Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Senate Bill 510

One of our members forwarded this email to me, which I am reposting in its entirity, what with the season I had not been aware of this coming back to the forground (we had talked about it last fall.)

I will post more about it tommrow, but this is an important issue for small farms (and as importantly small and home food producers) so I ask each of you to look into it as well. For more information click here.

April 10, 2010
Re: Senate Bill 510 – Local Foods and Farms May be at Risk

Dear Friends and Lovers of Local, Sustainable Foods,
I am writing to let you know about S.510, a food safety bill which has been named the “Food Safety Modernization Act”. Having read the bill and analysis and commentary on the bill, I have come to the conclusion that S. 510, if passed, may have the (seemingly) unintended consequence of compromising and potentially eliminating altogether many small farms, and along with that consumer access to local food – whether at farmer’s markets, through a CSA (community supported agriculture), or in farm to table restaurants. All without addressing the root cause of the past food contamination problems.
As you may have already gathered, I oppose - strongly oppose – S.510. I am sending this email letter to you because it is my hope that after you read this you will consider calling your Senator and expressing your own opinion about this. This can be relatively easy. I have included at the end of this email an “Action Alert” from the Cornucopia Institute (a non-profit educational organization which supports the ecological principles and economic wisdom underlying sustainable and organic agriculture). The Alert provides simple instructions for contacting your Senator, with some suggestions for what you might want to say
The companion bill to S.510 passed the House last year, and it is predicted that this Bill may come before the Senate for a vote as early as this coming Tuesday, April 13. In addition to moving pretty quickly, the bill also seems to be somewhat of a sleeper. Although its impact on small, local farms will be considerable, potentially devastating, there seems to be very little awareness of it among the members of the local farms/local foods community. All attention (if any) has been focused upon the so-called “Leafy Greens” regulatory process which has been traveling around the country, with the “Produce Safety Project” hosting “stakeholders” meetings between representatives of the prospective regulators (the FDA, the USDA), farmers, and research academics
S. 510 provides extensive, onerous, expensive regulatory requirements, all done in a “one size fits all” manner (meaning that the same rules would be applicable to both the enormous industrial farms and to small local farms). Farm registration, hazard analysis and controls, extensive recordkeeping and reporting requirements, extensive traceability documentation, etc. The bill provides for the establishment of detailed standards regarding the manner in which a farmer may grow, water, nurture, harvest and store his crops, what animals may come in contact with his crops (possibly none), and so forth – seemingly every aspect of the farmer’s food growing operation. The FDA would be given sweeping enforcement authority - the power to enter the farm, to order food to be quarantined or recalled, to order the farm to be shut down, etc. – all under very subjective standards which leave a lot of room for abuse and/or mistakes. If you are at all familiar with the USDA’s or FDA’s track record under their already extensive regulatory authority, you know that it is not exactly exemplary. This history, with respect to small farms in particular, is replete with stories of arbitrary, capricious and often just plain ignorant (and highly subjective) enforcement operations. A little “oops” by the Feds and a small farmer already operating with a very small profit margin faces the risk of being forced out of business.
Viewed most charitably, the bill is a poorly thought out reaction to the food safety problems of recent years (remember the E. Coli on spinach coming out of California?). What the bill overlooks is that virtually all of the recent food safety scandals have been linked directly to large, industrial scale agricultural operations. The main threats to food safety, even according to the government proponents of the bill, are centralized production, centralized processing, and long distance transportation. These are attributes of the industrial food system, certainly not of the small, local, sustainable and/or organic farmers who typically sell at farmer’s markets, through their own CSA or directly to restaurants. In fact, the food produced by family and local farms, often organic and sustainable, is probably the safest in the nation. This makes sense, when you stop to think about it. These farmers know first-hand the importance of food safety. It is for them a way of life. They and their family members work in the fields. They eat the same food that they sell us (OK, maybe they eat the stuff with the bumps and bruises). They know that if there is a problem there will be no hiding behind the food consolidator, the packing house or the long distance transportation operation. When we buy local product we know the identity of the farmer who grew the food, and many of us also have the opportunity of getting to know the farmer. Food safety safeguards are very naturally built into local food systems.
Once we understand that the main threats to food safety involve large scale industrial agriculture, it is readily apparent that it makes no sense to impose upon small local farms the onerous and complex regulatory and record-keeping requirements which may be appropriate to control the “big guys” with their disturbing record on food safety. The larger operations will be able to absorb these costs – the fees as well as the time cost of extensive recordkeeping and documentation. The small, local farmers will not. Many of them are already operating at the margin, settling for a very small income in order to be able to continue doing what they love, playing their part in building a local, sustainable food supply for our communities. And any of you who have friends in this community know that they are already at or below the minimum amount of sleep required to sustain human life, especially during growing and harvesting season.
As I considered S.510 Bill and the surrounding issues, I found myself asking the question, who will benefit from this legislation, if passed? The answer, I believe, is that large agricultural business will be the winner. Congress and the public may think that it is the public that is benefitting – there has been a lot of hoopla about food safety in the past couple of years. Some of it is certainly justified – there have been significant breaches in the safety of our food supply, virtually all of them linked to big agriculture (E. coli on fresh spinach, melamine in dairy products, Salmonella in peanut butter, to name a few). By inducing the public to believe that their food is safe, and by crippling or shutting down the smaller and increasingly “thorn in the side” sustainable, local, organic farmers whose message and offerings of safe, healthy, sustainable, community enhancing food is catching on in this culture, this bill looks to me mostly like a vehicle for large agricultural interests to increase their markets.
Thank you for reading this far. If you share even some of my views on this Bill, you may agree that it is important to let your Senator know about this before the upcoming vote (which may occur as early as Tuesday, April 13). If you would like to do this, please continue on and read the Action Alert from the Cornucopia Institute which I have included in the balance of this email. This Action Alert provides simple suggestions for expressing your concerns to your Senator, including how to contact him or her and discussion points. Cornucopia encourages people who support small, local farmers – people like most of us - to support the proposed amendment to S.510 offered by Senator Tester, (D-MT), who is actually a certified organic farmer. While this amendment may not be perfect, in terms of the goal of protecting and preserving the viability of small local farms, it is all the best that we have, and I encourage you to support it.
Many blessings.

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