VT Farmer Opts Out of Regulated Beef Slaughter
By David Gumpert
Many sustainable farmers have privately railed against state and federal rules that require cattle to be slaughtered in regulated beef slaughtering facilities. Now, Vermont farmer John Klar has resolved to do something about his personal frustration, describing his plans in the article that follows.
Klar raises grass-fed beef and sheep in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. He and his wife have also raised chickens and pigs, and made raw-milk artisanal cheeses from cows’ and goats’ milk. Klar practiced law until he grew ill in 1998 from Lyme disease, which caused him to succumb to severe pain from fibromyalgia syndrome, which he still battles. The clean food and routine exercise provided by his modest farming efforts have helped him to improve over the years: stress and food additives aggravate his condition.
Photo: John Klar with some of his cattle in Vermont
From John Klar:
"The health of our children depends on the health of their food.
I raise grass-fed beef because I want to know what my animal has eaten, how it has been treated through life, and that it has been killed humanely. My customers wish for these same assurances, and understand that cheap meat bears other costs – of antibiotic and hormone contamination, risks of pathogens, and the suffering caused when 400 beef are inhumanely slaughtered every hour in horrific factory “environments.”
This is why I will face prison rather than comply with laws in Vermont that interfere with the ancient connection between animal, farmer and consumer. Vermont’s Department of Agriculture has interrupted this connection, at the behest of the federal government and profit-hungry agribusiness. It is time for consumers and local farmers to weld their connection tightly against such intrusions, in the interests of the welfare of both child and beast.
For years I have raised beef cows here in Vermont, slaughtered them on my farm, and processed them at the request of my customers at local custom processing facilities. Vermont’s Agency of Agriculture has decided to “protect” the public from this connection, even as our nation has consolidated animal “husbandry” into toxic CAFO’s and industrial slaughter-factories, increased the importation of unlabeled meats from dubious foreign sources, and authorized Frankensteinian experiments on man and beast alike. But as is happening in most every state in America, these laws “protect” corporate oligarchy, not human health and our vital food connection.
New laws mandate that I may no longer sell halves of beef to my longstanding customers, unless I route those animals to large slaughterhouses, file periodic forms, and pay a fee for the privilege. My customers do not typically purchase a whole beef, because of cost, family size, and freezer space (a half beef occupies a full-size freezer). The law permits me to slaughter a whole beef on-farm, and send it to a local custom processor: apparently this is not a health risk. But now we can only sell whole animals directly to the public; all others must pass through a large federally-inspected processor. Please take note: no one has ever been made sick in Vermont by on-farm slaughtered meat, and the federal government has no constitutional right to regulate intrastate commerce like that between me and my customers.
If I comply with the law, the following changes occur: The itinerant slaughterer who comes to my farm has been removed, as has the local custom processor; the animal that was killed without warning on the farm on which it spent its life must now ne herded onto a truck and shipped to a large slaughterhouse, at additional expense; the stress to the animal compromises the quality of the meat (stress increases cortisol levels); and the animal is exposed in the livestock truck, and again at the larger facility, to pathogens from sick or CAFO animals.
These laws, which purport to remove unfair competition, destroy local small businesses; and which purport to improve food safety, contaminate meat from small farms. These laws compel me to torment animals that I seek to treat humanely, add costs to my customers, swell government budgets for the employment of “inspectors”, and benefit large businesses at the expense of small.
I was visited last summer by a “compliance investigator” from the State of Vermont, who informed me that my business is illegal. I have now appointed myself a “Compliance Investigator.” As an attorney and small farmer, I know what the Federal and Vermont Constitutions require, and that those requirements exist precisely so that I may “police” the large corporate influences that hide behind regulators to protect “market share” from the growing local agricultural movement that is reconnecting the frayed relationship between consumer and local farmer. To use government to intrude into our business relationship is the exact opposite of a “free market.” It is also patently unconstitutional.
For government to regulate, it must have a purpose that is legitimate, and laws which reasonably achieve that purpose. These laws fail on both counts. No one is sick. My animals are antibiotic- and hormone-free, and graze on green grass. My customers pay for the animals to have been treated well. These laws achieve the exact opposite of their stated objectives: they impose unfair competition to make my products less safe, torment my animals, and increase costs to consumers.
What Wes Jackson aptly dubs “the feudal lords of corporate agribusiness” are pulling the strings of Vermont’s bureaucratic puppets. And we are on to them. Joel Salatin was similarly invaded by government mercenaries at the behest of corporate instigators, and observed: “That’s one of the things that fries me about these people. They can just waltz into your business and be cavalier about destroying your livelihood because they draw their steady paycheck, have the power of the police, and the authority of the attorney general behind them. No apologies, no feelings.” (Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal, Polyface, Inc., Swoope, Virginia, 2007).
But Mr. Salatin is not an attorney: I am. I have the power of the Constitutions behind me, together with the authority of consumers and farmers who are not going to take this anymore. I have my animals behind me as well – for I will stand guard for their rights to be treated with moral responsibility in a profit-driven assault. All Americans must take heed: this is a national battle, and there is no sideline."