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Food Safety Laws vs Small Farmers

Posted 4/7/2009 7:43am by Leaf Myczack.

Congress is feeling pressure to respond to food industry incidences of contaminated processed meat and peanut butter. However in their drive to act, several "one-size-fits-all" bills have now been proposed, that if enacted, could very well act as a defacto frontal assault against organic farmers and gardeners. It will probably be called the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009.

H.R. 875: Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 is: To establish the Food Safety Administration within the Department of Health and Human Services to protect the public health by preventing food-borne illness, ensuring the safety of food, improving research on contaminants leading to food-borne illness, and improving security of food from intentional contamination, and for other purposes. Now this sounds like a good thing, except all the disease and contamination seem to be coming from Industrialized Agri-business, not small independent organic farmers.

Congressional Bill HR 875 was introduced by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro,(D) whose husband Stanley Greenburg works for Monsanto. And now Monsanto wants its own employee, Michael Taylor (the man who forced genetically engineered rBGH (increases milk production) on the country when the Clintons placed him over “food safety” in the 90’s) back in government, this time to act with massive power as a “food safety czar”. HR 875 would give him immense power over what is done on every single farm in the country and massive policing authority to wield over farmers.

Monsanto is a powerful entity that has repeatedly proven its clout. Monsanto has already managed to lead the world into a new age of potentially hazardous genetic modification of seeds. Patenting not only their own GMO seeds, but also a huge number of heirloom crop seeds, patenting life forms for the first time — without a vote of the people or Congress. Once Monsanto has patented an heirloom seed, it results in not allowing farmers to legally save their seeds to replant the next year – a practice that has been done since the birth of agriculture. They have even sued farmers who have not been able to prevent the inevitable drift of Monsanto’s GE (genetically engineered) pollen or seed onto their land for patent infringement!

Perhaps their biggest assault to our food supply already is what’s known as terminator technology. These are seeds that have been genetically modified to “self-destruct.” In other words, the seeds (and the forthcoming crops) are sterile, which means farmers must buy them again each year. The implications that terminator seeds could have on the world’s food supply are nothing short of disastrous: the traits from genetically engineered crops can get passed on to other crops. Once the terminator seeds are released into a region, the trait of seed sterility could be passed to other non-genetically-engineered crops, making most or all of the seeds in the region sterile. If allowed to continue, every farmer in the world could come to have to rely on Monsanto for their seed supply!  With thousands of organic farmers driven out of business, they would be that much closer to dominating the food supply of the world, since organic farms don’t use either Monsanto seeds or toxic products.

Based on their overseas seed patenting history, (especially in India) I believe it’s prudent to question what the future of our small farms will hold, should a bill with such blatant ties to Monsanto be allowed to pass without further scrutiny. It is quite possible, perhaps even most probable, that the bill entitled H.R. 875: Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 is designed to halt the growing trend of small organic farms by insidiously creating punitive rules and laws, having little to do with food safety, that will make it extremely difficult, and incredibly expensive, for small farms to fully comply. And in this case, these rules and regulations created by this proposed bill are mandatory, not voluntary, meaning they apply equally to a tiny farmer with half a dozen cows as it does to a massive factory farm.

Some of the potential hazards of HR 875 include small farmers who just sell their fruits and vegetables at farmer’s markets. Anyone engaged in food growing, or “holding food for consumption” in the U.S. would potentially have to register annually, and create and maintain extensive records of the foods they grow and/or store.

It appears it could dictate how all food growers would have to grow their food, including potentially, the necessity to use certain pest control measures, for example. Authorities would have the ability to inspect any food production facility at random to make sure it’s operating in compliance with the food safety law, and again the definition of “food production facility” is so loosely defined it could apply to your personal orchard, vineyard, or vegetable garden, as long as it produces something edible.

After the enactment of this Act, the Administrator, in consultation with the Secretary of Agriculture and representatives of State departments of agriculture will promulgate regulations to establish “science-based minimum standards for the safe production of food” by food production facilities. Meaning, no one even knows what the food production standards are yet, but whatever they turn out to be will have to be followed. It is prohibited to: fail to register; refuse to permit access to an inspector; refuse to allow copying of all records; fail to establish or maintain any record required under the law. Should you fail to comply with any of the rules and regulations, there are both civil and criminal penalties, going as high as $1 million per violation, something that could clearly wipe out any small farmer in a blink of an eye.


