For those of you who haven’t heard, the FDA has also shut down the business of long-time local raw milk cheese maker Sally Jackson (Seattle Times article here). It’s a shut-down with controversies about E. coli and cleanliness, but I’m going to put that particular discussion aside here, since the debate is already taking place in various other places online.
Instead, I’m trying to think about the big picture of how we prevent this from happening to small farms and cheese makers, whether you think the fault lies with the FDA, with food producers themselves, or in some more nuanced combination, depending on the individual case. Perhaps there’s a more systemic way we can look at this.
Whatever your position, the loss of a business like Sally Jackson’s is sad. It’s sad for her; it’s hard to make your livelihood running a small food operation in a country of giants, to take that risk with your financial future. Also, for the rest of us, her cheeses were delicious. She was making artisan cheese when the idea wasn’t even a twinkle in this locavoracious community’s eye. Compared to, say, Europe, we don’t have enough makers of artisan cheese to go taking them for granted (not that we should even if they were plentiful).
Perhaps those of us who agree that it’s sad to lose small, artisan producers can think about solutions together. We have common ground, whether you feel farmers/food producers are getting a raw deal, or whether you believe the result is sad, but the producers may have made mistakes.
The idea I’ve been thinking about: Some form of legislation that would help small producers when this happens, such as a financial allotment to remedy the situation when a producer below a certain size is subject to an FDA recall. The real barrier seems to be financial. If the FDA recalls a product for a large corporation, the corporation has enough funds to take a quick loss, fix the problem, and stay in business. But for a small producer, a recall of tens of thousands of dollars in cheese sounds pretty terrifying.
If we can agree that in general it is a good thing for the country to have small, unique producers as well as giant food corporations, such a bill would help preserve that idea. Yes, sometimes funds would go to small producers who made mistakes or perhaps even took careless risks with the public’s health. But this idea is about both helping families running small businesses and helping us continue to be a country where small producers can actually do business. For those of us who believe in that goal, helping any small producer is valuable. Otherwise, who’s going to take the risk of starting a new family dairy farm or cheese-making operation?
Not everyone agrees America should have small producers. There are a lot of corporate dollars influencing government in this country, obviously. But it’s an idea that attracts people from all over the political spectrum, from the far left to the far right. I’d be interested to see who would get behind it.
Credit to Stephanie Kilgast for the flickr Creative Commons photo