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Food for Thought
Editorials and Opinions

Factory Farms, Whole Foods & Buying Locally
From the US FARM CRISIS Listserv

I receive "sign on" letters weekly. The issue is usually about a cause with which I strongly agree. Most recently I received a request to protest Whole Foods and their sale of factory pork.

This was interesting. Nearly two years ago I asked one of my suppliers if I might find a source of non-factory pork for my restaurant. I was introduced to Pure Farms. The salesman arrived with all kinds of information about this wonderful, naturally raised product. I was nevertheless suspicious as I reviewed the material. Terms like slanted floors with automatic flushing to keep growing pen clean told me this product was part of the factory system. Having grown up on a family farm I knew that hog pens or hog lots didn't have flushing devices.

I did a little more research and called a hog grower in Indiana who does pastured pigs. He laughed when I mentioned Pure Farms and explained that they were "a label" for Premium Standard the largest hog confinement operation in Missouri.

Fast forward: I now buy pork from a local organic farm. I visit the farm. I know how the hogs are fed and I can reassure my customers that pork served in my restaurant is a quality product, safe and humanely grown.

Now after doing my own research and begging organized environmental groups and others with plenty of time and money and supposed expertise to help me they come back to me and ask for help. I'm beginning to think that the many non-profits who insist they are working to serve us are actually creating jobs for themselves. They all have very narrow agendas and they all protect their own special interests. Seldom do I find them willing to work with anyone other than themselves.

I have approached members of nearly every group at one time or another for assistance. They showed little interest. Their refusals are always the same. That is not our issue. We don't have anyone on staff to do that. It would seem to me that everyone would benefit from our supporting each other.

Your issue with Whole Food, Fresh Fields, Wild Oats and nearly all "natural foods" stores is that they present an image to the public and the public believes every product in the store is naturally produced.

One of the worst examples is poultry. Belle and Evans is a perfect example. Their chickens are raised in large animal confinement systems which are harmful to ground water and air quality. Somehow they have convinced the public that these are farm raised, naturally produced chickens. Where is the outrage?

Here is the big problem. We have been focused on organic labeling, animal rights and vegetarian diets. While fighting about these issues the well organized retailers have created myths about food with a vocabulary that has little or no meaning...fresh, whole, natural, farm-raised, no antibiotics, homemade, etc. They have been able to sell factory food from chemical based agriculture at higher prices.

Now you expect us to join a protest. What is their motivation to stop doing what is making money for them?

What we really need to do is ask every organized food, environmental, farming group to get to the real issue which is the dinner table. Until we return people to local, seasonal food supplies we will have no control over what appears in the grocery store.

This is the labeling system we that says grown within 50 miles of point of sale or a label that says not grown locally.

Because I spend hours every day searching for and connecting to local sources of food from sustainable systems I do get a little tired of being asked to carry water those who are being paid to serve as advocates and defenders.

Let's start with something real and something close to home. Let's get Family Farm Association, Sierra Club, Defenders, state environmental groups, Organic Trade Association, Mothers for Safe Food, and the list goes on and on....together these groups could

1. insist that only locally produced, sustainable food be served in their school cafeterias.

2. require every town of a specific population level to provide funds for a local farmers market.

3. require any health care facility that receives public money to serve only locally produced food from sustainable systems

4. require every public school to offer instruction in the value of sustainable agriculture

These ideas and many others could begin to do what no group has done to date...educate the consumer. Until the consumer's needs and demands are changed retailers will control the process and write the rules.


Mark Ritchie, President
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
2105 First Ave. South
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404 USA
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