Friday, April 12, 2013

So much rural/ag news, so little time to blog

Here are a few rural (really ag) stories of the week that I didn't get time to attend to in a more timely fashion.  Both are out of California.

The first is an NPR follow up to an earlier piece on so-called "ag-gag laws", which were also the topic of this NYTimes story last week. (I wrote this post about that story, and Susan Schneider commented here on the AgLaw Blog.)  Alastair Bland writes for The Salt, NPR's food blog, about a proposed California law that is varyingly seen as good or not so good from the animal rights perspective.
Consider Assembly Bill 343 in California. Introduced in February, this bill would not prohibit a person from seeking employment at a slaughterhouse under false pretenses, which Iowa and several other states have outlawed. Nor would it forbid anyone from using a hidden camera while on the job, which Utah recently made illegal. All that AB 343 would do, in fact, is require that anyone who videotapes or records animal abuse turn over a copy of the evidence to police within 48 hours. 
It sounds like the type of bill that animal welfare groups would welcome — but it isn't. Rather, these groups have branded AB 343 as simply a new, and subtler, attempt to stifle undercover investigations of animal cruelty. 
"The 48-hour time limit is a new twist to stop people from compiling information," says Amanda Hitt of the Government Accountability Project, a Washington, D.C.-based group that helps investigate reports of animal abuses. 
According to Hitt, in order to prove that a serious animal abuse problem is occurring, undercover investigators must gather lengthy documentation. "You can't prove that animal abuse is systemic and recurring through one snapshot or video of an abused cow," she says.
The other recent story I want to highlight is also about California agriculture--or more specifically, aquaculture.  It is this NYTimes piece headlined, "Oyster Farm Caught up in Pipeline Politics."  The alternate headline is more detailed:  "Public Land Battle over Drakes Bay Oyster Draws Unlikely Allies." Norimitsu Onishi writes of the strange bedfellows that have been made as a result of Drakes Bay Oyster Company's pending loss of lease on public land in Point Reyes National Seashore, Marin County, north of San Francisco.  

The Lunny family, who own the Oyster Company, sued to retain their lease after Ken Salazar, as Secretary of the Interior, declined to renew it.  (Note that the the Lunnys bought eight years of a 40-year lease in 2004, knowing it would expire in November, 2012).  A federal court will decide next month whether the Lunny suit can move forward.  

Environmentalists seem generally to oppose the lease, but others support the Lunnys. Those "others" include posh Bay Area restauranteurs like Alice Waters of Chez Panisse.  Patricia Unterman, an owner of the Hayes Street Grill, which specializes in local seafood, endorsed the Lunny's suit, calling their Oyster operation "'such a rare and beautiful use of land and water' in an area with a long history of agriculture."  She called environmental groups' opposition to the oyster farm "very doctrinaire and unnuanced."  

But here's the really bizarre part:  They Lunny's Drakes Bay Oyster Company has become allied --sorta--with those seeking approval of the Keystone XL pipeline:   
Under the ... Energy Production and Project Delivery Act of 2013, permits for the nearly 2,000-mile Keystone XL pipeline would be expedited, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska would be opened for gas and oil development, more offshore drilling would be allowed – and the oyster farm’s operating permit would be extended for at least 10 years.
Kevin Lunny, one of the owners of the oyster farm, commented:  
Now people are saying we’re connected to right-wing groups, that we’ll have offshore drilling and it’ll be Drakes Bay Oyster’s fault that the Keystone pipeline gets built.  And we’re saying: ‘Where does this come from? Oh, my gosh.’ Other groups that we may or may not agree with have taken up the cause.
* * *
We realize that's not really in our best interest. 
You'll have to read more of the story to get a better sense of how the interests of a small-ish oyster farm and big energy converged, but I'll give you a hint that anti-government, Tea Party-type forces are implicated.

By the way, Onishi refers to the Drakes Bay Oyster Company as a "modest, family-run business," but many readers who commented on the story dispute that characterization, noting that the Lunnys have significant ranching interests in the Point Reyes area.  

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