Commentary

John Klar: Who does the Vermont Farm Bureau serve?

Editor’s note: John Klar is a Vermont grass-fed beef and sheep farmer, and an attorney and pastor who lives in Irasburg.

Who could challenge an organization with a benign moniker like “Vermont Farm Bureau”? Surely such an organization must, as its name implies, represent wholesome local farms and a thriving Vermont agriculture.

But in fact, experience shows this organization uses members’ contributions to do the opposite, and to oppose legislation which advances public health, organic and small farms, raw milk production, endangered species, and other areas of great importance to Vermont consumers and our environment. The Vermont Farm Bureau should be accurately renamed the “Vermont Agribusiness Bureau,” for that is who it serves.

In a March 19, 2012, article, VTDigger reported that “… Tim Buskey, with the Vermont Farm Bureau, dismissed consumers’ concerns [about GMOs] as stemming from ignorance.” Years earlier, when Vermont weighed legislation regarding GMO seeds, Jackie Folsom of the Vermont Farm Bureau opposed identifying genetically modified seeds: “‘I am disappointed,’ she said. ‘We are taking a real risk of projecting a bad image on technology. It sends the wrong message, that Vermont is not open to technology.’” (“Lawmakers reach a compromise on genetically modified seeds bill.” Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, April 21, 2006.)

And two years before that, “our” Vermont Farm Bureau opposed all three GE bills before the Legislature, including the Right to Know Bill and the Farmer Protection Act, which sought to protect small (organic) farms from patent infringement suits, and to provide legal recourse against large biotech corporations (like Monsanto) for unintended contamination. At the time Art Menut, a lobbyist for the Farm Bureau, said, “‘I know there is a lot of concern in this state, but I just don’t think people care in other parts of the country. If people were willing to pay more for a clean product they would, but I don’t see it. People buy milk for the price. The FDA says these seeds are not any different,’ Menut said. ‘I don’t think consumers care that much.'” (“Biotech battle flares in state – ‘It was Monsanto then, and it is Monsanto again,'” gmwatch.org, March 20, 2004.)

But the “Farm” Bureau is completely wrong. Consumers do care. And it is increasingly clear that the FDA, which permits just about any chemical substance to be fed to us until it is shown to be harmful, is incorrect. Seeds that are dependent for growth on petro-chemicals, or genetically designed so as to be sterile and require servitude to huge multinational chemical companies, are not “equivalent” to traditional, natural seeds. And we know that these Round-up-resistant crops do indeed resist the pesticide Round-up – and yet still absorb it. The weeds are developing resistance also, requiring heavier doses of chemicals (to our bodies as well as the crops).

In recent disputes over on-farm slaughter practices, the Vermont Farm Bureau has revealed just how dishonest (or uncomprehending) this influential group is on issues that affect small farmers and our customers. As I was protesting Vermont’s on-farm slaughter restrictions as an unconstitutional burden on small farms, consumers and small businesses, I was contacted by Lyn Des Marais, who moved to Vermont six months ago to take over Vermont farmers’ interests as the bureau’s legislative director. Ms. Des Marais told me that she did not understand the slaughter rules at all, and wished for me to explain my position, which I did, including lengthy emails which I will provide to any who wish to review our exchange. She specifically asked, “Well, what do other states do? What does New York do? We often look to New York as a neighboring state for comparison.” So I researched New York’s on-farm slaughter laws, and sent her a link to a Cornell University summary which showed that New York’s laws were much more permissive than Vermont’s. New York permits the sale of animals slaughtered on-farm to multiple owners (which Vermont prohibits), and does not limit the numbers of animals that may be sold in this fashion (which Vermont, unconstitutionally, does).

Ms. Des Marais then called me to seek meat processors to speak at the Senate Agriculture hearings regarding the on-farm slaughter laws under consideration. She purported to want to hear what they had to say, but actually she was seeking commercial processors to speak – not the custom processors who I have been working to defend. And she then presented just such a processor to the committee, who claimed that all on-farm slaughter should be banned because farmers were not filling out their forms. It was clear to me that the Vermont Farm Bureau had no interest in understanding my arguments at all, nor to assist the small businesses that depend upon on-farm slaughtering, nor to even attempt to fathom the needless suffering of animals which is avoided when they are slaughtered on the farm. I had explained all these things, but she ignored them. I also explained that no one has ever been made ill by this longstanding Vermont tradition and liberty.

