 1950 to only 15.8 cents today.”

The eat local movement has provided a vehicle for some farmers to opt-out of the food processing industry by offering their products directly to consumers.  This means greater profits for farmers, while buying options like CSA’s and bulk meat purchase {in which whole portions of an animal are purchased at a flat price rather than paying by the cut} can keep prices competitive for consumers.  However, pasteurization laws mean that dairy farmers do not have the same direct-to-consumer marketing options open to them that other farmers do.   A 2009 story that aired on NPR discussed the squeeze that the dairy industry is feeling.

“Dean Foods controls about 90 percent of the milk supply in Michigan, 80 percent in Massachusetts, over 80 percent in Tennessee and 70 percent in northern New Jersey. That’s not a free market.” {VT Sen. Bernie} Sanders says.

Harrison {a Tenn. farmer} says the industry was different before DFA {Dairy Farmers of America} came into existence in 1998.

“Prior to that, it was kind of a beautiful market in our area, because you could pick up the phone today and go somewhere else tomorrow. “There was still a lot of competition,” Harrison says. “Well, as DFA came in and began tying up all those supply contracts, those things disappeared. The net effect was that you had no other option. If you were dissatisfied or wanted to make a change, you had no option to go sell your milk.”

Currently, there is a bill in commity which would give dairy farmers in Maryland another option and pave the way for cow-shares.  Delegate Glenn Glass has sponsored HB 502 which would allow  “an owner or operator of a livery stable or other establishment who gives care or custody to a dairy animal a lien on the dairy animal for a specified charge incurred for the milking of the diary animal for the milk to be provided to a specified person”.  THIS BILL GOES TO A VOTE ON MARCH 6, 2013, please read to the bottom for specifics on asking our legislature to support this bill.

BOOK REVIEW: THE UNTOLD STORY OF MILK

Against a backdrop of the importance that milk products from pastured animals have had to various cultures around the world and throughout time, author Ron Schmid provides a thorough history of milk farming in the United States.  He describes how practices of milk production in the early 1900 swill dairies {dairies in cities situated near alchohol distileries where distilery waste could easily be fed to dairy cows} created a health crises that called for ways to ensure a safe supply of milk.  He outlines the two prevailing schools of thought on dealing with the crises: those who favored compulsory pasteurization for all milk sold to the public versus those who saw pasteurization as a temporary measure to address the current health situation until a permentent means for certifying and regulating sales of unprocessed milk was developed and implemented.  The book gives detail on the two men behind the movements and describes the circumstances that, over time, lead to pasteurization laws in most states.  The story comes full circle as Schmid describes the “new swill dairies” that are growing up around ethenol refining plants so that the industrial waste can be fed to the cows that produce the milk our country drinks.

Schmid’s book explains that milk is not the comodity that it has been sold as but is vastly different depending on the diet of the animal, the time of year it is produced, and the way it is processed {modern high-temp and ulta-high temp pasteurizing as well as traditional ways of fermenting and culturing milk producs, both forms of processing, are covered}.  He expalins the nutritional differences processing can make as well as nutritional differences between milk from cows on pasture eating fresh grass versus milk from cows kept in confinement dairies fed a diet of grains.  In order to have a truely healthy food, the animal provideing the food must also be healthy; sadly, the practices of confinment dairies mean that the animals producing much of our milk supply are sick.  “With widespread pasteurization came the notion…that somehow pasteurization would take unhealthy milk and make it not only safe to drink but also healthy”. Finally, the book contains discussions on unprocessed milk from pasture-raised animals in the context of health, environmental, and socio-economic benefits.

I would highly recommend this book, it is valuable information for both milk drinkers and non-milk drinkers alike as a country’s dairying practices reach far beyond our own kitchen tables.

“Traditional grass-based dairy farming was a highly egalitarian enterprise; anyone with initiative and a few acres could herd animals on any kind of land, and sell or barter the products to his neighbors.  Societies that consume the products of pastured animals are much less likely to exhibit huge disparities in wealth compared to societies where the economics of food are based on grain.” – Ron Schmid, The Untold Story of Milk

SUPPORT HB 502

Please join me in urging our representatives to support our state’s economy and family dairy famers.

