On only a half dozen occasions, has Food Safety News published articles resembling “book reviews.” For various reasons, we are not really in that business.  Sometimes, however, books merit mentions in the news. That’s what happened recently when author Baylen J. Linnekin’s comments made news stories about the Maine Food Freedom law.

Before those stories,  Linnekin’s name had not registered in my memory banks. But I wanted to find out more about him because Food Freedom advocates haven’t exactly come across as practical and reasonable, but he did.  Also, Food Freedom will likely be back in the news when the 50 state legislatures gather after Jan. 1.

Linnekin is a food lawyer and an adjunct professor at the George Mason University Law School, where he developed and teaches the Food Law & Policy Seminar, and an adjunct faculty member at American University, where he teaches courses on food policy.

He is also the author of “Biting the Hands That Feed Us,” published last year by Island Press.

In the book, Linnekin walks the reader through the world of food laws and regulations, including those enacted in the name of food safety, with an eye toward their actual  impacts on sustainable food practices

And, Linnekin in the past has contributed op-ed articles to Food Safety News.

In the book, Linnekin can be blunt. He says FDA rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act “threaten to treat small farmers like manure and to treat manure–the lifeblood of organic fertilization and sustainable farming–as a toxin.”

Linnekin looks at how FDA threatened the livelihoods of “artisanal cheesemakers and beer brewers of all sizes” and barred people “from using sustainable methods to grow, raise, produce, prepare, sell and buy a variety of foods.”

As you may have guessed, “sustainability” is the prime directive for Linnekin. It’s on my list words in danger of becoming meaningless for its overuse by the lazy, but Professor Linnekin is precise in his choice of words. For Linnekin, whether a rule or regulation is helping or hurting sustainability is a crucial metric for measuring its effectiveness.

Linnekin does not blow off food safety. He says some rules are “necessary and desirable,” but he does question “blind faith” in rule makers.

North Dakota, Maine, and Wyoming elevated “Food Freedom” recently with various state concessions. “The idea that decreasing the number of rules can help foster a more just food system is at the heart of “food freedom”–a belief that individuals have a right to make their own food choices,” writes Linnekin.

He says food freedom is “the right to grow, raise, produce, buy, sell, share, cook, eat and drink the foods of one’s choosing.” Linnekin says that means “lowering the regulatory burden on farmers and other food producers.”

To his credit, he accepts food safety remains the responsibility of those of produce and manufacture food. He believes an “outcomes-based” approach would be preferable to the “command and control” regulatory structure most governments so much prefer.

In the three states with Food Freedom laws, there is no single approach. Generally speaking, these jurisdictions exempt food producers for the local market from licensing and inspection. Maine had to go back and amend its statute to make sure USDA did not shut down its state meat inspection program.

State legislatures are big copycats. Once a topic becomes trendy, it’s normal for lawmakers to try their hand at the subject matter, state by state. We’ve seen that we cottage food laws already, and they may serve as the gateways to Food Freedom laws.

If the state legislative action occurs as I suspect it will, it’s going to be good to have Professor Linnekin out speaking on the movement. His book covers warts on the food regulation business, from the European Union keeping “ugly” fruits and vegetables off the market to states forcing farmers markets to use refrigerator trucks when a little ice would do.

I’d say it a fascinating read, but that would sound like a book review.

Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable.   

By Baylen J. Linnekin (Author); Emily Broad Leib (Forward)


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