« September 2008 | Main | April 2009 »

HR 875 the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009

As many of you out there are aware by now, there is a bill that has been introduced to Congress called HR 875 Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 . I have seen a number of twitters and blog posts about it, as well as articles and discussions. I was all set to write a very different post about this issue until I came across this post at CrooksandLiars.com in my search:


I think this excerpt is essential for background in this discussion:

"(1) the bill has nothing to do with Monsanto, (2) Rep. DeLauro’s (the introducer of the bill) husband is a pollster for a company that once had Monsanto as a customer a decade ago, but he in no way ‘works’ for Monsanto, (3) HR 875 as it currently stands is very unlikely to even pass, and (4) the group behind disseminating this trumped-up propaganda is NICFA,"

The NICFA is a group whose mission statement maintains their goal is to "promote and preserve unregulated direct farmer-to-consumer trade’ and ‘oppose any government funded or managed National Animal Identification System." But, when I went to their site, the only statement I could find remotely referencing HR 875, was this:

"A number of “food safety” bills recently introduced in Congress would give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) direct control over every farm and ranch in the country and the authority to micromanage every aspect of farm production. Most of these bills have NAIS written into them. "

Perhaps they are referring to another food safety bill? I did not see any "trumped up propaganda about HR 875, unless it has been removed from their site, or referring to this appearance on Fox News.

What I think is behind the " propaganda" perhaps, is fear. We have just come off of 8 years of perhaps the most secretive govt. this country has ever seen, an administration that gave us good reason to not trust (ie "Clear Skies", "No Child Left Behind" etc. ) and I think we are all a little shell shocked. Too willing to believe that there must be some evil plot behind any new bill or law to take away our freedom. I think we all need to take a step back and do a little research before passing on info that sounds "too bad to be true". I have to admit, I am guilty of this as well, and I am trying to take my own advice.

Another heartening section from the post at "Crooks and Liars" that should quell much of the fears out there:

"I have since been in contact with Rep. DeLauro’s office, and they have confirmed that Rep. DeLauro has been meeting with organic farmers to draw up a proposed list of amendments to HR 875 based on those discussions. While these amendments are not yet public knowledge, and would be an informal document to clarify the bill, she and her staff would be happy to get the word out that the Congresswoman is indeed working very hard on improving both the bill and her office’s relationship with organic and small farmers."

While this is indeed good news, I would expect that these would be actual amendments to the bill and not just an "informal document" in the end. My work as a union steward and on a contract negotiating committee has taught me that clear language is always needed no matter how nitpicky it seems, and it is best not to leave things up to interpretation later on, if possible.

There are things now in the bill that I think are cause for real concern as far as open interpretation goes. For instance, the passage below from the "definitions" section of the bill seems to have the most relevance to the small producer as far as I have been able to discern. It seems to me to be too broad a stroke and needs further definition so as not to include perhaps even the home garden (or secret farm!) or chicken keeper, etc into the scope of the bill which therefore means, into the scope of the $1,000,000 penalty provided for in the bill.

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

There needs to be clear language as to the definition of all of the above, lest your backyard chicken coop be lumped into a "confined animal-feeding operation", or your grove of apple trees on the back 40 (feet or acres) into an orchard under the bill. And since I do run a Secret Farm, I am concerned that any home garden could be lumped in to the above definition, but I am more concerned about the small organic farmer and CSA's. If there is no language in the bill to make exclusions, it means it is open to interpretation later - and then it will be up to the interpreter at the time, and we can't always rely on that person or body to be reasoned in their judgement, or to have the best interests of the people in mind, rather than the GM industry - (yep, I'm looking at you Monsanto!).

For something as essential as the safety of our food supply and our ability to produce our own food, should we choose, we need to make sure we get it right. Nothing should be rushed through without clear language as to who and what is included under the bill. Especially when there are such things as $1,000,000 fines and unannounced inspections and confiscations involved.

But let me be clear, I do believe we need such a bill, and we need a real overhaul to our food safety system. If the recent (and ongoing!) salmonella peanut recall has taught us anything, I hope it is that we need real improvement and regulation in food safety. But, that reform should not come at the sacrifice of the small and organic food producer. In fact, I think that the small organic producer, the home gardener, and organic farming in general is precisely what will save us from over-pollution. 

We must not resort to fear mongering and paranoia but instead, be vigilant, and informed. Make sure our leaders, whoever they are at the time, know that we are paying attention and will put any needed pressure on to make new laws and regulations reasonable, sane, and in line with keeping the power in the hands of the people and not the corporation. 

March 28, 2009 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (31)