A Country For The Big Boys

A reprint of a rant I sent to Grass Roots Feedback, which a reader told me I should air more widely. Thanks, Val! 🙂 Here goes.

We GR people already know how it is – but sometimes, when you hear of yet another incidence of new and idiotic regulations, doesn’t something just snap in you? I’ll tell you what did it for me recently: Hearing that people were no longer allowed to use “second-hand” glass containers to bottle items like honey or home-made jam or pickles for sale. And of course, you can’t make jam and pickles for sale without a registered, commercial, stainless steel kitchen these days. Oh, except for charity, of course – showing that it’s little to do with health regulations, whatever they claim.

We’re living in a tide of rubbish, and in an era of unprecedented waste, and some people are actually sitting here making regulations against the re-use of the most sterilisable, reusable material on the planet – glass. When I was a child in the 1970s, the local brewery in Europe delivered beer and juice in glass bottles, by the crate; your empties went back in the crate, which was picked up by the brewery at the next delivery. Bottles were washed and re-used. It’s how things ought to be, but rarely are, and now they’re making regulations against it.

In laboratories all over the world, of course, scientists are using glassware over and over again as storage containers and vessels for chemical reactions, biological cultures etc, and will, rightly, not be tossing out their containers after a single use. They will use their glassware for decades, until it accidentally cracks or drops on the floor. The cleanliness of laboratory glassware is just as crucial as that of food containers, but nobody is going to use the smokescreen of “health regulations” with them. Meanwhile, of course, the local fast food multinational down the road is legally making people unhealthy from their stainless steel, registered, commercial kitchen, while passing all the required “standards.”

I think this shows you how useful our health regulations, and indeed some of the other legislated “standards,” are. They’re very useful for protecting the interests of the big boys. Glass manufacturers will increase their profit margins. Small, artisanal food producers will have another useless expense to add to their production costs, and be even less competitive against mass marketed, less socially and environmentally friendly, and usually less nutritious products.

So why don’t we have decent legislated standards about reducing, re-using and recycling packaging? About adopting renewable energy sources and ditching fossil fuels? About recycling the nutrients from human toilet waste back into Australia’s degrading topsoil, where manure properly belongs, instead of burying it in landfill and leaking it into the water cycle? About constructing passive solar, truly energy-efficient buildings, instead of having a “star standard” which just measures how good an esky a house is for retaining artificial heating and cooling, allowing industry to continue selling air conditioners and heaters to the public? Have the legislators run out of ink, trying to regulate small producers out of existence while deregulating banks, multinationals, and the salaries of politicians and executives?

These people don’t even know how to spell concepts like ethics, social justice, environmental stewardship, and community interests – and they make them harder for all of us. Where’s the legislation to invite homeless people off the streets to places of shelter, support, and, for those who need it, rehabilitation? Where’s the legislation that says a house is primarily to be seen as a home for human beings, not a thing for investors to make money from? Where’s the legislation that says grandma actually isn’t statistically likely to poison you by selling you some of her nice home-made jam from her tidy, clean, non-commercial home kitchen?

I come from Europe, and grew up in countries with an artisanal food culture. We could legally buy food directly from farmers – and they could legally sell it to us. Like many other children, I used to go down to the local dairy farm with a milk pail and some loose change to get fresh, natural milk straight from the cow – no pasteurising or homogenising or packaging or transporting required. Can I do this in Australia? No, I cannot, and that’s despite the fact that Australia’s dairy herd is actually healthier from a communicable diseases perspective than Europe’s. There are three dairy farms within cooee of where I live, but if I want to buy their milk, I have to buy it after it’s been transported 400km up to Perth, pasteurised, homogenised and packaged, and transported 400km back again – from the supermarkets.

In Europe, we used to legally buy smoked hams and sausages straight from home-killing pig farmers, at prices that were fair to both sides. In Australia, if I want that, I have to go to a farmer’s market and pay twice as much as that, because the small producer has to pay steep market stall fees, on top of all the whiz-bang unnecessary facilities they’ve been made to have by the regulators, and their inspection fees, permits, etc etc. In Italy, we could buy meat, milk, cheese etc legally from farmers who processed in their own, non-commercial kitchens to sell to the neighbourhood, buyer beware, relationship of trust with local producers etc. Here – no such luck, it’s all verboten. There are “health standards” to adhere to, after all. Which is kind of ironic when you look at our increasingly malnourished, underexercised Australian population.

If you’re wondering what sorts of useless facilities small producers are being pressured to have, how about the shower block for day employees a local farmer’s market dairy had to cough up for, even though they don’t actually have employees, they’re run entirely by the family and WWOOFers. The capital cost of this, and other idiocies, has to get passed on to the consumer, of course, and I actually couldn’t afford to stock up on their products even on a professional salary – $80 per kilogram is simply too steep for cheese. So, I couldn’t support this local producer.

Recently, I heard that local authorities attempted to make a small commercial dairy down the road finance and build disabled facilities on their farm. This is an entirely family-run farm, no employees – but they were supposed to meet “standards”, and build facilities nobody was actually going to use. They got around it for now, but I’m surprised more commercial dairy farmers around the country aren’t packing it in, with this new raft of expenses they’re supposed to just magically absorb in their often non-existent profit margins. Talking to that family, in order to stay operational at all, for many years they’ve had to have one family member working off-farm fulltime to bring in money for domestic expenses, which aren’t covered by the returns from their fulltime dairy operation.

If you’re not furious already, how about the farmstay up the road from us who decided they would go “legal”? They had nice facilities and thought they were OK. Well – they had to spend in excess of $20,000 extra to meet “standards”: A $1,000 UV sterilisation unit for their already triple filtered rainwater, disabled facilities, fencing of farm dams to reduce the risk of children drowning, a handwashing sink in their kitchen. This made the local newspaper, and the local council was preening itself on having let this small business off the hook on several thousand dollars annually they could have legally charged them for “increased costs of road maintenance” due to their operations. (Are they charging that to the motels in town?)

Currently, our local authorities are cracking down on AirBnB – everyone has to meet commercial “standards,” apparently. They’re fining people, closing people down – apparently the free market economy isn’t so free when it comes to small operators competing with overpriced motels and hotels belonging to the social circles of the people who are legislating us. And apparently, ordinary people aren’t supposed to be able to have nice, reasonably priced, environmentally friendly, family-orientated farmstay and B&B experiences with real people in a real home – everybody has to pay through the nose, to satisfy our “standard makers” – who are making very self-serving standards, if you ask me.

Where will it all end? No more swap meets? No more bartering? No more sweat equity? No more doing favours for others? A tax on smiling? What else can possibly be regulated out of existence? I’d be losing my mind by now if it wasn’t for the commonsense that still survives at the grassroots level in this country, and if I didn’t know that ordinary people have for millennia had to find ways to hold on to things that were important to them, in the face of overlords who tried to wrest them away. Safe journey to you all, peace, and a happy, healthy, productive 2019.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *