I first heard about this bill back in early 2009 when it first came into fruition. Mostly I read about people freaking out that it would outlaw backyard gardening, it would destroy organic food and would end small farms. None of which was actually true. When I read all these rumors I decided to read the bill for myself. The Tester-Hagen Amendment to the bill made it so that farms that grossed less than $500,000 a year and sell within 400 miles and in the same state are protected from this bill. So unless you’re making over $500,000 on your backyard garden I don’t think there is anything to worry about.
Going through a lot of the literature for and against this bill I remain rather impartial about it. On one side I don’t like the impotent FDA, which has basically been taken over by agribusiness *cough* Monsanto *cough* and that wants to ban healthful foods such as raw milk, having more power over our food. But that doesn’t outweigh the fact that the government needs to have the power to force producers to recall dangerous foods. Three people that I trust about food policy, Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma) and Marion Nestle (Food Politics) are all in favor of this bill. I know that they have done the research and would not be supporting it if they weren’t comfortable doing so.
2 thoughts on “My Thoughts on the Food Safety Modernization Act”
I've actually come down on the opposite side of the food safety modernization act, for a few reasons…
#1 — It doesn't get to the root of the problem, which is meat & dairy production. It targets vegetable farmers largely because of the tomato, then spinach scare… but vegetables don't just start producing e. coli on their own. Disease outbreaks are always traced back to animal operations, and this legislation doesn't do anything to address the root cause.
#2 — The Tester-Hagan amendment doesn't go far enough to protect small farms. Profit margins for vegetable farms can be so slim that someone grossing $400,000 might only be taking home $25,000 at the end of a (very long) work-year.
Don't get me wrong, I am nowhere near grossing $400K, but I do have some farmer friends who are running up against that line… who live very frugally but don't have any money saved for retirement, and they've been farmers for 20+ years. Insurance is expensive, property taxes are expensive, employee benefits, etc.: it all adds up. If a farmer has to hire someone to bring them into compliance with this legislation, it could literally be the straw that broke the camel's back.
#3 — I know I don't sound like it right now, but I am actually a liberal and believe in good legislation — and yet I don't trust any legislation that enables the FDA to tell farmers how to grow their crops. The FDA and USDA have been so deeply controlled by special interests over the past decades — a "revolving door" of Monsanto, Cargill employees — that I shudder to think what measures they'll impose. If history is anything to go by, they'll institute measures that favor monoculture over diversity, wildlife exclusion over ecosystem farming, and rigid rules over common sense. (Case in point: at the farmers market, we are required to keep our produce 2 feet off the ground at all times. If I have produce in a clean, food-grade plastic bin with a lid, I am not permitted to let that bin rest on the asphalt. I'm not even permitted to put it on a piece of wood on the asphalt. But I could still have the produce laid out on a piece of formaldehyde-filled plywood two feet off the ground, and sneeze all over it. Thanks for keeping us safe, rules.)
Anyway, I know Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser supported it, but I remain deeply skeptical. I feel that they supported it largely because it's better than nothing — but it's not better than nothing if it causes small farms, the best alternative most people have to the industrial food complex, to go out of business. Just my two cents. There's a great series on Grist.org on this subject… worth reading for a bunch of different perspectives on the topic.
@Wisdom, Sorry about taking this down. Doh! I thought I had scheduled it for tomorrow but it popped up today. And then you must have commented right when I took it down. So since you commented I'm putting it back up.
Thanks for the comments. You bring up a lot of great points that I hadn't even thought of.
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