by Jeff Clemetson, Editor
When we think of government overreach into our health and food choices, we mostly think about the federal government and agencies like the FDA, the USDA and the like. But there have been two recent stories I have come across that have frightening implications that the state government agencies have also stepped up attacks on people who choose to live and promote alternative, healthy lifestyles.
The most recent story comes from North Carolina, where a blogger named Steve Cooksey was threatened lawsuit and possible criminal charges by the state’s Board of Dietetics and Nutrition for writing about his own experiences treating diabetes using an alternative diet called a “paleo diet,” which is often referred to as the “caveman diet” because of its simple foods that do not contain any processes – meats, eggs, raw milk, fresh veggies and fresh fruits. Cooksey, who blogs on his Website diabetes-warrior.net, says the paleo diet helped him shed 45 pounds and was off insulin and other diabetes medication in just four months.
After several months of writing on his experience with the paleo diet, the NCBDN threatened legal action against Cooksey, citing a statue in the state statutes that makes it a misdemeanor to “practice dietetics or nutrition” without a license or “assessing the nutritional needs of individuals or groups” while “providing nutrition and counseling.” The punishment for these misdemeanors is a fine and up to 120 days in jail.
Cooksey, rather than face a costly legal battle, responded by taking down his advice column, adding a huge disclaimer to his site’s information and took off his diabetes support sections. On April 9, the NCBDN said they were satisfied with these steps and closed the case.
Although the NCBDN has threatened to keep monitoring his site, Cooksey still plans on fighting them on the grounds of his First Amendment rights. “I have absolutely no intentions of complying with the board’s violation of my free speech rights,” he said in a statement on his blog. “I intend to defend those rights, not only for myself, but for everyone… People should be free to give each other advice about things like diet.”
Cooksey’s case brigs up several frightening prospects about food freedoms in the United States – not to mention a clear attack on our First Amendment rights of speech. For one, it makes people less likely to share healthy aspects of diet that they or people they know discover through experimentation or travel, which is one of the best ways to learn about healthy alternatives to prescription drugs and processed foods. Another is that it seems state governments have gotten in on the game of protecting Big Pharma and Big Ag at the expense of an individual’s right to choose his or her own lifestyle. And if North Carolina’s overzealous state nutritionists seem frightening, then the actions of the Southern Nevada Health District will have you waking up with bad dreams at night.
In October of 2011, Laura and Monte Bledsoe were putting on an event for friends and patrons of their organic Quail Hollow Farm to celebrate the harvest. It was to be a farm-to-fork event that featured fine dining on all-natural, pesticide-free, hormone-free meats and vegetables that are grown and raised on the farm.
The first trouble came when the state made the farm apply for a use permit for the event claiming it was a public event even though it was by invitation only. The Bledsoe’s complied because they were threatened with a fine and it was only two days before the dinner that they had already put much effort and resources into.
From there it just got worse. On the day of the event an inspector came from the Health Department and began harassing the farm (at the behest of someone from the department office who was in contact with the inspector the whole time) while the guest were arriving. The inspector called the organic vegetables a bio-hazard, said the hormone-free, free-range meat wasn’t USDA inspected, cited unlabeled packaged foods even though they were never meant to be sold and even cited the farm for not having receipts for their food – the food they grew themselves! The couple had to throw out the food and cancel the event, while apologizing to their friends and associates who had traveled from as far as Las Vegas to attend the farm dinner.
(Click here to see Laura Bledsoe speak about the incident: http://www.reallyvegasphoto.com/Events/CSA-Farm-Government-Inspection/19707296_v2zFML#!i=1546723933&k=M443CT5&lb=1&s=A.)
The Cooksey case and the Quail Hollow Farm event lead to the eventual question of why. Why do our federal and now state departments care to shut down organic, healthy food sources and information about healthy food lifestyles? I believe it is purely a case of corruption. Agencies like the FDA and USDA began for the very same reasons the Bledsoes started their Quail Hollow Farm – because corporate-owned, factory-processed foods are unhealthy. Regulating factory foods became a necessity in the early 20th century as news of how gross they had become spread through books like Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” For a while, these regulations and regulatory bodies helped consumers by cleaning up the standards by which our food is to be made and packages.
Unfortunately, these same regulations and standards are now manipulated to keep us from getting the most natural foods available. By getting legislatures to apply rules on food production across the board, small farms and food producers must be held to the same standards of inspection and compliance as large commercial operations. This gives an unfair advantage to the large-scale farms that actually produce the unhealthiest food.
Take the poultry industry for example. A large-scale poultry producer stacks chickens by the thousands on top of each other, subjecting them to feces while pumping them with hormones to produce a meaty chicken. All this equipment must be inspected and cleaned and the chicken itself must be tested, which is very costly. On the other hand, farmers who raise their chickens free-range and feed them natural feed can depend on that chicken to be healthy when it is harvested for food, yet they must also pay for the expensive equipment they don’t really need and deal with the inspections just to stay compliant with the law.
Thos is how the makers of processed unhealthy foods fight back at the organic movement – by using the very laws and regulatory bodies that were initially created to keep them in check. Perhaps it is time to reevaluate the need for these agencies and put consumers, and not the government, in charge of deciding safety of our food or the validity of diet information. After all, I know I would personally make more local and organic food choices for myself and I bet more people would do that for themselves, too.