Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Fact and fiction...

So you may be hearing a lot about why the senate bill 510 (FDA Food Safety Modernization Act) is bad and what it does.

You may have heard:
  • You will have to pay $500 and be subjected to inspections to grow your own garden!
  • It will outlaw organics!
  • It will end Farmers Markets and CSAs!
  • It will mean only GMO seeds can be sold!

These things are NOT true. The law will not do this, your garden will not be illegal and your farmers market is safe, you will still be able to buy organic veggies and avoid GMO varieties.

But it will have significant impacts. Basically the problem is this - it is trying to apply a one size fits all mold to farms and food producers, across the board, regardless of size of the grower (/producer) or means of distribution.

  • It is NOT limited only to products involved in interstate commerce, which means that the food your farmer grows for your local farmers market is not exempt.
  • It does NOT recognize differences in farm size, which means a 10 member CSA will have to pay the same fee, complete the same paperwork, and compile the same Hazard Plan as a multi-thousand acre non-diversified farm.
  • It puts the FDA in charge of farmers production methods. Is this really the right place for this to be? Shouldn't this be a Department of Agriculture issue? People who deal with farms and not pharmaceutical factories?
  • Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system will apply to even the smallest local food processor. This means that the person making cupcakes or jelly for market will be considered legally the same as Kraft food.

But honestly, my biggest concern is not for this bill today. In all probability, if it passes the worst that will happen with small producers is they have to pay their $500, because the amount of work involved in implementing this involves is so large that it will be years before they work their way down to the 2 acre grower. BUT it will set up a framework to institute regulation whenever public opinion blows.

So lets say that in 5 years there is a U-pick strawberry farm somewhere which gets contaminated somehow with something? Lets say, hypothetically, that 24 children who picked strawberries there get very ill, a couple may even die. With this law in place it would be a matter of REGULATION not LEGISLATION that U-pick berry farms are no longer compliant with food safety laws.

Lets say that in 7 years there is a farmers market somewhere where jalapenos which are contaminated with something are sold. They trace it back to a farmer who had a deer walk across his field. There is not necessarily proof that that is the source of the contamination, but since we know that animals should not be within 1000 feet of food (California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement) new REGULATION not LEGISLATION is put in place that any food grown within 200 feet of evidence (footprints) of animals must be destroyed.

Lets get crazy and say that in 20 years there is a problem somewhere and good diligent organic farmers by compost from a company who has produced a bad, contaminated product. People in 4 states get sick, 25 die. Now you can no longer use compost in farms via the stroke of a pen.

I am all for food safety, but I feel that the small grower is a pretty safe bet from a safety standpoint. We are NOT the same as big farms and should not be treated such.

We need to call and let our Senators know that we do not agree with 510. Since it is pretty much guaranteed to pass (which senator will risk being against food safety, and be accused during the next election of being responsible for death of the next child to be victim to a food contamination outbreak) we need to support amendments which exempt small producers.

One size does not fit all!

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