Take Action

Contact  Members of the Economic Matters Committee about HB 502

1) Please contact Glenn Glass, the sponsor of the bill, and thank him for sponsoring HB 502. glen.glass@house.state.md.us  410-841-3280

2) Email, call or write the committee members, and ask them to SUPPORT HB 502.

See contact info and sample email or letter below.

Sample email or letter (please change to fit your own wording and details):

Dear Economic Matters Committee Members,

Please support HB 502, the cow-boarding bill. As someone who lives in an area where I cannot keep my own agricultural animals, it is important to me to contract with a farmer to board an animal for me so that I can have the milk from my own animal. This bill is about property rights and about keeping Maryland farms thriving through giving our farmers options for sharing their expertise. Please support this legislation.

A 2007 CDC survey found that 3 percent of Marylanders consume unprocessed milk straight from the farm.  The vast majority of this is purchased in Pennsylvania, along with other on-farm products, representing a huge economic loss to Maryland farmers and to the state.

Unprocessed milk consumption is growing at an estimated rate of 25 percent per year.  HB 502 would allow Maryland farmers to reap the benefits of this rapidly growing sector of the economy.

Thank you!
(Your name, title, contact info, address)

Contact info for committee members to ask them to SUPPORT HB 502 (see below for just emails):

Chairman: Dereck Davis: dereck.davis@house.state.md.us, 301-858-3519

Charles Barkley: charles.barkley@house.state.md.us, 301-858-3001
Ben Barnes: ben.barnes@house.state.md.us, 301-858-3046
Aisha Braveboy: aisha.braveboy@house.state.md.us, 301-858-3707
Emmett Burns: emmett.burns@house.state.md.us, 410-841-3352

Galen Clagett: galen.clagett@house.state.md.us, 301-858-3436
Brian Feldman: brian.feldman@house.state.md.us, 301-858-3186
Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio: jeannie.haddaway@house.state.md.us, 410-841-3429
Steve Hershey: steve.hershey@house.state.md.us, 410-841-3543
Tom Hucker: tom.hucker@house.state.md.us, 301-858-3474
Rick Impallaria: rick.impallaria@house.state.md.us, 410-841-3289
Sally Jameson: sally.jameson@house.state.md.us, 301-858-3337
Benjamin Kramer: benjamin.kramer@house.state.md.us, 301-858-3485
Mary Ann Love: maryann.love@house.state.md.us, 410-841-3511
Brian McHale: brian.mchale@house.state.md.us, 410-841-3319
Warren Miller: warren.miller@house.state.md.us, 410-841-3582
Joseph Minnick: joseph.minnick@house.state.md.us, 410-841-3332
John Olszewski: john.olszewski@house.state.md.us, 410-841-3458
David Rudolph: david.rudolph@house.state.md.us, 410-841-3444
Steve Schuh: steve.schuh@house.state.md.us, 410-841-3206
Kelly Schulz: kelly.schulz@house.state.md.us, 410-841-3080
Donna Stifler: donna.stifler@house.state.md.us, 410-841-3278
Michael Vaughn: michael.vaughn@house.state.md.us, 301-858-3691

Email addresses for committee members:
For simplicity, copy and paste the following block of email addresses into the “To” section of your email. In the subject line, put “Pass HB 502 the Cow-Boarding Bill”. Be sure to include your name and street address in the body of the email so that they can confirm that you are a Maryland resident.

dereck.davis@house.state.md.us;charles.barkley@house.state.md.us;ben.barnes@house.state.md.us; aisha.braveboy@house.state.md.us; emmett.burns@house.state.md.us; galen.clagett@house.state.md.us; brian.feldman@house.state.md.us; jeannie.haddaway@house.state.md.us; steve.hershey@house.state.md.us; tom.hucker@house.state.md.us; rick.impallaria@house.state.md.us; sally.jameson@house.state.md.us; benjamin.kramer@house.state.md.us; maryann.love@house.state.md.us; brian.mchale@house.state.md.us; warren.miller@house.state.md.us; joseph.minnick@house.state.md.us; john.olszewski@house.state.md.us; david.rudolph@house.state.md.us; steve.schuh@house.state.md.us; kelly.schulz@house.state.md.us; donna.stifler@house.state.md.us; michael.vaughn@house.state.md.us

shared at Thank Your Body Thursday, Fight Back Friday, Old Fashioned Friday

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The Conversation We Need to Have {For the Sake of Our Children}

