NOFA-NJ to feature raw milk proponent
NEW BRUNSWICK — Sarasota, Fla.-based agricultural lawyer and raw milk choice advocate Pete Kennedy is just one of many out-of-state speakers scheduled for the the annual Northeast Organic Farming Association-New Jersey Winter Conference, slated for Jan. 26-27 at the Douglass College Student Center at Rutgers University.
Kennedy will speak at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 27 about herd sharing agreements.
Kennedy is an attorney who has worked on issues governing raw milk production and distribution since 2004.
He does consulting work for the Weston A. Price Foundation, an organic farming advocacy organization, on livestock issues and laws concerning raw milk. Kennedy has compiled a summary of raw milk laws in all 50 states.
He was a founding member of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund and served as that group’s president for many years.
He has consulted on and drafted raw milk, cottage foods and food sovereignty legislation; drafted and reviewed herd share agreements; worked on embargo, seizure and recall cases involving raw dairy products; worked on foodborne illness outbreaks attributed to raw milk consumption; handled issues involving on-farm slaughter, custom meat and poultry processing as well as problems with zoning and local ordinances.
He has worked with hundreds of farms on herd share contracts.
Reached in mid-December by phone at his home office in Sarasota, Kennedy said his talk, “Herd Shares and Legal Collaborations,” will focus on the nine remaining states that still ban raw milk sales and how crucial raw milk sales could be to New Jersey’s dairy industry.
Home to more than 500 dairy farms in the 1970s, in 2018, just 45 dairy farms remain in New Jersey.
Kennedy worked in real estate and small business law before switching his focus to agriculture issues 16 years ago.
His father ran a frozen food manufacturing plant in Easton, Ct., where he grew up. He went to law school at William and Mary College in Williamsburg, Va.
“One of the products my father sold was pigs-in-a-blanket styled hot dogs,” Kennedy said, “so the USDA came into his plant from time to time. They often made his life miserable, so that’s how I became familiar with the regulatory climate.”
The recent E. coli scare with Romaine lettuce affected lettuce growers as far away as Florida, he noted, as Garden State lettuce growers know it affected many here as well.
“I recently went to a local organic farmers’ market here and I asked the cashier how much Romaine they were selling. She said not very much at all. People were kind of afraid of it in general.”
“The way I look at things is the way most people in sustainable agriculture do,” he said. “There’s the industrial food system and then there’s the local food system.”
Kennedy noted the FDA put out a directive to retail stores and restaurants “not to sell Romaine lettuce, so this demonstrates to me that the food system is too consolidated; something’s wrong with the industrial side of agriculture.”
Kennedy will focus in on how New Jersey farmers and foodies who support raw milk can set up herd share agreements.
“What these herd share agreements do is get people who want raw milk an ownership interest in herded dairy animals. In a herd share, the animal you have an ownership interest in is boarded on someone else’s property,” he said.
“No state — including New Jersey’s state government — has an issue with anyone who owns an animal and gets milk from that animal if it’s boarded at their own home, so the question is what’s the difference if it’s boarded at someone else’s home or farm,” he said.
“Chances are you would have stronger food safety protocols if you’re boarding it with an experienced farmer as opposed to a novice dairy animal owner,” Kennedy continued.
As it stands now, raw milk consumers from New Jersey pack the parking lots of dairy operations in Bucks County, Pa., virtually every day of the week and on weekends.
There, the New Jersey residents purchase raw milk and while they’re there, they also pick up grass-fed beef, a variety of cheeses, chicken and beef pot pies and other food.
“If they had herd share agreements in New Jersey, one of the benefits of it is a high level of trace-ability,” Kennedy said. “It’s not being distributed to the general public, and perhaps that will be a wake-up call to New Jersey regulators that these people who want raw milk can get it anyway.
“So from a public health standpoint, a consumer choice standpoint and an economic standpoint, I hope there’s recognition that this is something that can work in New Jersey and improve conditions in all three of these areas.”
For a full lineup of talks, film screenings, food samplings, panels and Q & A sessions at the Winter NOFA-NJ conference, see the organization’s website at www.nofanj.org/winter-conference.
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