The Green Scene

These are names that only a congressional bill sponsor could love: the Tracing and Recalling Agricultural Contamination Everywhere Act, the Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act, the Food Safety and Tracking Improvement Act, and the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, a Democrat, has sponsored the latter bill, which has set off a firestorm of blog posts, YouTube videos and mass e-mails. Here’s an excerpt from one that landed in the Xpress inbox, complete with screaming all-caps: “Please tell everyone who wants organic foods: U.S. House and Senate are about to vote on bill that will OUTLAW ORGANIC FARMING (H.R. 875).”

The dispatch goes on to claim that Monsanto, a multinational biotech giant, is a major backer of the bill. If H.R. 875 passes, the feds and companies like Monsanto will put an end to heirloom seeds, organic farming, tailgate markets and family farms, the e-mail declares.

Is there any truth to these claims?

Consider last January’s deadly peanut-product tragedy: Eight people died, and thousands more were sickened. Toss in last summer’s salmonella-in-the-jalapeños-and-tomatoes scare, fears about bird flu contaminating the U.S poultry supply, and mad cow disease, and it’s no wonder Congress is addressing food-safety issues and seeking to reorganize and strengthen the much-criticized Food and Drug Administration.

“Some federal food-safety legislation is inevitable, if for no other reason than people are scared,” says Peter Marks, program director for the Asheville-based Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project. Like other nonprofits and related agencies, ASAP been fielding lots of calls about H.R. 875, notes Marks, urging a little caution and lots of research.

A bill with the same name, S. 3385, was attempted in the Senate last year but failed. And the extent of the Monsanto connection may be this: Rep. DeLauro’s husband, Stanley Greenberg, counts Monsanto as a client. He is president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a public-polling firm. Greenberg’s company bio notes that he’s advised Monsanto—as well as Boeing, United Health Care, former Vice President Al Gore, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and a host of others.

As for the bill itself, several Xpress contacts quoted the consumer nonprofit Food & Water Watch, which provides an H.R. 875 overview on its Web site. The report emphasizes that the bill “does not regulate backyard gardens … does not regulate seed … does not call for new regulations for farmers markets or direct-marketing arrangements [such as CSAs, nor] does [it] apply to food that does not enter interstate commerce.”

What H.R. 875 would do is split the FDA into two new agencies: one devoted to food safety and the other to drugs and medical devices. It would also give the food-safety agency jurisdiction over food production on farms, requiring written food-safety plans, and would increase inspections of food-processing plants.

The FDA Globalization Act (H.R. 759) and the Tracing and Recalling Act (H.R. 814) may be of greater concern, potentially more problems for small farms and food processors, the overview suggests. The first would require food-processing plants to pay registration fees that would fund increased inspections. It would also extend “traceability record-keeping requirements—that currently apply only to food processors—to farms and restaurants,” the report notes. H.R. 814 mandates an animal-identification system that might overlap with a similar, controversial system run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

OakMoon Farm & Creamery owner Cynthia Sharpe of Mitchell County worries that it all spells higher operating costs, which could “put a lot of folks out of business—small producers like me.” She and her husband raise goats for cheese production; they’re already fighting the USDA animal-identification program.

Another national nonprofit, the Organic Consumers Association, states, “Although [H.R. 875] certainly has its shortcomings, it is an exaggeration to say that [it] is a secret plot by Monsanto and the USDA to destroy the nation’s alternative food and farming system.” Deeming the bill “well intentioned,” OCA frowns on applying food-safety measures in a “one-size-fits-all manner to certified organic and farm-to-consumer operations.”

Madison County cheesemaker Chris Owen has taken a proactive approach, documenting every detail of the family operation, acquiring certifications and taking classes. “There’s a lot of fear and misinformation about the food-safety bill, [but] I don’t see the federal government being all that interested in backyard gardeners,” she remarks. Nonetheless, notes Owen, “As a food producer, I need to be accountable for my product.”
For his part, local gardener Dave Freewater scanned H.R. 875 and remarks, “It seems quite frightening on paper, but … I can’t imagine how this could be enforced for every small farmers market around the country.” Nonetheless, he says the bill is “worded so vaguely and broadly that … it could be interpreted in [ways] that could limit small-business owners [and] farmers.”

