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If I want to come to your farm, voluntarily, ask around, look around, and purchase what you have, that is a transaction that no society, historically, has criminalized. Until modern America. Rather than being progressive, we’re regressive—to the inquisition. Then it was dogma. Today it’s food. Why can’t we as a culture abide those who want to take personal responsibility for their food and their health? The reason is simple: national health care. The moment society owns your body through national health care, it has a vested interest in keeping you from doing things that might jeopardize your health. Eating pet food definitely could jeopardize your health. We cannot have food freedom as long as we don’t have health freedom. The more responsible society becomes for my life, the more it will inject its mob paradigm into what I can and cannot do, or eat.
Reason: In your most recent book Folks, This Ain’t Normal you write that “profitable farming is no more static than the culture.” You make this point to urge legislators and regulators to permit broader uses of farm property. What are some restrictions that haven’t allowed farms (and farmers) to change with the times?
Salatin: Perhaps the most obvious is zoning regulations. These come in many permutations, from planning commission overlays to preservation zones to agricultural districts. They all view farms as producers of raw commodities to be processed, value added, and sold somewhere else. This economic apartheid discourages integrated food systems and encourages segregated food and fiber.
Classifying, for example, butchering as manufacturing and not farming makes such historically normal farm activities illegal. In our county, charging school kids for an on-farm tour is illegal because education is not a permitted use of farmland. That’s to be done in schools. In fact, a local rocket club was banned from launching on a farm because farmland, according to the county commissioners, was not to be used “for fun.” Apparently farmers are supposed to keep their laughing to themselves.
These zoning and land use regulations are popping up everywhere, from precluding intern housing to even excluding a second generation from building a second home on the ranch due to greenbelt or land preservation requirements. The last remaining dairy in Montgomery County, Maryland is not fighting for its survival against a green space land trust because of the conservation easement these farmers put on their farm 30 years ago. Now the farmer realizes his survival depends on bottling his own milk and selling it to the urban community that has grown up around him. But the easement trust won’t let him put in a bottling facility because that is manufacturing, and not farming.
In our county, woodworking shops are illegal on farmland. So are sawmills. What better place to saw the logs or build from boards than near where the trees grow? Vineyards are constantly battling over the right to have tasting rooms, events, or even to make wine from a neighbor’s grapes because wine making is not considered farming: it’s manufacturing. And heaven help us if someone gets entertained on a farm. These regulations, started to reduce development, have now become a tool to destroy farm profitability in a day when more and more farmers are realizing the value of historically normal on-farm processing and recreational opportunities.
Interestingly, this is not a greenie vs. entrepreneurial divide. Many conservatives, especially agribusiness and large farms, don’t want consumers coming out to farms, whether to buy food or have a hootenanny, because they are afraid of disease, liability, and transparency. Greenies want to freeze the landscape in some pre-modern 1950s Mayberrry RFD mystique. Both sides converge to keep progressive farmers from being able to morph into modern resilience.
Reason: With the (largely) libertarian Reason audience in mind, is there any question you wish I'd asked that I did not? If so, please feel free to ask and answer the question.
Salatin: How should a libertarian view Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) technology?
First, GMOs, which I prefer to label transgenic modified organisms, are not simply an extension of Mendel’s peas. Mendel only crossed peas with peas to hybridize them. In transgenic modification, Mendel would have been crossing peas with carrots with salmon. That’s a completely different deal.
Realize that the very goal of this technology is to pollinate indiscriminately. The very nature of the beast is to roam the countryside, irrespective of boundaries, and impregnate plants willy-nilly, creating totally new life forms heretofore unimaginable. When the sexual plumbing does not match, you have to force the issue pretty hard.
I do not believe we need laws regulating GMOs any more than we needed laws to regulate pollution. If historic trespass law had been properly administered, we would not have needed either the Environmental Protection Agency or the Clean Water Act. When you pour something in the river that crosses my boundary, you are liable for it. For sure, businesses that pollute should be held liable for the total cost of the clean up. If it bankrupts them, so be it. In fact, I would say that the corporate officers should be held personally liable for those violations.
The old adage “your first ends at my nose” actually works for a lot of things. The first time Monsanto’s life form went across a fence and adulterated my plants, they should have been held liable for their fist hitting my nose. And I shouldn’t have to sue them; the district attorney should prosecute it just like a bank robbery or a murder. If that had been done, GMOs would never have been released on the planet to wreak the havoc they are currently wreaking.
Our culture has not become such a pawn of these large interests that today, not only is Monsanto not liable, but the farmer whose plants become impregnated with Monsanto’s patented life forms is liable for the privilege of having of allowing the promiscuity to occur in his fields. It’s unspeakably outrageous. Why the libertarians and conservatives can’t understand what this blatant disregard for property rights is doing to our jurisprudence and the basic American dream of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness I can’t fathom. We are supposed to be secure from trespass in our persons and property—that’s the whole point of warrants for search and seizure. Granting Monsanto the right to roam the countryside with its property and violate the security of land and persons is unconscionable in any functional civilization. We have indeed been overtaken by the barbarians: they wear pin-striped suits and sit behind mahogany desks at the Supreme Court and Wall Street. It’s an unholy alliance if there ever was one.