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Individual Rights in Agriculture

First, consider Ayn Rand's seminal essay, Man's Rights:

The Declaration of Independence stated that men "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights." Whether one believes that man is the product of a Creator or of nature, the issue of man's origin does not alter the fact that he is an entity of a specific kind -- a rational being -- that he cannot function successfully under coercion, and that rights are a necessary condition of his particular mode of survival.

"The source of man's rights is not divine law or congressional law, but the law of identity. A is A -- and Man is Man. Rights are conditions of existence required by man's nature for his proper survival. If man is to live on earth, it is right for him to use his mind, it is right to act on his own free judgment, it is right to work for his values and to keep the product of his work. If life on earth is his purpose, he has a right to live as a rational being: nature forbids him the irrational." (Atlas Shrugged)

To violate man's rights means to compel him to act against his own judgment, or to expropriate his values. Basically, there is only one way to do it: by the use of physical force. There are two potential violators of man's rights: the criminals and the government. The great achievement of the United States was to draw a distinction between these two -- by forbidding to the second the legalized version of the activities of the first.

The Declaration of Independence laid down the principle that "to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men." This provided the only valid justification of a government and defined its only proper purpose: to protect man's rights by protecting him from physical violence.

Thus the government's function was changed from the role of ruler to the role of servant. The government was set to protect man from criminals -- and the Constitution was written to protect man from the government. The Bill of Rights was not directed against private citizens, but against the government -- as an explicit declaration that individual rights supersede any public or social power.

Second, consider the U.S. Constitution.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

State and federal agencies are violating individual rights. Consider the following two tales of government confiscation or destruction of private property and unreasonable searches in the name of "protecting consumers"

In two separate raids, one in August 2007 and one in April 2008, Mark Nolt's farm in Pennsylvania was raided for his refusal to apply for a state permit to sell raw milk. The first raid seized over $25,000 worth of cheese, despite no complaint of food borne illness and no proof of any danger posed by the cheese. In the second raid, six police cars and five unmarked cars descended onto his property, preventing neighbors or family from coming onto the property by threatening their arrest, seizing $30,000 worth of cheese, leading Nolt away in handcuffs, and seizing irreplaceable parts to his dairy equipment so that he could no longer make cheese even for his family, let alone consumers. The director of food safety also stole a book off his shelf, which was entitled Everything I Ever Wanted to Do is Illegal, by Joel Salatin.

The current, more stringent permitting process in Pennsylvania no longer allows a farmer to sell raw cream or butter, which would significantly add to farm income. To add insult to the injury of all of his lost income, Nolt has recently been ordered to pay over $4000 in fines due to his noncompliance. He is appealing the decision.

Last September, two farmers in Virginia, Rinaldi and Bean, were arrested for labeling their pork products incorrectly. While waiting for new tags to come in the mail, they used price tags that said "Certified Organic" but their pork was not Certified Organic by the USDA. Ten state agriculture officials and two policemen arrived at their door. They were handcuffed, their computers seized, and they were placed in separate vehicles and taken to jail. Their pork was destroyed by pouring bleach on it -- meat that had in no way been proven unsafe to eat. No consumer complained or got sick from this pork. Rinaldi believes that this heavy handedness was not actually due to the labeling, but the fact that Rinaldi and Bean were slaughtering their own pork. Processing in an inspected facility was costing the farmers as much as $1300 for four pigs, and transporting uninspected pork, goat, and sheep products is illegal in Virginia.

These are just two of many examples where governments used unjust force against American citizens who had not harmed or threatened a single person.

In the current regulatory environment, small-scale food production and distribution from any home kitchen is almost always illegal. Livestock must be federally-inspected when slaughtered unless the animals are being consumed by the owner of the animal. In about half of all states, selling unpasteurized milk is illegal. Cider is also now nearly always required to be pasteurized or irradiated.

In other words, the government is increasingly making eating the food of one's choice an illegal act.

But what about issues of food contamination? How can we guarantee the safe supply of food without government regulation?

First, we must question the premise that the government even guarantees a safe food supply. It does not. Many outbreaks of food-borne illness have occurred under the watch of the FDA in pasteurized milk, tomatoes, spinach, beef, alfalfa sprouts, and more. The USDA has even gone so far as to squelch independent testing for mad cow disease under special interest pressure. The USDA also supports the fraudulent labeling of pasteurized almonds as "raw" almonds. More recently, a lawsuit was brought against Tyson Chicken for its use of antibiotics in the pre-hatched eggs of chicken eventually sold as "raised without antibiotics." Since previous USDA regulations stated that antibiotic treatments before hatching (and up to two days post-hatching) were inconsequential to the antibiotic-free label, Tyson Chicken was allowed by the USDA to falsely label its chicken as antibiotic-free. Tyson lost the lawsuit and was ordered to stop using the antibiotic-free label, but it is now appealing to the USDA to keep using it because of the previous lax USDA standards!

Further, "USDA Certified Free Range" and "USDA Certified Organic" are meaningless and very deceptive terms. An animal can be certified "Free Range" by the USDA even if never sets its feet on pasture and milk can be labeled "Organic" though from cows raised in a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO). Independent organic standards (such as those of NOFA) are far more stringent than USDA Organic standards. Yet use of the word "organic" has become a practice that is dangerous to use without costly government certification, as the examples of Bean and Rinaldi show. This is unacceptable in a free society.

The only real solution is a truly free market in food. That means abolishing the USDA and FDA's authority to inspect food. For the USDA to be able to do so -- and to even go so far as to prevent testing of mad cow disease and to allow fraudulent labeling of other products -- is a violation of an individual's right to trade freely to mutual benefit. It also makes our food system demonstrably less safe. As with any industry, mistakes, negligence, and fraud is possible in food production. However, the best possible quality is assured by diversity and innovation in the marketplace, in conjunction with objective laws against fraud and torts -- not government bureaucrats armed with reams of inane regulations.

The proper solution to the risk of food-borne illness is a free market in food. A free market would usher in a new era of personal responsibility for both consumers and producers. It will promote already-existing methods of independent certification and licensing by companies and organizations with far more objective standards than used by the government. All Americans should be more informed about their food choices -- not lulled into a false sense of complacency about a particular product simply because it is deemed "safe" by a state or federal health agency.

In short, the government should protect and uphold the right of each person to produce, trade, consume whatever food he sees fit, according to his own best judgment.

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