Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Food Safety Modernization Act & small, sustainable farmers

After the contaminated eggs, peanut butter, and spinach outbreak a while past, the Senate readily passed the Food Safety Modernization Act (S.150) giving the FDA much more power over the control of food safety. An article from the New York Times stated, "...the bill would grant the F.D.A. new powers to recall tainted foods, increase inspections, demand accountability from food companies and oversee farming."
“This is an historic moment,” said Erik Olson, deputy director of the Pew Health Group, an advocacy group. “For the first time in over 70 years, the Senate has approved an overhaul of F.D.A.’s food safety law that will help ensure that the food we put on our kitchen tables will be safer.”
Finally a bill that will regulate food safety up to standards. However with all that sounds good, there is always issues. Small farmers would be forced out of their industry by this bills passing and our local food movement would be pretty much destroyed. Luckily, the trend has grown big enough and successful enough that there are those who take into account the little guys. From Montana, Senator Jon Tester, proposed the Tester-Hagan Amendment to go along with S.510 that exempts small farms producing under $500,000 in sales and selling within a 400 mile radius from some of the strict regulations larger businesses are capable of facing.

Some argue that outbreaks of contaminated food have, in fact, come from smaller farms that fall under the Tester-Hagan Amendment. A press release from Robert Guenther, Senior Vice President of Public Policy made the following statement after the vote:
“We are disappointed that the Senate continues to ignore the egregious loopholes allowed in this legislation that will erode consumer confidence in our nation’s food safety system. Now, when going to a supermarket, restaurant, farmers market or roadside stand, consumers will be faced with the question of whether the fruits and vegetables offered for sale adhere to basic food safety standards or not. Unfortunately, instead of adhering to a science- and risk-based approach that was consistently the foundation of the underlying bill, the Senate has chosen to include a provision that will exempt certain segments of the food industry based on the size of operation, geographic location and customer base. This provision creates a gaping hole in the ability of consumers to trust the safety of all foods in the commercial marketplace.
“As S. 510 moves to the House of Representatives, we strongly encourage the House leadership to request a conference to reconcile differences between the House-passed food safety legislation and the flawed Senate bill. The House bill makes no arbitrary exemptions from basic food safety standards. This principle is at risk of being discarded for temporary convenience to pass a bill, but it is a fundamental mistake that will come back to haunt consumers, the food industry and even those producers who think they are escaping from food safety requirements.
“The House should give due diligence to conference these bills, not accept a flawed agreement that flies in the face of sound science.”

When I think about this situation, I would vote to pass the Tester-Hagan Amendment without a doubt. I think that the idea of sustainable, local food is deeper than just farmers trying to make a living. Local farming educates people on the importance of nutrition and the truths behind processed foods and waxy produce. Local farming is a way to bring the community together, to sustain the idea that we still have the ability to eat food straight from the farm like our past relatives had done once-before we were all surrounded by sky scrapers and bustling highways.

Forcing local farmers to be inspected and scrutinized for their small, natural farms is just another way to inhibit the spread of sustainable living through out the nation. Restrictions take away that empowerment and self-satisfaction farmers have from knowing they are supporting their own community to natural, healthy foods. The worry of deadlines and standards will take away the joys of introducing organic celery to city dwellers, the joys of watching their eyes light up when they realize celery actually has a taste, and the joys of building a network of other farmers at their local farmers market.

Looking at this issue, I think we need to look at the differences in the two sources of food. Corporation-like food producers, we all know, focus on efficiency and profits; then you have the local people, growing food out of a passion for food-not just business.

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