The Food Police, Immigration, and a “Living Wage”

by | Feb 21, 2012

In August 2011, armed federal agents raided Rawsome Foods, a food cooperative in Venice, California. Agents seized computers, cash, and an estimated $70,000 worth of perishable food. The owner was arrested and charged on thirteen criminal counts. Was he selling fraudulently labeled food? Was he using the cooperative as a front for a child pornography […]

In August 2011, armed federal agents raided Rawsome Foods, a food cooperative in Venice, California. Agents seized computers, cash, and an estimated $70,000 worth of perishable food. The owner was arrested and charged on thirteen criminal counts. Was he selling fraudulently labeled food? Was he using the cooperative as a front for a child pornography ring? No, he was selling raw food, such as unpasteurized milk and room-temperature eggs.

The raid on Rawsome is hardly a singular event. In June 2010, agents of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture shut down Traditional Foods Warehouse, a popular food club in Minneapolis specializing in locally-produced foods. Also in 2010, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection launched three raids on the dairy farm and farm store of Vernon Hershberger. In April 2011, federal agents raided the Amish farm of Dan Allgyer in Pennsylvania. All of these raids, and many others like them, were intended to shut down operations that process or sell raw dairy products.

Individuals from across the political spectrum have voiced outrage over these raids. Liberal organizations, such as the Vermont Progressive Party, pushed for state and local laws allowing for the sale of unpasteurized milk. Glenn Beck lampooned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for cracking down on the “Amish menace.” Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) introduced the Unpasteurized Milk Bill, asking: “If we are not even free anymore to decide something as basic as what we wish to eat or drink, how much freedom do we really have left?”

Nicole Neeser, program manager for dairy, meat and poultry inspection at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, defended her department’s actions: “This is not about restricting the public’s rights. This is about making sure people are safe.” The FDA has argued that individuals “do not have a fundamental right to obtain any food they wish” and that “there is no fundamental right to freedom of contract.” In a case filed against the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Judge Patrick J. Fiedler ruled that Wisconsin residents:

  1. “Do not have a fundamental right to own and use a dairy cow or a dairy herd;”
  2. “Do not have a fundamental right to consume the milk from their own cow;”
  3. “Do not have a fundamental right to board their cow at the farm of a farmer;”
  4. “Do not have a fundamental right to produce and consume the foods of their choice;”
  5. Cannot enter into private contracts without State police power intervention.

In other words, according to the FDA and Judge Fielder, if an individual wants to sell a cow or raw milk to a willing buyer, they do not have the right do so without first obtaining government permission.

Rights recognize and protect your freedom to act according to your own judgment, as long as you recognize and respect the mutual rights of others. Just as you morally may not use force to interfere with the actions of others, they may not morally use force to interfere with your actions. The right to contract means the freedom to enter economic transactions that you believe will be beneficial to your life. It means the freedom to produce, sell, and buy the products and services of your choice, including a dairy cow or raw milk.

Unfortunately, many of those who are protesting the FDA’s crack down on raw foods agree with the basic premises underlying the opinions of FDA and Judge Fielder. While many of the opponents of the FDA’s raids believe that you should be free to buy raw milk, they don’t believe that you should be free to engage in other economic transactions. For example, Glenn Beck believes that you should not be free to contract with certain individuals, namely, those who have entered the country without government permission. He wants “crippling fines on the employers who knowingly hire illegal workers.” For example, if a farmer wants to hire a worker on terms that each finds acceptable, Beck would have the government prohibit such an agreement if the worker did not first obtain government permission to be in the country.

Similarly, the website for the Vermont Progressive Party states that one of its principles is: “Establish and guarantee that the minimum wage must be a livable wage.” In other words, if a farmer offers a job for $7 an hour, and a worker finds that wage acceptable, they should not be free to enter that agreement without the government’s permission, that is, if the government declares that that wage is not “livable.”

In principle, there is no difference between buying a dairy cow, raw milk, or labor. As long as coercion is not involved—as long as each individual is acting on his own judgment—it should not be a concern of government. If an individual judges a particular action to be beneficial to him, why should government intervene? Why is such intervention wrong when applied to raw milk, but proper when applied to labor?

Despite their disagreement on many issues, conservatives and progressives agree that government intervention is proper when it promotes their cause. They agree that government coercion can and should be used to promote the “public interest.” They simply disagree on what constitutes the “public interest.” At the end of the day, conservatives and progressives are left to bicker over whose rights will be violated and to what extent.

The solution to the issues that divide America is not government coercion. The solution is the recognition and protection of individual rights. The solution is to protect the right of each individual to associate with whom he chooses, to enter contracts as he judge best, to act as he determines will be beneficial to his life. Government’s only proper and moral purpose is to protect the right of each individual to his own life, his own liberty, and the pursuit of his own happiness. And that means banning the use of force in human relationships.

Brian Phillips is the founder of the Texas Institute for Property Rights. Brian has been defending property rights for nearly thirty years. He played a key role in defeating zoning in Houston, Texas, and in Hobbs, New Mexico. He is the author of three books: Individual Rights and Government Wrongs, The Innovator Versus the Collective, and Principles and Property Rights. Visit his website at texasipr.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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