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Friday, March 13, 2009

The Myth of HR 875 and SB 425

There has been a lot written and posted all over the world wide web and Internet about 2 bills in congress, HR 875 and SB 425.

Paranoid people with an agenda to kill all government regulation have interpreted this bill as one that will kill organic farming, criminalize the back yard garden, fine housewives for cooking food that they have grown in their own kitchens and make what I do for a living virtually illegal as small farmers will be forced to comply with the draconian regulations that may be imposed on the interstate/international corporate farms and food processors. I have even seen people claim that the NAIS is a part of these bills (it is not).

Amazing what a few writers good at arousing emotions can do on the interwebs.

The trouble stems from two emails that I guess started out life on a couple of anti government/pro farming blogs.

Here is one of them


http://shepardpolitics.blogspot.com/...aw-family.html

HR 875 Would Essentially Outlaw Family Farms In The United States

I get a lot of e-mails each day and one today (hi Cheryl!) pointed my attention to HR
875, a bill introduced into the 111th Congress for consideration. SO, I went and did something that members of Congress rarely do and actually went and read the bill, or more accurately, at least glanced through it which is still more than they ever do. It was introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT 3rd) and has around 36 co-sponsors including Congressman Andre Carson (D-IN 7th) as of this writing. It immediately strikes me as being terribly bad legislation.

Under a heading described as protecting the public health and ensuring the safety of food it creates a "Food Safety Administration" within Health and Human Services. Oddly, not just adding regulations to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) which is also under HHS. And don't we have the USDA as well? The bill applies to all manner of "Food Establishments" and "Food Production Facilities" (note the following excerpt).


(14) FOOD PRODUCTION FACILITY- The term ‘food production facility’ means any farm, ranch, orchard, vineyard, aquaculture facility, or confined animal-feeding operation.


The bill would appear to even cover fishing boats and your downtown hot dog street vendors. In fact, the bill probably would also apply to your family garden since no exemption is apparent.

What it essentially does is place a tremendous regulatory burden on all of these organizations and individuals by requiring them to have "food safety plans", consider all relevant hazards [note: I wish Congress would consider all "relevant hazards" or unintended consequences of everything THEY did], testing, sample keeping and to maintain all kinds of records. The bill also allows the government to dictate all manner of standards related to fertilizer use, nutrients, packaging, temperature controls and other items.

This massive bloat in government regulation (and taxpayer expense to support it) would add additional cost and headache to every farm, fishing boat, restaurant, slaughterhouse, processing plant, CO-OP and anyone else associated with growing, storing or processing food. The bill authorizes fines of up to $1,000,000 (one million) dollars for "each act" and for "each day" of a violation.

We'll skip over the concern over how important food production and distribution, largely recession proof, could be if our economy continues to decline and inflation takes hold and just address this on the apparent lunacy that it is. As those familiar with history know, large dominant corporations often will use government to demand industry regulations that force the small competitor out of business or introduce barriers to entry that prevent new companies from starting up to compete. In the early part of the 20th century a tremendous amount of regulation was written by the industries themselves to be enacted into law.

In this case, I think this bill could do tremendous harm to family farms or independent food operators. Only massive companies have the ability to meet these regulations and imagine the legal expenses that could be incurred to defend oneself? Never forget, the government has near unlimited resources where you might have to cough up $200 to $500 an hour for a good attorney to defend yourself, your farm, boat, truck, restaurant, orchard, vineyard or hot dog stand. And what about the increased cost of food associated with the cost of compliance, it's not unreasonable to think that many places would have to hire staff or outside assistance just to comply with the law.

We have an excellent history in the United States of safe food, but as Obama's Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel suggested recently, "You should never want a serious crisis to go to waste." He spoke those words relative to looking for opportunities to do things that people would not otherwise accept without some crisis. We should be very careful not to let the very rare instance of something like the recent peanut problem be used as such a "crisis". There is no impetus to point the bureaucrats of government and the guns they control, their ability to not only deprive someone of life or freedom but to destroy whole families, careers and reputations, at everyone in the country who might be involved in ensuring we have stuff to eat.

We're doing just fine without this legislation.


Here are a couple of diatribes by Lin Cohen-Cole who writes for OpEdNews.com
http://www.opednews.com/articles/Goodbye-farmers-markets-C-by-Linn-Cohen-Cole-090303-287.html

and
http://www.opednews.com/articles/Monsanto-s-dream-bill-HR-by-Linn-Cohen-Cole-090309-337.html

These articles talk about things that these congressional bills do not touch such as seed saving and NAIS (both under the jurisdiction of the USDA and not the FDA). She writes to scare people and get them all in a tizzy about a brand new bill that will not make it in to committee for many months, if ever.

Now here is what Tom Barlow has to say about these bills
http://www.walletpop.com/blog/2009/03/12/will-proposed-national-legislation-kill-the-farmers-market/ he does not see these bills as doing anything close to shutting down farmers markets, criminalizing organic farming etc., etc..

