A recent inspection by the California Department of Agriculture that resulted in the confiscation of a local egg distributor’s product has touched off a variety of community reactions spanning the gamut from accusations of government overreach, to claims the inspections are routine and innocuous with an eye toward public safety.
“We pulled eggs off the shelf twice,” said Steve Lyle, Director of Public Affairs for the CDA, referring to inspections that took place about a week ago.
Nevada County Agricultural Commissioner Jeffrey Pylman said the inspection was part of an investigation that derived from a complaint. The nature of the complaint and the results of the inspections are not available as the investigation is ongoing, Pylman said.
The eggs were taken from California Organics, a Nevada City-based grocery store that focuses on providing organic produce, meats and other products. The eggs came from a local farm run by a Chicago Park woman, who prefers to remain anonymous.
“The producer hadn’t registered as an egg handler, which is required, and the second time the eggs were not labeled properly,” Lyle said. “We like to know where the eggs are produced in case there is a food-borne illness (so) we can do some trace-back work.”
Chris Kysar, president of California Organics, said the entire inspection was “over the top” and wasn’t especially beneficial for consumers.
“There was no quality or safety issue, there was no one at risk,” Kysar said. “I don’t think the inspection has netted much benefit to the customer and their tactics were a little aggressive.”
Kysar said the agricultural regulatory agency might not have received a good return on its investment by having inspectors come up to western Nevada County in search of labeling deficiencies.
“Listen, certain regulations are important to people in this country, but there are other issues to consider,” he said.
Kysar said much of the push to examine mom-and-pop agricultural operations might come from pressure applied by special interests, specifically by large agricultural companies to the emerging “locavore” movement.
A locavore is a person interested in eating food that is produced locally and does not have to move long distances to market.
Chuck Shea, the executive director of the California Association of Business, Property and Resource Owners, called the confiscation of the small egg producer’s goods “so ridiculous.”
Shea’s organization is advocating for individuals’ right to chose produce that is grown or raised locally without government interference.
“We’ve been feeding ourselves off of farms since we stopped being hunters and gatherers,” Shea said. “And now the government wants to manage that.”
The inspections took place in the milieu of various agricultural movements such as food co-ops, private clubs, herd sharing and the desire by many to drink raw milk, which is not pasteurized.
These emergent trends in farming and food consumption circumvent traditional food distribution systems and have incurred various levels and methods of crackdowns from federal, state and local agencies seeking to enforce compliance to regulations on the books. A documentary film entitled “Farmegeddon,” directed by Kristin Canty, depicts a federal raid on a raw milk diary farm in Southern California, which featured heavily armed law enforcement officials.
Pylman said nothing of that magnitude happened in Nevada County during the past two months, as CDA has been conducting investigations.
“These are not raids,” he said.
Lyle said the regulations being enforced are not intended to punish small producers.
“We want producers to be successful,” Lyle said. “Our objective is to bring all producers into compliance. Producers need to operate with a license for food safety purposes.”
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4239.