‘Food Safety’ bill could kill sustainable farming

March 31, 2010 at 7:24 pm 1 comment

By Roland McReynolds

Congress is debating legislation that would give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wide-ranging new authority over farming practices and food production. In its current form, the bill’s requirements would be impossible for many small-scale farmers and food processors to fulfill.

In other words, small farms committed to producing healthy food are the ones that could be driven out of business by initiatives designed to ensure food “safety.”

The House has already passed a bill, HR 2749, and in April the Senate will take up its version, S 510, which is co-sponsored by NC Sen. Richard Burr.  With or without a new law, FDA is moving forward with rules on produce safety on the farm, and already has authority to require food producers to register with the federal government.  Unfortunately, the FDA’s initiatives treat small farms, organic agriculture and local food businesses as if they are giant corporate food processing companies, an approach that will crush the community food movement that so many of us hold dear.

As documented in films like. Food Inc., large corporations dominate our food supply, and there is little doubt that industrial supply chains need to be cleaned up. Pathogen contamination in food has been making regular headlines for four years now, beginning with the 2006 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in California spinach, and right up to today.

These incidents have made a substantial impact on agribusiness.  Sales of California spinach have yet to recover to their 2005 levels.  Seeking to win back trust, large food processors and retailers have allied with consumer groups and FDA to promote a framework for pathogen control that relies heavily on paperwork, inspections, and limited knowledge about where pathogens come from in the first place.  That approach is embodied in S 510.

Sustainable ag advocates have been working behind the scenes to win protections for local food systems in S510, and there have been improvements.  For instance, the latest version of the bill (scroll down to p. 140), requires FDA to make sure that on-farm food safety rules are consistent with organic farming practices and soil and water conservation programs.

Fundamentally, though, the bill still puts local, sustainable food systems in a straight jacket: While some existing farmers and businesses could survive the S510 regime, it would effectively prevent them from expanding, and it would block new farmers and entrepreneurs from getting in the business to begin with.

The way to bring true food security and economic vitality to all of us who eat is to allow the sustainable farming movement to grow beyond farmers markets and direct sales. This bill doesn’t give them a chance.

Federal and state programs have been working for a decade to spur small farms to get into value-added agricultural enterprises, for the good of those farms and for regional economic development. The result has been growth of small farms and small businesses that now count as “food facilities” under existing law, and so would be subject to S510’s one-size-fits-all regulations.  These are businesses that are growing to meet wholesale demand and so moving outside the narrow direct marketing exemptions that FDA and consumer groups site when they claim that the bill won’t hurt local foods.

That’s why small farmers and the customers who support them want to see this bill improved.

We need your help.

Please see Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s action alert on S510 and the key changes that need to be made to protect small farms and businesses.  Check in with us to stay tuned on what you can do, or join our e-News list (scroll down to lower left), and help make food safety safe for healthy food.

— Roland McReynolds is Executive Director of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, and serves on the North Carolina Sustainable Local Food Advisory Council.  There is a new CFSA-powered iPhone app that helps foodies find sustainable farms in the Carolinas, check it out here.

Entry filed under: Food Safety, Politics/ Policy, Sustainable Farming, Sustainable Food, Uncategorized. Tags: , .

Putting out the scream for local ice cream Keeping up with the greens

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Green Eats  |  April 13, 2010 at 11:28 am

    […] head over to Sustainable Grub to read the rest of the post, and check out CFSA’s Action Alert on S.510 to find out what you […]


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