Friday, April 4, 2008

EU and Small Farms

Old Ways, New Pain for Farms in Poland

But European Union laws are intended for another universe of farming, and Polish farmers say they have left them at a steep disadvantage. If they want to sell their products, 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 early March, hundreds of Polish farmers demonstrated outside the office of Prime Minister Donald Tusk, complaining that they were losing money on each hog they raised. Anyway, Mr. Master said, raising pigs for sale was a nonstarter. He is forbidden to slaughter his own pigs, and the nearest abattoir that meets European Union standards is hours away; there are only five in all of Poland.

Depressing. Modern food law is increasingly monolithic, unwilling to accept non-industrial farming. I love how the EU-cronies in the article don't even address this, but just gabber "oh, well, they will just have to get used to not having subsidies." Never mind that Western European small farmers got subsidies to help them adjust to new food safety laws.

The byline is sterility. No risk of infectious disease is acceptable. Never mind all the foods that slowly kill us from diabetes and heart disease or that it's OK for large-scale animal agriculture to overuse the antibiotics we use to fight such infections, thus breeding ever more virulent strains and depleting our medicinal arsenal.

Right now I'm reading The Devil's Picnic by Taras Grescoe. The chapter on raw-milk cheeses is really good. It's interesting because it contrasts the EU and US strategies. The US just bans most raw milk cheeses, the EU institutes HACCP, a food-safety protocol designed to eliminate the risk of food poisoning in an place where it would be devastating -- outer space.

The book quotes Jean Berthaut, of Fromagerie Berthaut, world’s leading producer of Epoisses, the French traditional cheese implicated in a Listeria outbreak that lead to EU regulation “A raw-milk cheese, bought form the farm—there is zero risk involved! We, the French, ultimately decided that completely banning raw-milk cheeses was a bad thing…so we’ve introduced Draconian regulations to guarantee sanitation and reduce risk to a minimal level. It’s an approach that’s a little more thoughtful—and complex, and courageous—than total prohibition”

But then the book goes on to note that the initial outbreak was from pasteurized cheese made by a factory (not an artisan) that was simply fraudulent and Taras goes on to explore how the regulations have consolidated cheesemaking and shut down a lot of small producers...who were never to blame.

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