Senate Food Safety Bill

 As planting time draws near, and our thoughts turn to fresh veggies from the garden, we need to take a few minutes to help preserve our ability to buy and eat locally. S. 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act, while purporting to make our food safer, would stifle the local foods movement and put small producers out of business. At the risk of sounding alarmist, I must admit that I’m, well, alarmed. The U.S. is on the cusp of a nation-wide sea-change on the food front, and this bill easily could shut it down.

While the bill may  have been well-intentioned, the effects would be disastrous for local food systems. According to the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC), S. 510 attemps to address the problems of food-borne illnesses from pathogens, a worthwhile effort; however, it does so by burdening small, direct-sales producers with the same regulations it would impose upon large agribusiness companies. Remember that incidents of contamination  (spinach, green onions, hamburger, pork sausage, and peppers) have come from the industrialized food supply. These products were all processed in large facilities, were comingled from various sources and subjected to long-distance shipping. None of these conditions would apply to local food, but the bill would regulate it the same way.

For example, the bill directs the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to write rules governing small farms producing food for direct sales. So a small producer growing lettuce and sweet corn for their local farmers’ market or roadside stand would fall under these new rules. If you have ever driven through Woonsocket in September, those melon stands will be subject to the rules, even you can see the melon field out back. Same goes for those Vale sweet corn stands, which are more often than not, bushel baskets minded by 10-year olds.

S. 510 has a companion bill in the House of Representatives, H.R. 2749. Already passed by the House, it poses several onerous regulations for small producers. For a facility that does any processing, even just making jam or jelly, there will be the same regulations as those for Smuckers or Dole, including an yearly fee of $500. No sliding scale, no threshold for those selling a few dozen jars of jam per year, just one-size fits all. The bill does not differentiate between Dole processing fruit cocktail with fruit from three continents from a farmer making rhubarb jam from fruit growing in her own backyard.

The bill goes beyond processing and follows producers right out into the field. H.R. 2749, authorizes the FDA to establish federal standards for raising some produce, like lettuce and spinach. The Senate’s version will be problematic for farms raising both livestock and produce, which is the essence of traditional farming. Even raising a variety of crops may get more difficult with varying regulations for the growing of such market staples like tomatoes, greens and melons.

Furthermore, S. 510 applies Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP)  regulation to the smallest local processors regardless of their size, no definition of what a processor and no threshold to meet. HACCP effectively trumps all state regulations for processors. When HACCP entered the stage in the 1990s, it was supposed to help clean up the giant meatpackers, but it failed. It contributed to a reduction in small, independent processors and allowed the packers to self-regulate. There are now fewer independent inspections being done than before HACCP’s inception, and outbreaks of e. coli, salmonella, and listeria still occur. This means that small town meat processors may disappear, leaving producers with no one to process their cattle, hogs and sheep in order for them to sell to customers, friends or family. Those customers will not be able to buy meat by the half or quarter any more, leaving little choice but the grocery store.

Fortunately, Montana Senator John Tester will offer an amendment removing direct-market producers from FDA jurisdiction over harvesting of raw agricultural products and will set a threshhold of $500,000 adjusted gross income exempting small producers from HACCP traceback and record-keeping procedures. This amendment will ensure that local foods can flourish.

Please ask Senators Johnson and Thune to support Tester’s amendment to S. 510. If S. 510 passes as it’s written, it will cripple our local foods movement.

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1 Comment

  1. Kamp Kook said,

    May 4, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    I would only add that if you read this blog in a state other than South Dakota, you should contact your Senators and ask that they support Senator Tester’s amendment to S. 510. The more support that can be generated from all states, the better chance we have of saving our local farmer’s markets as well as direct marketing. Do it today!


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