Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) took an hour or so Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 8, to visit with small farmers at the French Broad Food Co-op Farmer’s Market, at least partly in an attempt to reassure them that proposed legislation to tighten food safety standards will not affect them detrimentally, as some first feared.
Last year’s food-safety scares — involving contaminated peanut products, spinach, peppers, and more — led to what some observers felt was an overzealous response by the federal government to tighten regulations and traceability of food products in the event of contamination and the need for a recall.
Sen. Hagan is cosponsoring an amendment by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) to Senate Bill 510, the proposed Food Safety Modernization Act, which would exclude small producers — those farms earning less than $500,000 per year — thus relieving them of what many say would be an unsustainable burden of record keeping and administration. The amendment would also exclude producers who sell their food directly to consumers or restaurants (i.e., at farmers’ markets).
“I want to be sure that these local farmers don’t have to go through more burdensome bureaucratic paperwork — that they can continue to produce the foods they have here,” she said. “I want to be sure that the paperwork the large industrial farms need to have put in place won’t affect the small farmers. The key is, everybody wants to be sure that food they purchase is safe. The bill provides a food traceability mechanism [for the large producers], and if you buy locally, you know who the producer is.”
Most farmers at the market on Biltmore Avenue thanked Sen. Hagan for her support of the Tester Amendment. But a few remain concerned. Patryk Battle, head gardener of the Mountain Air Community Organic Garden and WCQS Gardening Show panelist, worries that by making the FDA responsible for enforcing the new standards, Senate Bill 510 means other negative effects could be on the horizon. “The FDA is vehemently opposed to raw milk, [and it] claims that there’s no difference between genetically engineered food and food in its natural state. They support irradiating food,” he asserts. “If given the powers proposed in this bill, the FDA will…have access to all your records with no need for a warrant.”
During a press event that followed the senator’s visit to each of the market stalls, Hagan took questions from folks who came to raise issues aside from food safety. Supporters of the Dream Act, which would provide access to higher education and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, came to ask for Sen. Hagan’s support of that legislation. The Senator has indicated that she does not support the Dream Act, and that she instead wants to see comprehensive immigration reform, rather than a piecemeal approach to its various components, such as education.
When asked about her support for comprehensive climate-change legislation, Hagan said: “I think climate change is real. I hope we can have a forward-thinking energy policy in our country. I think we need to stop spending a billion dollars a day with countries that are not our friends. We need to have more renewable energy [based] here in our country.”
photos by Jonathan Welch