Regulation

Local Health Departments Have To Start Learning From Local Farmers and Markets

A promising new law will give agricultural communities in Massachusetts more say in local public-health rules that apply to them and impact their property and livelihoods.

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A promising new law will give agricultural communities in Massachusetts more say in local public-health rules that apply to them and impact their property and livelihoods.

The law, An Act Providing for Agricultural Commission Input on Municipal Board of Health Regulations, which went on the books last month, might be the first of its kind in this country. It is designed to "giv[e] farmers, farm stands, farmers markets and others involved in agriculture a say in the development of local health regulations."

The law requires that a local health department—prior to adopting any new regulations that would apply to farmers markets, farms, or backyard livestock or gardening—provide a local agricultural commission with a copy of the proposed rules. The new law also creates a 45-day review window, during which the local agricultural commission can hold public hearings and critique the proposed health regulations.

(Local agricultural commissions are quite common in Massachusetts. A 2017 post by the Massachusetts Association of Agricultural Commissions indicates there were nearly 175 local agricultural commissions in Massachusetts at the time.)

This new Massachusetts law echoes a drum I've been beating for years. As I've long noted, there's a great deal of tension between expanding local food options and crafting new and stricter food-safety regulations. 

Many people today want more local food options. Others want tougher food regulations. Some people want both. But that latter wish is nothing more than a pipe dream. In my book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable, I highlight this problem while using an example from—of all places—Massachusetts. In that example, a small, certified organic farm in Massachusetts was forced to stop selling bagged lettuce in a nearby town. That's because the latter's health department considered the lettuce to be a processed food, which would subject it to additional regulations. The local health department apparently determined the lettuce was a "processed" food because the farm cut the stalk off the lettuce before bagging it. 

"If we'd just sold the lettuce with the stalk on, we wouldn't have a problem," the farm's owner told me. "But because we cut off the stalk, it was considered 'processed.'"

As I explain in the book, lettuce stalks are bitter and are usually cut from the lettuce sold at farmers markets, grocers, or anywhere else before sale. "Most consumers never even see [a lettuce stalk], because most farmers cut it off, knowing that consumers won't eat it," I explain.

The "processed" lettuce rule is exactly the sort of inane and backwards regulation the new Massachusetts law is designed to eliminate—thanks to the input of farmers—before it ever gets on the books.

"Local boards of health make consequential decisions that impact the health of our communities and local industries," says State Sen. Adam Hinds (D–Pittsfield), who co-sponsored the new law, in an email to me last week. "They should have a say in the matter of these decisions. This legislation means boards of health will now be obliged to hear from their local agricultural commissions when issues might impact farming and agriculture."

Others have similar hopes for the new law.

"We hope that the new law will prompt conversations between local health regulators and farmers," says Winton Pitcoff, director of the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative, which promotes local foods in the state and supported the new law, in an email to me this week. "Too often those relationships are antagonistic, but the reality is that they can be mutually supportive when regulators understand better what it takes for farms to remain sustainable while still keeping consumers safe, and when farmers have an opportunity to educate regulators, most of whom are under-resourced and so often don't have the capacity to thoughtfully develop appropriate regulations."

"Few BOH [health departments] have any expertise in agriculture, but with the rising interest in backyard livestock, farmers markets and small farms—many BOH were putting out regulations—often they made no sense," says Brad Mitchell, deputy executive director of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation, which also supported the new law, in an email to me this week. "Our goal in bringing this to the legislature was to try to ensure that any ag related regulations that BOH put out were done… with the benefit of some knowledge of agriculture. Ag Commissions were created to provide such expertise, but too often BOHs were not consulting with them. This fixes that."

While Hinds tells me he's unaware of any opposition to the bill, saying its passage was a "pretty seamless" process, others I spoke with did raise a concern. Two colleagues I spoke with about the law, each of whom knows farming and the law and hails from outside Massachusetts, raised concerns that a law like this one will work better in Massachusetts than it might in a traditional "Big Ag" state such as Iowa, North Dakota, or Texas. The people I spoke with worried "Big Ag" might dominate or co-opt local agricultural commission membership in states where large farms are more common.