Correcting the record

Since posting my original comments, I have spent a good deal of time researching the actual facts of the proposed Food Safety Bills, and it now looks like there was some unrelated linkage in the first press releases. Perhaps I should have done the extra research first, however the number of messages I was receiving about HR 875 could not be ignored, and it was our decision to post what information we had.

What I have subsequently learned, is that Monsanto Corp. and the Food Safety Bills are not directly linked as earlier reported. (Delauro's husband Stanley Greenburg does work for Monsanto) While the information concerning Monsanto and GM seeds and seed patenting is true, it is unlikely the seed issue will be a major factor (if at all) in these bills. We are unable to ascertain exactly who linked the Monsanto information to the Food Safety Bills, and why, but the majority of reliable informational websites seem to indicate this linkage is inaccurate. In spite of these discrepancies, the threat to small farms from poorly written Congressional bills cannot be dismissed as unfounded.


This is from www.cornucopia.org

Action Alert: Critical Pending Food Safety Legislation

We Must Tell Congress to also Protect High Quality Organic and Local Food

Supporting Viable Federal Oversight over Corporate Agribusiness
Local/Organic Farming: Part of the Solution, Not Part of the Problem!

1. HR 875: The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009
2. HR 759: The Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act of 2009
3. HR 1332: Safe FEAST Act of 2009

The blogosphere has sounded the alarm warning that Congress and agribusiness and biotechnology lobbyists are conspiring to pass legislation that will force organic and local farms, and even home gardeners, out of business. What are the threats and opportunities, and how should we gear up to communicate with our congressional representatives?

There is no question that our increasingly industrialized and concentrated food production system needs a new regulatory focus. Contamination of spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, peanuts and other foods are an indictment of a food safety system that is out of control and has become dominated by corporate agribusiness and powerful insider lobbyists. Regulators at the FDA, USDA and other agencies have fallen short in their public safety responsibilities.

The public outcry over this situation has finally led some in Congress to propose remedies—and we should support strict oversight of the runaway industrial farming and food production system that is responsible for illnesses and deaths among our citizenry.

Although stakeholders in the organic community need to be on-guard, the flurry of e-mails and Internet postings suggesting that HR 875 will end organic farming as we know it seem to grossly exaggerate the risks. Here’s what we know:

Some level of reform is coming and we must work diligently to make sure that any changes do not harm or competitively disadvantage organic and local family farm producers and processors who are providing the fresh, wholesome and authentic food for which consumers are increasingly hungry.

Several bills aimed at fixing the broken food safety system have been proposed. Of these bills, the FDA Globalization Act (HR 759) appears most likely to be voted on, with elements of the other bills, including the Food Safety Modernization Act (HR 875) and the Safe FEAST Act (HR 1332) possibly incorporated into the bill.

A vote on a final bill shortly before Memorial Day is likely.

All three bills would require new food safety rules for farms and food processing businesses. Therefore, as with most legislation, the real battle will be in the rule-making process that follows the passage of the bill. We must stay engaged.

Anyone with an interest in food safety issues has probably seen or received emails charging that backyard gardens and organic farming would be outlawed by new food safety laws. We have closely read the proposed legislation, done extensive background research, and talked with the chief staff member responsible for the drafting of HR 875. Some have argued that this is a conspiracy promulgated by Monsanto and other corporate interests in conventional agriculture. It is our conclusion that none of these bills would “outlaw organic farming.” Other groups, such as Food and Water Watch and the organic certification agent CCOF have reached similar conclusions. But as we just noted, we need to be engaged in this process to protect organic and family farmer interests.

Such one-size-fits-all food safety rules, especially preventative measures, created with industrial-scale farms and processors in mind, would likely put smaller and organic producers at an economic and competitive disadvantage. A similar voluntary set of regulations in California have damaged the environment and hurt organic and fresh produce growers.

These high-quality, owner-operated, and often “local” farms are an important part of the solution to our nation’s food quality problems—not the cause—and they must be protected!

Whatever the final legislation looks like, it must make clear that it is the intent of Congress to ensure that ensuing regulations will not disproportionately burden small-scale family farm producers and farmstead businesses that are the backbone of the local, sustainable and organic food movement.

Part of the Solution, Not Part of the Problem!
We must tell Congress to protect high quality organic and local food production

Please contact the following representatives to urge them to support legislation that will protect organic and small-scale family farmers while strengthening food safety:

• Henry Waxman (D-CA), Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce—send a message through the Committee website at: Link...
• John Dingell (D-MI), the sponsor of HR759
• Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the sponsor of HR 875
• Jim Costa (D-CA), the sponsor of HR 1332