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.
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