Mitchell suggests those concerns are misplaced.

"Conceptually it will work anywhere," Mitchell says of the new Massachusetts law. "The concept is very simple—some of those[] involved in the rulemaking process should have some expertise in the activity on which the rules regulate.. It would be fine if ag comms were comprised of 'big ag' folks. They are advisory only and there is knowledge in this group. The issue we actually have with ag comm[ission]s in [Massachusetts] is that some have been co-opted by folks who have read a couple Michael Pollan books and think they know it all."

As I noted earlier, this Massachusetts law may be the first of its kind in this country. Given the challenges that local health departments around the country pose to local food producers, I hope it's a smashing success. And I hope other states around the country move to adopt similar protections for farmers, farmers markets, and backyard gardeners and livestock owners. Doing so would help locally produced food to flourish.

NEXT: The All-American Arms Dealer

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  2. These commissions will not affect (relax) food laws in their local area. Massachusetts went along with it so politicians have yet another place political allies and friends can be assigned to (and receive compensation).

  3. What do farmers know about food?

  4. Based on CDC data and estimates, I calculated the estimated overall covid immunity rates for each state using the equation:
    [(Immunity due to past infection) + (Immunity due to 1st vaccine) + (Immunity due to 2nd vaccine) = Overall Covid Immunity Rate]

    More specifically, the equation to calculate total immunity is:
    [(Covid Case Rate x 4.6) + (1st Dose Vaccination Rate x .9) + (2nd Dose Vaccination Rate x .1) = Overall Covid Immunity Rate].

    These calculations and estimates assume the following variables:
    – CDC’s estimate of 4.6 times more covid infections than cases,
    – 100% of people with previous covid infections remain immune,
    – 1st vaccine doses are 90% effective at conferring immunity, and
    – 2nd vaccine doses are 100% effective at conferring immunity.

    Covid Immunity Conferred by
    State — Infection + 1st vaccine + 2nd vaccine = Overall Immune
    ND — 60.1% + 6.1% + .9% = 67.1%
    SD — 58.1% + 6.8% + .9% = 65.8%
    RI — 54.2% + 5.7% + .6% = 60.5%
    IA — 52.7% + 6.1% + .5% = 59.3%
    AZ — 51.3% + 6.8% + .6% = 58.7%
    UT — 52.9% + 4.7% + .5% = 58.1%
    TN — 51.8% + 4.8% + .5% = 57.1%
    OK — 48.9% + 7.0% + .8% = 56.7%
    WI — 48.5% + 6.9% + .7% = 56.1%
    AR — 48.4% + 5.7% + .5% = 54.6%
    NE — 47.5% + 6.5% + .6% = 54.6%
    KS — 46.6% + 6.0% + .5% = 53.1%
    AL — 46.0% + 5.8% + .5% = 52.3%
    IN — 44.8% + 6.6% + .6% = 52.0%
    WY — 42.9% + 8.1% + .7% = 51.7%
    NM — 40.3% + 10.4% + 1.0% = 51.7%
    MT — 42.7% + 8.2% + .7% = 51.6%
    MS — 45.1% + 5.9% + .5% = 51.5%
    NV — 43.6% + 6.8% + .6% = 51.0%
    ID — 43.8% + 6.5% + .6% = 50.9%
    IL — 42.8% + 7.2% + .5% = 50.0%
    LA — 42.2% + 6.7% + .7% = 49.6%
    GA — 43.1% + 5.8% + .6% = 49.5%
    CA — 41.2% + 7.5% + .5% = 49.2%
    KY — 41.2% + 6.9% + .6% = 48.7%
    DE — 40.4% + 7.5% + .5% = 48.4%
    AK — 35.0% + 12.2% + 1.2% = 48.4%
    FL — 40.4% + 7.2% + .7% = 48.3%
    TX — 41.7% + 5.9% + .5% = 48.1%
    NJ — 40.2% + 7.3% + .6% = 48.1%