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So the Vermont Farm Bureau is cozying up here as a VAAFM apologist, and is willing to twist the truth in its “bad press” (as in, false and deliberately misleading) to its membership.

 

In the Vermont Farm Bureau’s next monthly missive to its membership (April 11), Ms. Des Marais explained to the members that “Some states take a more strict approach than Vermont and insist the person butchering the animals to have also raised the animals themselves.” After specifically asking me to provide New York’s laws regarding on-farm slaughter, she deliberately misled her membership about the law. There is no mention in this newsletter that many states take a less strict approach than Vermont; or that these less strict approaches are perfectly acceptable to the federal government.

And then in its May 10 newsletter, Ms. Des Marais went further: “We would like to … remind our members that this law does not allow you to barter or sell animals you killed to others. It is the personal exemption law under federal law that has been extended from the person who raised the animal to the new owner of the animal. The agency of agriculture has very good materials on how to comply with USDA regulations. They want to help farmers comply, despite the bad press and allegations with the contrary, made by one person.”

The Vermont Farm Bureau seeks to deceive its members, and the public. Our laws do permit us farmers to sell animals to others, who then have them killed. The Agency of Agriculture does not have good materials – their materials misrepresent federal law in order to obtain more federal funds for the Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food and Markets (VAAFM), at the expense of our traditional freedoms, our animals’ welfare, our customers’ desires, and our local processors and itinerant slaughterers’ businesses.

The bigger lies here are to characterize my legally substantiated complaints as “bad press” and “made by one person.” Both of these assertions are demonstrably false. My arguments are “truthful press” backed up by hundreds of people. Anyone who reads my arguments can see that Vermont’s on-farm slaughter laws are unconstitutional, and were created by a (deliberate?) misreading of federal statutes – just look at New York’s laws, as explained by the Cornell University summary.

So the Vermont Farm Bureau is cozying up here as a VAAFM apologist, and is willing to twist the truth in its “bad press” (as in, false and deliberately misleading) to its membership. Members should realize that they have been lied to, and that they are paying dues to be disrespected and misinformed. The Vermont Farm Bureau opposes on-farm slaughter because it represents large business interests, and wants to help destroy our liberties in order to compel us into subjection to the State. That is also why it opposed labeling of GM seeds, and continues to oppose labeling of genetically modified foods; supported bovine growth hormone; encourages laws to criminalize animal welfare groups who seek to expose mistreatment of livestock (and advocates removing jurisdiction over animal cruelty, providing exclusive oversight to the VAAFM, despite egregious cases of failure there); advocates that those complaining about ill effects from toxic poisons should be required to “show actual harm rather than calculated potentials” in order to seek relief; opposes the expansion of raw milk sales; opposes protecting endangered species and favors “gene banking” instead; supports the growing of corn in Vermont as a renewable energy source; encourages expedited approval for the construction (and increased height limits) of cell towers; seeks to prevent any bans on neonicotinoids; and supports premises registration of farms.

All of this information, and more, is freely available on the Vermont Farm Bureau website. This explains why the Vermont Farm Bureau has not raised a single objection to the VAAFM’s new “water quality rules,” which expand jurisdiction and regulatory constraints on Vermont’s small farms, even as the VAAFM has done very little to curb the egregious water pollution by large farms in our state. The more the VAAFM pressures the little guys, the more it will benefit the large producers who are responsible for the vast amount of agricultural water pollution in Vermont. And small farms are much less likely to even apply the nasty pesticides, rodenticides, and herbicides that the Vermont Farm Bureau joins Monsanto lobbyists to defend.

The Vermont Farm Bureau: powerful advocates, but who for? But then, this is just bad press by one person… How could I possibly be right?


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