Nanny State




Since Poland joined the E.U. two years ago, small, traditional farmers have struggled to adapt to laws originally written with more advanced farming cultures in mind:

European law requires farms to have concrete floors in their barns and special equipment for slaughtering. Hygiene laws prohibit milking cows by hand. As a result, the milk collection stations and tiny slaughterhouses that until a few years ago dotted the Polish countryside have all closed. Small family farming is impossible.

In the U.S. we have libertarian Virginia farmer Joel Salatin (a hero in the very popular "eat local" manifesto Omnivore's Dilemma) voicing many of the same complaints in his own book Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal. But in Poland, such squabbles are supercharged by the country's Communist history.

Mr. Mann, from the European Commission, acknowledges that small farmers in places like Poland may have to adapt. "There is a place for the small farmer," he said, "but they have to be smart and not rely on payouts."

But deft adaptation seems hard here, a place set in its ways — and may be bad for the environment anyway. A collective system for selling organic vegetables to the city, devised by Ms. [Jadwiga] Lopata, never got off the ground.

"They tend to be very individualistic," she said. "They think they survived Communist efforts to collectivize them, so they will survive this. They don't realize the European Union and the global market are even harder."

This situation perfectly illustrates the mixed feelings I have about the local/organic movement and its relationship with the state. On one hand, I hate that farmers who just want to do their own thing are being pressured and punished in the name of efficiency by a super-state entity. Why not let people milk cows by hand, for goodness sake?

On the other hand, the local/organic movement is rife with people who think the right response to current pressure by the state and from the market is collectivization (this after surviving Communism!) and perhaps a nice dose of state subsidy.