    US Mean — 40.3% + 7.2% + .6% = 48.1%

    MA — 38.3% + 9.0% + .6% = 47.9%
    MN — 39.2% + 7.8% + .6% = 47.6%
    NY — 39.0% + 6.9% + .6% = 46.5%
    CT — 35.9% + 9.8% + .8% = 46.5%
    MO — 39.0% + 6.7% + .6% = 46.3%
    OH — 37.8% + 7.3% + .6% = 45.7%
    NC — 37.3% + 7.4% + .7% = 45.4%
    WV — 33.5% + 9.8% + 1.0% = 44.3%
    CO — 33.8% + 8.7% + .7% = 43.2%
    PA — 33.3% + 8.0% + .5% = 41.8%
    VA — 30.8% + 8.7% + .6% = 40.1%
    MI — 29.5% + 8.1% + .7% = 38.3%
    MD — 28.8% + 8.1% + .6% = 37.5%
    D.C. — 26.0% + 10.5% + .8% = 37.3%
    NH — 25.1% + 9.4% + .6% = 35.1%
    WA — 20.5% + 9.8% + .6% = 30.9%
    OR — 16.8% + 10.1% + .7% = 27.6%
    ME — 15.1% + 11.6% + .7% = 27.4%
    VT — 10.9% + 12.3% + .8% = 24.0%
    HI — 8.9% + 13.0% + .8% = 22.7%

    Note that calculations are based upon covid case and immunization data provided by CDC on 2/23/2021.

    1. To date, only 6 Americans (and only 57 people worlwide) are known to have been reinfected with covid.
      https://bnonews.com/index.php/2020/08/covid-19-reinfection-tracker/

      Since 29+ million Americans have tested positive for covid, and since CDC estimates 4.6 infections for every case, the chance of getting reinfected by covid is about 6 out of 134 million (or 1 out of 22 million).

      While vaccines may be 90%-95% effective for conferring immunity, getting a covid infection is >99.99% effective for conferring of immunity.

      1. Since 8.7% of Americans tested positive for covid by 2/24/2021, and since the CDC estimates 4.6 times more Americans were infected (than have tested) positive, more than 40% of Americans have been infected with Covid (.087 x 4.6 = .4).
        https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/burden.html#anchor_1607017301754

        Although 13.4% of Americans received one dose of covid vaccine and 6% have received two doses, covid vaccines have only conferred immunity to 7.8% of Americans (as about 40% of vaccine recipients were already immune due past infection, the first vaccine doses conferred immunity to about 90% of recipients, and the second vaccine doses conferred immunity to about 10% of recipients).

        1. Since about 2/3rds of the population (in a community, county, state or nation) needs to be immune from a vaccine to achieve herd immunity, it appears very likely that several dozen states will attain herd immunity in the next several weeks or month.

          Per CDC data as of 2/23/2021, CDC’s estimate that 4.6 times more Americans have been infected with covid than tested positive, and clear evidence that >99.99% of infections have conferred ongoing immunity), 40.3% of Americans have attained natural herd immunity from covid (due to past infection), another 7.2% are now immune (due to their 1st vaccine dose) and another 0.6% are now immune (due to their 2nd vaccine dose), for an estimated overall covid immunity rate of 48.1% in America.

          1. Worldometers revised its covid infection projections for states on 2/25/2021.

            They now project the following 28 states will experience >50% declines in new covid infections during the next month.
            AL, AK, AR, CO, DC, FL, ID, IN, IA, KS, ME, MO, MT, NE, NH, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, RI, SD, TN, UT, WV, WI, WY.

            They now project the following 21 states will experience 25%-50% declines in new covid infections during the next month.
            AZ, CA, CT, DE, GA, HI, IL, KY, LA, MA, MI, MN, MS, NV, NJ, NY, PA, SC, TX, VA, WA.

            They now project that Maryland will experience a <25% decline in in new covid infections in the next month.

            And they now project Vermont will be the only state where the number of new covid infections will increase in the next month.

            1. New covid cases have declined by at least 80% in 24 states, and have declined by at least 70% in 39 states. Meanwhile, all states have experienced a decline in new covid cases of at least 49%.

