Straight Talk about Outsourcing, and Where It Fits in to the Food Rights Movement
Aajonus Vonderplanitz and Amanda Rose don't at first glance have a lot in common when it comes to food politics. Vonderplanitz is adamant about private food rights, while Rose seems much less politically oriented on the issue.
But interestingly, both have been after me during the last week for my supposed failure to call out individuals they think were guilty of outsourcing nutrient-dense food that was being sold as if it came directly from the producer. Rose was mainly after me in connection with Mark McAfee's dairy products and Vonderplanitz in connection with Sharon Palmer's egg and chicken products.
Why does this issue of outsourcing arouse so much feeling? And what are the legal realities of outsourced food?
The only reason I can see that these two individuals are so pissed off at me is that they can't get satisfaction for their outrage from regulators and law enforcement people. Those public enforcers seem not to care a whit--none have challenged either McAfee or Palmer about these allegations (though they have challenged them about a lot of other things). Adding insult to injury, the marketplace seems to care only a little bit less than the regulators about the allegations. Both continue selling their food, and many people swear by the quality of products from each. So Vonderplanitz and Rose look elsewhere for official outrage, and the next best target seems to be me.
I have held off jumping up and down and stomping my feet (which seems to be what they want me to do, since I don't have the power to do much else in these matters), for two reasons:
*I don't know the truth of their allegations.
*More to the point, and what I'd like to discuss here, even if the allegations are completely accurate, I don't share the extent of their outrage. Here's why:
If we are truly serious about our rights to access privately the foods of our choosing, then we settle our problems privately. We don't go crying like little babies to district attorneys and regulators to "do something" to the food producers we suspect of having double crossed us.
We should know by this time that the public regulators are unconcerned about whether we get Sarah Farmer's beef or beef she bought from Costco and substituted as her own. They don't care because it isn't their job to care. The public regulators care about what the laws and regulations specify--that food be labeled a certain way, contain the product that is promised on the label, and not make people sick. If Sarah Farmer promises two pounds of ground beef, so long as it really is ground beef and is USDA inspected, that's pretty much the end of the regulators' concerns.
Outsourcing isn't part of the regulatory equation in the public marketplace for the most part. Food companies of all sorts, despite the pretty pictures on their jars and cartons of quaint farms, outsource all the time.
Now, outsourcing can be an issue in the private-food marketplace, where consumers obtain food based on contracts (whether herdshare agreements, food club membership agreements, CSA agreements). If the agreement provides that the food come from a particular farm, and meet certain criteria in terms of ingredients or nutrients, and it departs in some way from the specifications, there is a contractual problem. In that case, we complain to the managers or governing boards of the food clubs we think are doing us wrong, and hope the problem is corrected. If we don't get the response we want, we leave the food club we suspect of having given us the wrong food. If we are extremely upset, we may file a civil court suit, alleging violation of the contract.
The American business and legal systems are built on contract law. The courts usually enforce this law.
That is what a lot of the blog discussion over the weekend between Vonderplanitz and me was about. I was questioning him going to criminal authorities about what he alleged were violations of private food agreements with Sharon Palmer and her Healthy Family Farms. He said the authorities wouldn't pursue his allegations because he didn't have signed contracts with Healthy Family Farms and Rawesome Food Club.
But even if he did have signed contracts, I doubt the authorities would have done anything, since contract disputes are usually a matter for civil courts.Vonderplanitz said he has sued Palmer in a civil suit. Unfortunately for Vonderplanitz, not having signed contracts could be a big problem there. Our legal system usually won't enforce unsigned contracts, and he should know that.
The Ventura County authorities wouldn't pursue any other charges in connection with Palmer's alleged outsourcing because there was nothing illegal in the public system for a food producer to outsource products. As long as the food in the container is the food that is described on the label, everything is fine.
This food rights struggle is about establishing our right to obtain food privately--to choose our producer and choose our food--free of government interference. If Amanda Rose thinks OPDC is outsourcing and is upset about it, there are two main things she can do in the public realm: she can switch raw dairy suppliers and she can go to the legislature and try to get it to pass laws restricting outsourcing.
If Aajonus Vonderplanitz thinks Sharon Palmer was outsourcing, he can similarly switch food clubs, but he can also go to civil court claiming a violation of his contract with her. He can't go to the legislature to demand a new law covering outsourcing for food clubs, unless he wants private food clubs to be publicly regulated.
For Vonderplanitz to go hat in hand to criminal enforcement agents and expect some understanding and sympathy for his upset that Palmer wasn't providing food to his specifications, after he's spent years ridiculing them and kicking sand in their face so as to establish the parameters of a private food system, he is living on another planet.
(To access the exchange between Aajonus Vonderplanitz and me, click on either of our comments, and then go to the bottom of the page you are taken to. Click on the second square at the bottom of the page, to go to the second page of comments.)