January 30, 2013 § 3 Comments

When I was growing up I didn’t know anyone with a food allergy.  There weren’t ‘nut-free’ schools, concerns over dairy or egg ingredients in birthday cakes,  and ‘gluten-free’ had not yet become  $4 billion industry.   As an adult, I started hearing different people mention that their kids were allergic to certain foods.  Friend’s talked about things they couldn’t include when packing lunches to send to school.  I wondered what had changed. Why were children now having reactions to the basic foods that had nourished humans for ages?  But the question was more of a passing curiosity than a pressing concern. 

I don’t remember when I first heard the term Genetically Modified Organism (GMO), but I can say that it wasn’t something that really concerned me.  Hadn’t humans been crossbreeding plants for centuries?  So this was a more targeted, scientific approach to that crossbreeding.  So what?  I thought the people getting their panties in a bunch over GMO’s were the type that never quite grew out of their teenage angst.  I thought they were the type who dislike something for the unfounded reason of it being “new-fangled”, the hippies on the fringe, the ones who were always looking for something to be upset about just because they couldn’t stand to not have drama in their life.  Besides, how many foods out there were GMO?  And doesn’t the FDA test our food supply anyway?  No, I didn’t have the time to concern myself with this type of thing. 

This past fall I started hearing about Prop 37, the ballot initiative in California that would require food companies to label products that contain GMO ingredients.   I found a link to the documentary Genetic Roulette.  Several non-GMO food companies had sponsored the film so it could be streamed for free on the web for a limited time period in an effort to get the word out about GM crops.  Since it was free, I decided to watch. 

I was shocked. 

Genetic Modification is not the benign crossbreeding I had assumed it to be.  And my question as to why children were becoming allergic to more and more foods suddenly seemed to have a plausible answer.  Genetic Modification had introduced previously unknown proteins into our food supply and our bodies did not know how to handle them.   Seeing the new proteins as invaders, our bodies were mounting attacks against these foreign substances, resulting in an immune system gone awry.

And what of my other questions: how much of our food supply is GM and doesn’t the FDA test this stuff anyway?  I soon learned that my confidence was misplaced. 

According to an article published in Forbes in November, 2012, ” 70% of items in American food stores contain genetically modified organisms”.   Apparently the issue is bigger than I thought.  The article also states that “the FDA has shied away from interfering with GM foods as much as possible, trusting food companies to watch out for public safety”.  Now, I have a degree in finance, I know that a company’s obligation is to increase shareholder value, not to watch out for public safety.  In this short TED talk, Robyn O’Brien {a former food industry analyst} explains why GMOs are such a good deal for business, but a bad deal for consumers. 

Another point the article makes but doesn’t expand upon is the pest-resistance factor of GMOs.  The article merely states “GM crops can be engineered to be naturally pest-resistant, undermining the need for pesticide chemicals”.  It doesn’t explain that this “natural” pest-resistance comes from inserting the pesticide into the plant DNA so that when insects eat the plant their stomachs explode.  This begs the question of a link between leaky-gut syndrome and GMOs.  The article also does not explain that some crops {called roundup ready crops} have been engineered to survive applications of the herbicide Roundup.  This means the need for chemicals is certainly not undermined.  Quite the contrary, roundup ready crops are marketed with the express intent of being able to withstand application of chemicals.  While the crops are not harmed, I wonder what harm is done to those who eat the roundup doused crops. 

The full Genetic Roulette documentary is again available to watch online today. 

I know you’re busy.  I know you have dinner to make, and traffic was a mess, and you’re late to sports practice.  I get it, I’m there too.  But later tonight, while you’re doing the dishes or folding the laundry, take advantage of the opportunity to watch Genetic Roulette for free.  For our children’s sake, this is the conversation we need to be having.  And it starts with parents like us educating ourselves.  This isn’t just for those on the fringes, because GMOs are not limited to the fringes of our food supply.  They are in almost every item on every grocery store shelf.  The food industry has done plenty of research to figure out how to get us to buy their products.   We owe it to our families to do our own research and find out exactly what it is they are selling.  We are the gatekeepers of what goes into our children’s bodies.  And we can demand better.

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