              North Dakota -93.9%
              Minnesota -90.1%
              Wisconsin -89.4%
              California -88.8%
              Wyoming -88.7%
              South Dakota -88.7%
              Missouri -88.4%
              New Mexico -87.9%
              Montana –87.6%
              Arizona –87.4%
              Nebraska -87.3%
              Indiana -87.0%
              Illinois -86.2%
              Iowa -85.4%
              Nevada -85.0%
              Tennessee -84.9%
              Oklahoma -83.6%
              Hawaii -83.1%
              Ohio -82.8%
              Kansas -82.6%
              Utah -81.0%
              West Virginia -80.4%
              Michigan -80.2%
              Colorado -80.0%
              Mississippi -79.7%
              Arkansas -78.9%
              Idaho -78.2%
              Louisiana -76.6%
              Pennsylvania -76.5%
              Maryland -75.9%
              Maine -75.2%
              Alabama -75.1%
              Massachusetts -74.1%
              Washington -73.7%
              Alaska -73.5%
              Kentucky -73.1%
              Virginia -72.2%
              Oregon -71.8%
              North Carolina -71.4%
              Georgia -69.6%
              Delaware -67.7%
              Florida -67.3%
              New Hampshire -66.9%
              Texas -65.5%
              South Carolina -65.4%
              D.C. -63.4%
              Rhode Island -60.1%
              New York -57.5%
              Vermont -50.3%
              Connecticut -49.8%
              New Jersey -49.3%

              data as of 2/25/2021

  5. Biden returns to the “social cost of carbon” so government can avoid rules involving costs of regulations.

    https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/policy/biden-returns-obama-social-cost-of-carbon

    Up next… “social cost of mean tweets.”

    1. Wonder when they will publish the carbon footprint of the 2020 Biden campaign. Wouldn’t be surprised that it exceeded that of some countries during the same time period.

      1. “We’ll gladly release it after the government has completed its audit.”

      2. LOL, Trump and all his fans kept criticizing Biden for campaigning from his den.

        1. His campaign involved more than just him you retarded fuck. He had surrogates all around the country. He also would fly to states like Arizona for a 15 minute meet and greet with 10 people.

          1. Love the anger!

  6. Biden forgot why he was on Texas this morning… asking why he was there and referring to notes.

    https://mobile.twitter.com/SaraGonzalesTX/status/1365719585400508419

    1. Wow, that’s how my Grandpa was after his big stroke. Looks like Joe doesn’t have much time left at all.
      He’ll be going to be with all his voters sooner than later by the looks of it.

    2. Why am I not surprised you interpreted his comment that way.

      1. Biden’s a strong, fit leader who is blazing a trail forward for the first Indian American woman president in history.
        2022 is going to be so exciting, I can hardly wait to say “Madame President”.

      2. Why am I not surprised you defend biden?

        So far this month you have said the following:

        Trespassing is a capital offense.
        Elites should over rule the voter when they think it is better.
        Child mutilation is okay as it is just cultural.

        Youre not libertarian. You are fat though.

        1. He didn’t defend Biden. He criticized you.

        2. Everything you just wrote is a lie.
          The whole fucking thing is a lie.

          You have mastered the Big Lie concept, that is for sure. Tell lies, but not such obvious lies that people won’t believe them. They have to be only partial lies, that push a narrative. Such as:

          Trespassing is a capital offense.

          This is a lie, I never claimed trespassing should be a capital offense. However, I did mention something about trespassing and shooting in the context of a libertarian order. So what you did, is twisted what I said into what you wanted it to be, then you repeat it over and over again until no one remembers what I actually said, only what you kept yelling about.

          You do this time and time again. It is dishonest propaganda. THAT is what I am criticizing. I don’t give a fuck about Biden. I am calling out your propaganda. There is nothing honest nor honorable about your conduct here. You don’t care about truth or facts, only in making sure everyone believes the story that you want them to believe, whether it is true or not. That is your standard m.o. here. So fuck off, you are worse than Tulpa.