Nor does the Organic Consumers Association which calls this fear mongering "the Internet Myth of the week"

This week, we received numerous calls and emails from OCA supporters who came across alarming YouTube videos and emails circulating on the Internet that claimed a new food safety bill (HR 875) introduced in Congress would make "organic farming illegal." Although the Bill certainly has its shortcomings, it is an exaggeration to say that is a secret plot by Monsanto and the USDA to destroy the nation's alternative food and farming system. In actuality, HR 875, the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009, is a limited-vision attempt by moderate Democrats and Republicans to craft food safety legislation to address the out-of-control filth and contamination that are inherent in our industrialized, now globalized, "profit-at-any-cost" food system.
This being said, OCA does not support HR 875 in its present form, given the fact that, if the Bill's regulations were applied in a one-size-fits-all manner to certified organic and farm-to-consumer operations, it could have a devastating impact on small farmers, especially raw milk producers who are already unfairly targeted by state food-safety regulators. Although the OCA deems this Bill as somewhat well-intentioned, we are calling on Congress to focus its attention on the real threats to food safety: globalized food sourcing from nations such as China where food safety is a joke and domestic industrial-scale and factory farms whose collateral damage includes pesticide and antibiotic-tainted food, mad cow disease, E.coli contamination and salmonella poisoning. And, of course, Congress and the Obama Administration need to support a massive transition to organic farming practices.



Food and water watch has this to say about these bills:

Food & Water Watch’ s Statement on H.R. 875 and the Food Safety Bills



The dilemma of how to regulate food safety in a way that prevents problems caused by industrialized agriculture but doesn’t wipe out small diversified farms is not new and is not easily solved. And as almost constant food safety problems reveal the dirty truth about the way much of our food is produced, processed and distributed, it’s a dilemma we need to have serious discussion about.

Most consumers never thought they had to worry about peanut butter and this latest food safety scandal has captured public attention for good reason – a CEO who knowingly shipped contaminated food, a plant with holes in the roof and serious pest problems, and years of state and federal regulators failing to intervene.

It’s no surprise that Congress is under pressure to act and multiple food safety bills have been introduced.

Two of the bills are about traceability for food (S.425 and H.R. 814). These present real issues for small producers who could be forced to bear the cost of expensive tracking technology and record keeping.

The other bills address what FDA can do to regulate food.



A lot of attention has been focused on a bill introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (H.R. 875), the Food Safety Modernization Act. And a lot of what is being said about the bill is misleading.

Here are a few things that H.R. 875 DOES do:

-It addresses the most critical flaw in the structure of FDA by splitting it into 2 new agencies –one devoted to food safety and the other devoted to drugs and medical devices.

-It increases inspection of food processing plants, basing the frequency of inspection on the risk of the product being produced – but it does NOT make plants pay any registration fees or user fees.

-It does extend food safety agency authority to food production on farms, requiring farms to write a food safety plan and consider the critical points on that farm where food safety problems are likely to occur.

-It requires imported food to meet the same standards as food produced in the U.S.

And just as importantly, here are a few things that H.R. 875 does NOT do:

-It does not cover foods regulated by the USDA (beef, pork, poultry, lamb, catfish.)

-It does not establish a mandatory animal identification system.

-It does not regulate backyard gardens.

-It does not regulate seed.

-It does not call for new regulations for farmers markets or direct marketing arrangements.

-It does not apply to food that does not enter interstate commerce (food that is sold across state lines).

-It does not mandate any specific type of traceability for FDA-regulated foods (the bill does instruct a new food safety agency to improve traceability of foods, but specifically says that record keeping can be done electronically or on paper.)



Several of the things not found in the DeLauro can be found in other bills – like H.R. 814, the Tracing and Recalling Agricultural Contamination Everywhere Act, which calls for a mandatory animal identification system, or H.R. 759, the Food And Drug Administration Globalization Act, which overhauls the entire structure of FDA. H.R. 759 is more likely to move through Congress than H.R. 875. And H.R. 759 contains several provisions that could cause problems for small farms and food processors:

-It extends traceability record keeping requirements that currently apply only to food processors to farms and restaurants – and requires that record keeping be done electronically.

-It calls for standard lot numbers to be used in food production.

-It requires food processing plants to pay a registration fee to FDA to fund the agency’s inspection efforts.

-It instructs FDA to establish production standards for fruits and vegetables and to establish Good Agricultural Practices for produce.

There is plenty of evidence that one-size-fits-all regulation only tends to work for one size of agriculture – the largest industrialized operations. That’s why it is important to let members of Congress know how food safety proposals will impact the conservation, organic, and sustainable practices that make diversified, organic, and direct market producers different from agribusiness. And the work doesn’t stop there – if Congress passes any of these bills, the FDA will have to develop rules and regulations to implement the law, a process that we can’t afford to ignore.

But simply shooting down any attempt to fix our broken food safety system is not an approach that works for consumers, who are faced with a food supply that is putting them at risk and regulators who lack the authority to do much about it.

You can read the full text of any of these bills at http://thomas.loc.gov

___________________________
Sarah Alexander
Senior Food Organizer
Food & Water Watch

1616 P St. NW Suite 300
Washington, DC 20036
salexander@fwwatch.org
www.foodandwaterwatch.org
So you can see these bills while they need the wording tweaked a bit are not the death knell to small organic farms selling their products direct to the public.

All that said, NAIS Is a real threat to small farms that raise animals and NAIS is in committee and can be commented upon right now here is where you do that http://www.regulations.gov/fdmspublic/component/main?main=DocketDetail&d=APHIS-2007-0096

2 comments:

Alex said...

Here is an online petition you can sign to help stop HR 875: http://www.LeaveMyFoodAlone.org

michele said...

What I get from reading this is our Congress should take the time to educate themselves about what they are voting on, and there needs to be real conversation. So many regulations are one-size-fits-all, and that can be very damaging, especially for the little guy. In my opinion it definitely should not be passed in its current form.