Not Enough Fine Print in the Food Safety Bill

| Mon Apr. 20, 2009 1:08 PM EDT

Recently Kiera Butler wrote that the Food Safety Modernization Act 2009, or HR 875, will not mean the end of organic farming if it passes. Well, the bill may not send the feds tromping through your backyard basil patch, but it's certainly worth questioning—along with the Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act, or HR 759, also currently in the House. For local farmers whose produce doesn't reach the conventional food industry, how legislators construe 875 could have dire consequences.

Sure, Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), 875's sponsor, likely doesn't intend to sap the livelihoods of small farmers. But as far as I can tell, neither 875 nor 759 take into account the need for separate regulations according to farm size and financial capacity. If we really do intend to bolster small farmers, rather than letting them struggle to keep up with legislation that, by default, favors corporate farms, the bills need to be more discerning. One example?

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875 would require all food establishments to register and be subject to random inspections. Registration costs money, as do inspections, which are already required to get USDA Organic certification.

 HR 759, which some representatives have said is likely to pass before 875, is an attempt to improve traceability of every item of produce as it travels across the country on 18-wheelers, so that when someone gets a bad tomato, we'll know which farmer to blame. It's a reaction to the 2008 salmonella outbreaks, and it would require record-keeping on farms to be done electronically—another burden for small farmers who usually don't have the same high-tech systems as, say, Monsanto.

Ari LeVaux of Alternet wrote of the pending bills:

The right to buy milk from your neighbor or grow your own food is as inalienable as the right to bear arms. And if you threaten to take away this right, you're going to face a backlash that will make the NRA seem like a bunch of flower-waving Hare Krishnas.

Though the right to produce and buy milk from your neighbor does not appear in the Bill of Rights, raw milk is was what our founding fathers drank, if we really want to get Constitutional, and there is currently a proposed bill aiming to lift the ban on unpasteurized milk. But along with the decline of small family farms, raw milk has been relegated to the black market. It's hard to see organic vegetables being forced underground too, but in light of the undiscerning language of 875 and 759, you never know.