Family Farm Defenders
Having just launched NFFC’s campaign to achieve emergency economic relief for struggling dairy farmers, we elected to highlight Family Farm Defenders (FFD) and the multiple ways they have worked to create a level playing field for independent dairy farmers first.
FFD grew out of a grassroots response to two national dairy campaigns – ending the mandatory checkoff that dairy farmers automatically pay from their milk checks to fund the lobby and media efforts of the corporate dairy industry, and defending consumers’ right to know about the stealth introduction of recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) into the nation’s milk supply. Both issues were close to the heart of John Kinsman, an organic dairy and timber farmer who co-founded Family Farm Defenders and led as its president for 20 years before his death in 2014.
FFD raised concerns because cows injected with rBGH suffer more mastitis (udder infection) leading to higher rates of antibiotic use. These drugs in turn find their way into rBGH milk and fast-food hamburgers derived from culled dairy cows. Monsanto, the original maker of Posilac (its patented rBGH brand), knew the dire health consequences of administering rBGH to dairy animals, but when responsible dairy companies tried to certify their suppliers as ‘rBGH-free’ and label their products accordingly, many were sued by Monsanto for ‘food libel’ and other alleged interstate ‘free trade’ violations. Today, many dairy products carry the ‘rBGH-free’ label accompanied by the disclaimer that USDA has found no difference in milk from cows treated with rBGH.
Early in their history FFD adopted food sovereignty principles as their own, further promoting the rights of communities to determine their own food sources and for food providers to be paid equitably. They developed their own cheese label – Family Farmer Cheese – through a collaboration with Cedar Grove Cheese Co. and small dairy farmers in south-central Wisconsin providing milk from cows given no artificial hormones. Cedar Grove pays farmers a ‘cost-of-production plus profit’ price. FFD has sold thousands of pounds of non-GMO and certified organic cheese, as well as fair trade coffee, manoomin (wild rice), maple syrup and other products at prices fair to the providers as well as to consumers.
Family Farm Defenders has worked tirelessly to stop the proliferation of dairy CAFOs, or concentrated animal feeding operations. These ‘factory farms’ are often built in response to a food and farm system that does not pay independent farmers a fair price. Some CAFOs have been cited for sub-par conditions in which animals are treated like machines, farm workers are exploited, and cows are not allowed to graze on pasture. CAFOs often generate massive amounts of manure runoff and toxic fumes that are detrimental to water and air quality, as well as the quality of life for their neighbors.
Based in Wisconsin, Family Farm Defenders’ members have seen a tremendous loss of family-based dairy farms there – almost 700 in 2018 and on track for 700 more in 2019. They are staunch advocates for fair prices, fair trade, and a supply management system similar to Canada’s, and have taken their demands for fair prices to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, where milk futures are traded, as well as to state attorneys general to demand enforcement of anti-trust laws.
For more information about Family Farm Defenders’ great work, visit familyfarmers.org.