Why Does Flagstaff Need A Food Freedom Ordinance?
By Elisha Dorfsmith
While collecting petition signatures for Flagstaff Liberty Alliance’s proposed Food Freedom Ordinance, I am often asked why there is a need for an ordinance like this in the first place. Many people in Northern Arizona have been growing, trading and selling their products at Farmer’s Markets for years with no trouble or harassment from authorities. Why try to fix something if there is not a problem?
The purpose of this post is to give a little background to the ordinance and explain why it is so important that the City of Flagstaff and Coconino County support food freedom.
Food Safety Modernization Act
On January 4, 2011 President Obama signed the highly controversial Food Safety Modernization Act. The FSMA was lobbied for and had strong support from giant corporate food companies like Monsanto, General Mills and Kraft Foods. Opposition came from consumers and small independent and organic farmers who claimed it would destroy their businesses and way of life.
The FDA website proudly says that the FSMA is the most sweeping reform of our food safety laws in more than 70 years. They say the purpose of the act was to shift focus from responding to contaminated food to preventing contaminated food.
Critics claim that if enforced as written, the FSMA could outlaw everything from home gardening to saving seeds. Supporters of the bill say these accusations are simply a misunderstanding of the bill by bloggers and organic farmers. But even more mainstream papers like the Christian Science Monitor are saying similar things:
“While the Food safety bill does not explicitly restrict Americans from collecting seeds, it does make it more difficult, which could benefit companies like Monsanto. Monsanto is in favor of the bill.”
But wait, it’s been two years since the FSMA was signed, so why are small farmers and seed collectors not being bothered by the FDA? The answer here is simple. The FDA is way behind in their implementation of the act and is lacking the funds to fully enforce it. USA Today puts it this way:
“But two years after President Obama signed a sweeping food safety bill into law, the rules at the heart of the largest food safety overhaul in more than 70 years have yet to be put in place, blocked by their sheer length, growing complexity and a White House that critics contend has delayed their implementation for political gain.”
How Will A Food Freedom Ordinance Help?
The wording in the Food Safety Modernization Act is often vague and open to interpretation. To what extreme it will be enforced is anybody’s guess. Many cities and towns across the country (from Utah to Maine) have already decided it best to take preemptive action and pass Food Freedom Ordinances. The goal is to send a strong message to the FDA and other agencies that they value food freedom and organic farming.
If a Food Freedom Ordinance is passed in Flagstaff, it will let the FDA and other agencies know that Flagstaff believes it’s citizens have the very basic right to grow, sell and consume the food of their choice.
The preamble to the Flagstaff Food Freedom Ordinance says:
The City Council of Flagstaff believe residents have the right to produce, process, sell, purchase, gift, donate, and consume local foods thus promoting self-reliance, the preservation of family farms, and local food traditions. The City Council recognizes that family farms, sustainable agricultural practices, and food processing by individuals, families and non-corporate entities offers stability to our rural way of life by enhancing the economic, environmental and social wealth of our community. As such, our right to a local food system requires us to assert our inherent right to self-government. We recognize the authority to protect that right as belonging to the City of Flagstaff.
The City Council of Flagstaff has faith in its citizens’ ability to educate themselves and make informed decisions. They hold that federal regulations impede local food production and constitute a usurpation of our citizens’ right to foods of their choice. They support food that fundamentally respects human dignity and health, nourishes individuals and the community, and sustains producers, processors and the environment. They are therefore duty bound under the Constitution of the State of Arizona to protect and promote unimpeded access to local foods. The purpose of the Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance is to:
i. Provide citizens with unimpeded access to local food;
ii. Enhance the local economy by promoting the production and purchase of local agricultural products;
iii. Protect access to farmers’ markets, roadside stands, farm based sales and direct producer to patron sales;
iv. Support the economic viability of local food producers and processors;
v. Preserve community social events where local foods are served or sold;
vi. Preserve local knowledge and traditional foodways.”
The text of the Flagstaff ordinance applies only to small farmers and home gardeners etc. who want to sell directly to their patrons. It will not apply to food sold at restaurants and grocery stores or other third party sellers as explained below:
“Section 4.1. Licensure/Inspection Exemption. Producers or processors of local foods in the City of Flagstaff are exempt from federal licensure and inspection requirements provided that the transaction is only between the producer or processor and a patron when the food is sold for home consumption or freely donated.”
The full text of the Food Freedom Ordinance can be found HERE.
Ultimately, the FDA and other agencies will probably go ahead and trample your rights and your garden if they choose to. This ordinance alone won’t stop them. But at least it will send a strong message that Flagstaff and Coconino County have no desire to assist them if they choose to go this route and attack one of the most basic freedoms we have.
In 2002, the City of Flagstaff stood up to federal agencies in a similar manner when they passed a groundbreaking ordinance against the Patriot Act. That ordinance demanded that federal agencies respect the rights of Flagstaff citizens while in town. In part it said:
“2. Any federal or state law enforcement officials acting within the City of Flagstaff work in accordance with the policies and procedures of the City of Flagstaff and when cooperating with City Departments, continue to guarantee the fundamental constitutional rights of all Flagstaff residents.”
With a Food Freedom Ordinance, the City of Flagstaff has an excellent opportunity to continue their track record of protecting our liberty and our rights.