Generally skeptical of federal regulation efforts, Freewater says: “We need [to] learn more about this. Perhaps that includes contacting our local representatives and voicing our concerns. … Legislation like this rarely hurts the big players.”

To read the text of H.R. 875, go to www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h111-875. The ASAP statement can be found at www.asapconnections.org.

Send your environmental news to mvwilliams@mountainx.com, or leave a message at 251-1333, ext. 152.

SHARE
About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

One thought on “The Green Scene

  1. From HR 875 definitions: (14) FOOD PRODUCTION FACILITY- The term ‘food production facility’ means any farm, ranch, orchard, vineyard, aquaculture facility, or confined animal-feeding operation.

    What is in this definition to exclude my roadside vegetable garden from being regulated?

    From SEC. 401. PROHIBITED ACTS

    It is prohibited–

    (1) to manufacture, introduce, deliver for introduction, or receive in interstate commerce any food that is adulterated, misbranded, or otherwise unsafe.

    If the definition of food production facility does not exclude my roadside vegetable garden or my neighbor’s who sets tomatoes by the side of the road on a pay by honor system then we will be required to comply with this list of regulations at a minimum.

    SEC. 206. FOOD PRODUCTION FACILITIES

    (a) Authorities- In carrying out the duties of the Administrator and the purposes of this Act, the Administrator shall have the authority, with respect to food production facilities, to–

    (1) visit and inspect food production facilities in the United States and in foreign countries to determine if they are operating in compliance with the requirements of the food safety law;

    (2) review food safety records as required to be kept by the Administrator under section 210 and for other food safety purposes;

    (3) set good practice standards to protect the public and animal health and promote food safety;

    (4) conduct monitoring and surveillance of animals, plants, products, or the environment, as appropriate; and

    (5) collect and maintain information relevant to public health and farm practices.

    (b) Inspection of Records- A food production facility shall permit the Administrator upon presentation of appropriate credentials and at reasonable times and in a reasonable manner, to have access to and ability to copy all records maintained by or on behalf of such food production establishment in any format (including paper or electronic) and at any location, that are necessary to assist the Administrator–

    (1) to determine whether the food is contaminated, adulterated, or otherwise not in compliance with the food safety law; or

    (2) to track the food in commerce.

    (c) Regulations- Not later than 1 year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Administrator, in consultation with the Secretary of Agriculture and representatives of State departments of agriculture, shall promulgate regulations to establish science-based minimum standards for the safe production of food by food production facilities. Such regulations shall–

    (1) consider all relevant hazards, including those occurring naturally, and those that may be unintentionally or intentionally introduced;

    (2) require each food production facility to have a written food safety plan that describes the likely hazards and preventive controls implemented to address those hazards;

    (3) include, with respect to growing, harvesting, sorting, and storage operations, minimum standards related to fertilizer use, nutrients, hygiene, packaging, temperature controls, animal encroachment, and water;

    (4) include, with respect to animals raised for food, minimum standards related to the animal’s health, feed, and environment which bear on the safety of food for human consumption;

    (5) provide a reasonable period of time for compliance, taking into account the needs of small businesses for additional time to comply;

    (6) provide for coordination of education and enforcement activities by State and local officials, as designated by the Governors of the respective States; and

    (7) include a description of the variance process under subsection (d) and the types of permissible variances which the Administrator may grant under such process.

    SEC. 406. PRESUMPTION.

    In any action to enforce the requirements of the food safety law, the connection with interstate commerce required for jurisdiction shall be presumed to exist.

    So they will just assume my roadside vegetable garden is involved in interstate commerce, which very well could be the case since I have been known to smuggle excess produce down to Florida on Labor Day.

    I think this bill needs to get way more explicit about who and what the actual targets of food safety enforcement are directed at. How could this not have a chilling effect on very small farmers who sell excess produce or manage only tiny pieces of land as supplements to their income?

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.