By Stanley A. Fishman, author of Tender Grassfed Meat
We do have serious food safety problems in this country. There have been a number of large food illness outbreaks and recalls. But the bill currently before the Senate, “The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act” (S. 510) would do nothing to stop the real cause of foodborne illness, and would give the Food and Drug Administration the power to destroy the small organic farmer once and for all.
Who could be against food safety? I am all for food safety, but just because they call a bill a food safety act does not mean that it does anything to improve food safety.
Food Safety Problems Have Not Been Caused By Small Farms
All of the food safety problems that have made the papers in the last few years have been caused by the large, industrial food system. The problems have arisen in large food processing plants, or have been caused by the importation of tainted food from China (food products contaminated by the poison melamine) and Mexico (salmonella on imported peppers). Not one of the problems has been caused or contributed to by a small, local food producer. The effect of S. 510 is to ignore the large food processors, while enabling the FDA to target small, local farmers, something the FDA has been very prone to do in the past.
Paperwork Does Not Make Food Safer
But the bill does nothing to effectively address the problems caused by the large industrialized food industry and food imports. S. 510 relies largely on the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point System, commonly known as HACCP. HACCP requires all food producers to develop and maintain extensive and detailed written records and plans, which results in a huge amount of paperwork which is extremely burdensome for a small farmer. If you’re wondering how creating written records and plans improve food safety, they do not. Creating paperwork is not the same as having a food plant actually inspected. Currently, large meat packing plants are not inspected by federal agencies. Instead, the federal agencies review the paperwork submitted by the large meat packing plants. One of the worst food safety outbreaks occurred in a large meat packing plant that was not inspected, but had submitted paperwork. At the same time, federal agencies have punished small meat processors for paperwork violations that have not harmed the health of anybody.
The only effective method we have had to improve food safety at processing plants is to have frequent, unannounced, independent inspections of the plant. Actually inspecting a food processing plant can prevent food safety problems, but reviewing paperwork cannot.
Paperwork Can Crush the Small Farmer
Filling out paperwork is easy for large, industrial operations, as they can employ people whose only job is to fill out the paperwork. Small farmers cannot afford to do this, and to force them to produce the same kind of extensive paperwork as a large industrial operation is extremely burdensome and could drive many small farmers out of business.
The FDA Would Have the Power to Destroy Organic Farming
But perhaps the worst part of S. 510 is giving the FDA the power to completely regulate every detail of how farmers grow and harvest produce. It has been said that the power to regulate is the power to destroy. The FDA could require all farmers to use harmful pesticides, thus destroying organic food forever. It could require farmers to use only certain varieties of seeds. It could even require farmers to use GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). Since the FDA has in the past been extremely friendly to large industrial agriculture operations and to the companies that make pesticides and GMOs, this is a serious concern. This bill would give the FDA the power to greatly increase the profits of large agriculture corporations by forcing all farmers to use their products. The FDA could even require that all produce be irradiated, supposedly to improve food safety. If you think this is farfetched, consider the fact that federal agencies have already advocated the use of irradiation as the best means of improving food safety. There is no justification for giving the FDA such power.
While the House version of S. 510 orders the FDA to “consider the impact” of its regulations on small-scale and diversified farms, this requirement is so vague that it is meaningless. Nothing prevents the FDA from making any regulations it wants, regardless of the impact on small farmers. The FDA can always say it “considered the impact” of its regulations.
The Bill Could Make Food Less Safe
This bill will do little or nothing to improve the actual safety of food in the United States. It could be used to unfairly burden small farmers and drive them out of business, while giving the FDA the power to destroy organic, sustainable produce. It must be defeated, or at least modified so it does not affect small farmers. It could deprive all consumers of the ability to purchase organic produce in the United States. In fact, it could make food even less safe, by allowing the FDA to force the use of dangerous substances such as pesticides, and dangerous procedures such as irradiation of food.
How You Can Help
I urge you to contact your senators and congressperson and ask them to either vote against the bill, or to insist that it be modified to exempt the small farmer from all its provisions. You can also send an email through the Western Organization of Resource Councils’ automated system.
This post is part of Fight Back Friday Blog Carnival for Friday, March 12th. at Food Renegade.
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