By Stanley A. Fishman, author of Tender Grassfed Meat
One of the most basic American freedoms is the freedom to choose what we eat. This right to choose our own food is severely threatened by Senate Bill S 510, the “Food Safety” bill, currently pending in the United States Senate. The provisions of this bill would do little or nothing to improve food safety. Instead, the bill would impose crushing and expensive paperwork requirements on all food producers, including small farmers. For the first time in our history, the bill would also give the FDA complete control over how crops are raised. These provisions could drive many small farms and farmers’ markets out of business.
Our Heritage of Food Freedom
One of the earliest rights enjoyed by Americans was the right to choose our own food. Every country in Europe restricted what foods were available to most of their people. It was particularly hard for most people to get meat or fat. Most people were forbidden to hunt by poaching laws. Hunting was reserved for the wealthy and those of noble birth. Most of the meat and fat from farm animals was also reserved for the wealthy and the nobles. Most ordinary people rarely had the opportunity to purchase meat and fat, which was also very expensive. Even the farmers rarely got to eat meat or fat, as they usually had to sell their meat animals in order to pay taxes.
There were little or no restrictions on hunting in the Thirteen Colonies, which later became the United States of America, and game was plentiful. It was also easy to raise animals for food, and there were very few taxes. Meat and animal fat were easily available to just about anybody. Many Europeans immigrated to the United States because they heard that even the poor could eat meat there.
The founders of the United States of America were well aware of the importance of food freedom.
Thomas Jefferson said, “If people let government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.”
How S 510 Threatens Our Freedom to Choose
The Senate bill threatens our freedom to choose our food in two major ways:
- Burdensome paperwork requirements: These requirements are a crushing burden on small farmers, who could be fined and severely punished if they don’t fulfill the paperwork requirements perfectly. While big food producers can easily hire people whose only job is to complete the paperwork, small farmers cannot afford to do so. This could drive many small farmers and producers out of business, leaving only the big producers. The big producers almost always produce factory food, because that maximizes their profits. It is the small farmers who produce the best organic food, artisanal quality food—the food that many of us prefer to eat. If small farmers are driven out of business by the paperwork burdens of S 510, we will have nothing to eat but factory food.
- FDA control of farming: The power to regulate is the power to destroy. S 510 would give the FDA the power to control how fruits, vegetables, and grains are grown. It is no secret that the FDA is biased towards the factory food model of large-scale agricultural production. It is very likely that the FDA would impose the same standards on all farms, large or small, conventional or organic. The FDA would have the power, for example, to require the use of pesticides. The FDA could also require that all produce be irradiated in the name of food safety. While the bill tells the FDA to consider the impact of its regulations on small farms and organic farms, it does not require the FDA to give these farms any special consideration. By forcing all food to be grown in exactly the same way, the FDA can take away our supply of the foods we would prefer to eat.
Food Safety Regulations Must Not Deprive Us of Our Freedom to Choose
The supporters of S 510 ask how anybody could be opposed to food safety. I very much want our food to be safer, much safer. But I do not want to lose the right to choose the food that I eat. It must be understood that there always is a tradeoff for freedom. Safety is never absolute. Freedom often involves a degree of risk. As Americans, we are allowed to do many things that are dangerous:
- We are allowed to drink alcoholic beverages, even though drinking causes many thousands of deaths a year.
- We are allowed to drive automobiles, even though tens of thousands of people are killed in automobile accidents every year.
- We are allowed to use over-the-counter and prescription medications, even though hundreds of thousands of people die as a result of taking these drugs.
- We are allowed to take part in dangerous sporting activities such as: skiing, snowboarding, bungee jumping, water skiing, skydiving, etc.
We certainly should have the right to eat the food of our choice.
Inspections Make Food Safer—Not Paperwork
We could make food much safer by having independent, well-trained inspectors inspecting every food processing plant. The inspectors would actually inspect the food, rather than review paperwork. The food should be regularly tested for pathogens in a reasonable manner.
S 510 Must Be Changed to Protect Our Freedom to Choose Our Food
If S 510 destroys small farming and organic farming in the United States, we will have lost our freedom to choose our food. High quality food will become rare and expensive, available only to the rich and powerful.
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 small farms from all its provisions. You can also send an email through the Western Organization of Resource Councils’ automated system.
This post is part of Real Food Wednesday Blog Carnival at Kelly the Kitchen Kop.
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