Sunday, March 15, 2009

HR 875... What it says and what it doesn't

I would think that with all of my posts the past week I would have lost readers, amazingly people seem to want to read these posts.

I have had a lot of comments (an emails) from people about HR 875 so I wanted to clarify my points in a short post.

What does HR 875 NOT do...
  • No where in the bill can I find anything about implementation of NAIS (National Animal Identification) system.
  • Nowhere in the bill can I find anything that criminalizes backyard garden.
  • It does not out law organics
  • It does not mandate annual inspections of farms
What HR 875 DOES do...
  • Establishes a new "FSA" - Food Safety Administration on par with the FDA.
  • Defines farms as "Food Production Facility"
  • Gives this new agency the right to create new regulations on processing, growing, harvesting, sorting, and storage operations of food
  • Requires them to set minimum standards related to fertilizer use, nutrients, hygiene, packing, temperature controls, animal encroachments, and water
  • Require labeling of all food to allow traceability back to the farm
  • Requires reporting from farms to the governments
What does HR 875 NOT do...
  • Specially define farm as a... well a farm! Which is why some are speculating that home gardens may be included. I find this pretty unlikely.
  • Exempt small farms from any requirements. No where have I found any language that would set up a tiered regulation system where small farms would have a different set of regulations then large companies. That is a problem!
  • Exempt home produced items from any requirements. They would be defined as "Category 4 Food Establishment." No where have I found any language that would set up a tiered regulation system for home produced items. In Ohio we have a pretty farmer friendly set of laws on home produced items. The law requires random at least quarterly inspections of Category 4 food establishments.
  • Define what the regulations will be. This is the crux of the problem. We are setting up an framework that will allow new regulations to be set within an administration which will be on the level of the FDA. What will the regulations be today, and what will they be in 10 years? Will I be required to put a UPC type sticker on every item I grow, to comply with the tractability requirement? It is perhaps the most reasonable solution. UPCs cost about $60 a piece to set up. Then you need the stickers and all that. We are growing 100 varieties this year. That would be $6000 in coding fees. That is to comply with only one line of a 40 page piece of legislation. If I was a 400 acre farm growing 10 items my fee would be only $600. See the problem?
Do I believe that we need an upgrade to our food safety program.? Yeah. Big corporations do bad things in the name of profits. But small farms and small food producers are not the problem, yet under this law we will take a disproportionate brunt of the solution.

What do I suggest:
  • Specially exempt farmers markets
  • Exempt farms with less then $1,000,000 in annual sales
  • Exempt Food establishments with less then $1,000,000 in annual sales
  • Specifically define farms so home gardens are not included
  • Establish a system of public comment on the regulation


Anonymous said...

Define what the regulations will be.

Sec. 506 of the HR 875 essentially hands the administrator of the FSA a blank check with respect to regulations. ("The Administrator may promulgate such regulations as the Administrator determines are necessary or appropriate to perform the duties of the Administrator.") Considering the extent to which the US Congress is in the habit of delegating rule-making to administrative agencies, I think it's unlikely the bill will ever define what the regulations will be. Perhaps what needs to be included in the bill is some consultative role for small operators so the administrator's decisions are reasonable.

Sec. 103 of the bill does say, "The Administrator shall establish advisory committees that consist of representatives of scientific expert bodies, academics, industry specialists, and consumers." Depending on how "industry" is defined, small operators may or may not have a seat a table. Maybe the language of Sec. 103 needs to be changed to ensure small operators are on advisory committees?

Also, it appears that the bill includes no provisions for weighing costs and benefits of proposed regulations. That's another area that might be worth consideration.

clink said...

The other issue is HR 814 from the 111 session of Congress. This is the mandatory NAIS legislation.

You wrote this post beautifully. We need food safety but we need clearly defined rules and clear definition of what they expect.

I farm naturally and would not like to be under the jurisdiction of Monsanto for chemical use.

There is no required annual inspection. Personally -- I would almost rather have that than waiting for the shoe to drop. And why do I have to have a written food safety policy if no one is ever going to read it???

Make clear expectations -- then I know what to fix or fight!

Anonymous said...

There are several bills in congress
HR 759
HR 814
HR 815
HR 875 (the long one)

S 425 (introduced by our own Sen Sherrod Brown of OH)
S 510

I have not printed all of them out to read but I will and I will follow this all very closely. The same principles used to craft the CPSIA 2008 are in these bills so beware.

Barb in Cuy Co.