Human civilization centers on food production. Regardless of income bracket– food and water are absolutely necessary for bare survival, not to mention human thriving and self-actualization. Because food production is essential to human life– our right to grow, prepare, eat, distribute, and purchase foods is an absolutely inalienable natural right that should never be abridged. But it often is.
I have recently received several phone calls about the looming harassment faced by small-scale (not even small-scale– more like micro-scale) farmers and producers who are trying to bring eggs and produce to market. They are getting harassing calls from the health department, calling into question their methods for bringing 24 eggs and 15 heads of lettuce to a private gathering, where people voluntarily come and choose to purchase these goods.
Other government agencies are harassing these producers as well, no doubt to “protect” consumers, but “consumer protection” all too often just ends up meaning bureaucratic red tape that doesn’t necessarily make the consumer more safe, but does make it difficult for small producers to feed their neighbors and compete with big agricultural corporations by creating cumbersome barriers to entry in terms of compliance costs such as fees and licenses.
From my interactions with these micro-farmers, I can tell it’s difficult for local producers and consumers in a tight-knit community to swallow the idea that chickens laying eggs is a new and dangerous process that should have the watchful eye of government regulatory agencies making sure it is done right.
Where did common sense go? If people in local communities want to sell two dozen eggs to a willing neighbor and make enough money to pay for their chicken feed– what is wrong with that? Why should regulatory licensing come into play? These are voluntary exchanges of goods between two consenting adults. Regulatory red tape foisted on communities from outside by third parties just builds barriers between people, penalizes them for making their own choices, and consolidates decision-making power away from local communities and into the hands of an elite few.
In talking to these obviously frustrated individuals, I remind them: “It is up to us to draw the line in the sand.” That means, when the government uses its power to harass entrepreneurs like micro-farmers, it is up to individuals and local communities to take a stand, get more involved in the public policy process, and fight policies that they consider unfair or unreasonable. Failing that, they could take a page out of America’s proud tradition of civil disobedience and refuse to comply.
When a young family regularly sells a dozen eggs at their church to people who want to buy eggs from them and regulators harass them to pay cumbersome, unreasonable fees, they can refuse to comply and continue discreetly selling eggs to friends in their community. In Greece for instance, the underground barter and trade economy is booming and empowering communities to take their own lives and their own choices back into their own hands. We can tell regulatory busybodies, “Thanks, but no thanks– we know better than you, what’s best for ourselves, our families, and our communities.” It can really be that simple.
Research using federal government data shows that food regulatory agencies have been completely unsuccessful in their mission to mitigate the natural and unavoidable risks intrinsic to living in this world and eating its food, no matter who produces it. As the budgets of these regulatory agencies grew over time, so has the number of outbreaks of food-born illness. It is impossible to mitigate all risks with a 100% rate of success.
Americans who are uncomfortable with consuming eggs and lettuce purchased directly from someone they know who produced them on a small family micro-farm without a license from a government agency can simply choose not to. That’s a decision they are free to make for themselves. Allowing micro-farmers and their customers to make a different choice without penalty does not prevent other consumers from choosing to purchase mass-produced, genetically-modified food products, harvested by migrant workers under poor working conditions for low wages, and sold at big-box retailers with the regulatory regime’s stamp of approval.
A tolerant and free society is one in which individuals, families, and communities have the ability to make decisions about their own lives and their own bodies without penalty. Consumers weary of micro-farm products don’t need regulatory protection. They already have the power of choice. Why shouldn’t consumers who prefer to eat food locally-grown by their neighbors have that same choice?