No matter where you are, whether it’s Fort Lauderdale or Daytona Beach, you may notice some hungry homeless man and decide to give him a bite to eat. But, wait, stop right there! Put down the bagel, because many cities across the United States have banned giving food to the homeless. So much for altruism!
Unfortunately, this is just one example of how the government undermines our food freedom. Last May, the Institute for Justice released a report called The Attack on Food Freedom, highlighting a multitude of ways the government harms our food freedom in the United States and Canada. The state of food freedom has gotten so bleak that organizations like the Farm-To-Consumer Legal Defense Fund have risen to the task of legally defending food producers who face troubles with government authorities.
But, what is “food freedom”?
Simply put, food freedom is the right to grow, raise, produce, buy, sell, share, cook, eat and drink what an individual wants.
For that reason, food freedom is inseparable from economic freedom, as restrictions on the food we produce, exchange, and consume limit an individual’s ability to flourish by their voluntary means. Despite some of the food freedom (or food rights) movement’s victories, the government’s rampant infringement on our food freedom is still in full-swing. They continue to stifle our basic necessity to nourish our bodies, putting the livelihoods of the tired and hungry masses in jeopardy. This issue must be addressed.
Property rights are imperative in the fight for food freedom because the absence of property rights has negatively impacted the freedom to produce food. In many municipalities around North America, local governments have bylaws prohibiting property-owners from taking full advantage of their land to produce food. For example, a Floridian couple was forced to dig up their 17 year old organic garden due to their local government deeming front-yard gardens off-limits. Local ordinances such as this do not just harm suburban gardens, but they also put innovative ideas like urban agricultural practices into question.
If individuals are refused the right to produce food on their property, then the government is taking away a unique opportunity to empower urban communities to produce food for themselves.
The lack of property rights also harms food producers experiencing negative environmental externalities (an environmental cost on a third-party such as soil erosion and the runoff of pollutants) as they are unable to legally address the costs put on their food production, and thus are subjugated to the poor environmental practices of others.
Another prevalent issue regarding food freedom is the bureaucratic over regulation of food production. Big Business is better able to adapt to regulatory changes, so it is no surprise that small businesses, such as small-scale local farmers, will suffer heavily due to their constraints on resources and time spent chasing constantly changing standards. While food safety is certainly important, the government simply cannot do it well. In fact, it has been argued that the free market can do it better (by providing private food quality services). Because consumer preferences send indicators to business owners in the market, the call for greater food safety would certainly be addressed with substantial quality compared to the government’s outdated and scientifically illiterate understanding and methods.
Moreover, there have been many attacks on the individual’s ability to exchange and distribute food, which matters greatly to the welfare of communities. Even decent citizens collaborating in private food clubs experience the wrath of government crackdowns and raids; nearly treated in the same manner as illegal drug rings. With food trucks emerging as a competitive force against traditional restaurants, it’s no surprise that they have also been subject to spotty city ordinances and a legal grey area regarding mobile vending. Even distributing home-cooked meals is met with disdain from local and federal government agencies due to perceived food safety concerns.
Simple products like kombucha, aged cheese, large volumes of pop, and, most notoriously, raw milk, have become targets in the government’s crusade to mandate safety and health for the public. Even if a consumer is informed about his/her choice, the Nanny State attempts to limit that choice all too often. Amish raw milk producers, such as Dan Allgyer, have been met by raids of their private property from armed government agents, due to fears of food-borne illness (despite the lack of scientific evidence). I think you would agree that the government treating Amish raw milk producers in Virginia with the same contempt as they treat Islamic terrorist organizations in Pakistan is out of hand.
Now, even though local food producers are often the most vocal about food freedom, national and foreign food producers also face obstacles. Both domestically and internationally, barriers to the exchange of food do exist, whether they take the form of tariffs, quotas, or regulations. These barriers limit the food available on the market, whether it is stifling the entry of foreign wine into the country, or banning the interstate shipment of raw milk. In either case, it harms both the producer and consumer, all because the government is meddling in affairs that do not concern them, as usual.
To conclude, even the founding fathers of the United States were aware of the government’s threat to our food freedom. Thomas Jefferson once stated that
“If the people let government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.”
This quote is timeless and holds just as much meaning now as it did in the 18th Century. Food freedom is not just for Kombucha-drinking, GMO hating hippies, but for everyone. We should all be free to produce, exchange, and consume food free from government intervention, whether it is raw organic goat milk or genetically-modified corn.
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