          1. Oh, and Jesse very likely won’t respond to any of this. Why would he? He is not going to actually try to defend his claims, because he knows they are lies. He doesn’t repeat those claims about me, or Biden, or anyone else, because he thinks they are true and defensible. He repeats those claims BECAUSE they are lies. He’ll just keep on repeating them too, over and over again.

            The only reason he might respond, and actually have a dialogue, is if he can use the discussion as a platform to tell yet more lies.

            1. Seems to me that is what a lot of social media is nowadays. It’s not about having discussions. It’s about trying to manipulate people. Look at what Douglass Mackey was up to in 2016. It wasn’t about having discussions. It was self-proclaimed “psyops”. That is Jesse’s whole schtick here. Push manipulative half-truths in the service of an agenda, repeat until they stick, then move on to the next set of claims.

          2. Yup. JesseAz is a master at giving deliberately inaccurate recaps of past conversations. It’s not all lies; he often doesn’t understand nuance, or Venn diagrams.

    3. Makes me uncomfortable to see that sort of thing, no matter who it is.

  7. And since we’re doing off-topic stuff, here’s a great article about how left-wingers and right-wingers can actually sit down and have a civil conversation without acrimony.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/magazine/2021/02/25/this-rural-liberal-set-out-talk-his-pro-trump-neighbors/?arc404=true

    We could use more of that.

  8. And on a different note: The corrosive effect of cynicism.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2021/02/tucker-carlson-cancel-culture-cynicism-winning/618138/

    A good bit from the article:

    Lies are not semantic. Lies can lead to violence—in some sense, they are violence. They are as destabilizing to the social environment as guns can be to the physical: When someone is armed with a willingness to deceive, nobody else has a chance. And cynicism, that alleged defense against duplicity, can have the upside-down effect of making the cynic particularly vulnerable to manipulation. One of the insights of Merchants of Doubt, Erik Conway and Naomi Oreskes’s scathing investigation into the American tobacco industry’s lies about its products, is that the deceptions were successful in part because they turned cynicism into a strategy. Faced with a deluge of studies that made the dangers of smoking clear, tobacco firms funded their own—junk research meant not to refute the science, but to muddle it. The bad-faith findings made Americans less able to see the truth clearly. They manufactured doubt the way Philip Morris churned out Marlboro Lights. They took reality and gave it plausible deniability.

    Trump’s Big Lie worked similarly. He understood, with the fabulist’s blithe intuition, how many people had a vested interest in unseeing the election’s obvious outcome. He took for granted that Fox and other outlets would repeat the fantasies so dutifully that soon, in their hermetic worlds, the fictions would seem like facts. Trump’s legal team filed 62 lawsuits alleging election fraud and lost 61; the resounding defeats made notably little sound. In early December, The Washington Post reported that 220 Republican lawmakers were refusing to say who had won the election. In mid-January, a poll asked likely Republican voters whether they continued to question the election’s results; 72 percent said they did.

    The Big Lie did not, in the narrow sense, succeed. Joe Biden was inaugurated on the appointed day, and Trump now leads his legions from the craggy shores of Mar-a-Lago. But nor did the lie end. He is spreading it, still. Compliant news outlets are giving him a platform to do so. (On OANN, this week, he said: “The election was stolen. We were robbed. It was a rigged election.” On Newsmax: “We did win the election, as far as I’m concerned. It was disgraceful what happened.” On Fox: “Rush thought we won, and so do I.”) The merchants of doubt, understanding that “truth in advertising” applies to goods but not to facts, keep right on selling their wares.

    1. It is such a shame, because a democracy depends on trust in voting. But Trump is in there with his axe, chopping away at the trust that underlies our society.

      The one remedy I see is encouraging conservatives, instead of being cynical, to get out there and improve whatever flaws you see in the voting systems. Then they are YOUR design, and you cannot complain about manipulation of flaws.

  9. Lettuce on the stalk would also be bulky in a bin. Compare for example a bin of lettuce heads to one of artichokes, broccoli, or even flowers.

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