Steve Bemis on the Food Safety Legislation Before Congress

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Steve and His John Deere

Steve and His John Deere

Steve Bemis worked in corporate law for 35 years and for the last several years with the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund advocating for greater access to local foods, especially raw milk.  Shown here with his favorite John Deere diesel, Steve bales round and square hay for local farmers.  A frequent commentator on The Complete Patient (www.thecompletepatient.com), he shares his thoughts on proposed food safety legislation.

The current rush in Washington to spread a single new food safety umbrella over America’s food supply will only help if things needing fixed, get fixed and those not needing fixed, are freed.  Small farmers fall into the latter category.  Trapped in a fragmented food safety system grown up in the decades since Sinclair’s The Jungle, suppliers of local food are captive to concepts and procedures designed for the industrial-scale agriculture system and in the case of raw milk, outdated notions of risk.

There is precedent in both federal and many state laws to just exempt small farms.  The federal Egg Products Inspection Act provides for exemption of egg sales by farmers who sell eggs of their own production direct to consumers, as well as sales of eggs from flocks of 3000 or fewer birds (regardless of to whom the eggs are sold).  Michigan’s Egg Law, dating to 1963, specifically exempts farm to consumer egg sales, and the state’s Food Law similarly exempts uncut vegetable sales.  These are steps in the right direction.  Local food customers and the farmers who supply them can handle their freedom!  I suggest federal (and corresponding state) exemptions for small farms milking 100 or fewer cows, and similarly scaled exemptions covering chicken, pork, beef and other meats and produce.

An approach utilizing exemptions will free small operations of burdensome overhead and inspections, and will free up scarce regulatory resources and inspectors for the large businesses whose scale and potential for widespread damage require greater attention.  The tight feedback loop between farmers and local customers has built-in integrity and self-regulatory strengths.  If there’s a problem, pick up the phone and call the farmer.  A couple of calls warns him or her that a phone-tree (or email) recall should be implemented.  Fast.  Simple.  Effective.  Additional incentives to maintain quality exist in the risk of lawsuit if you make someone really sick, and the corollary of risk which is the cost of insurance.  Farmers can adopt voluntary self-regulation in the form of “best practice” standards to assist in marketing and to further bolster the farmer/consumer relationship.

The alternative to freeing up the local food system will be increased (perhaps, crippling) complexity in the safety laws which are being developed.   The drum-beat of national food recalls suggests that the problems exist in the industrial system.  Greater nutrition and quality in local foods raised organically from healthy soils suggest that the solutions may well exist in the local food system.  We must be free to access foods of our choice at an accessible price.  Attempting to draft detailed provisions which address the radically different scales of big and small farms with their very different needs will at best lead to frustration and delay, and at worst will lead to a results, oppressive in the extreme, where the smalls are outgunned by the bigs.

Thus, the recommendation is to recognize these freedoms, and simply exempt us.

Related Link:

Glenn Beck Show on The Food Safety Legislation

Steve Bemis’ Farm
Steve Bemis' Farm

Note from Kimberly:

Please forward this common sense advice to the politicians representing you in Washington. Thanks, Steve for the excellent insight on a very important issue.

Today is Fight Back Friday, see more Fight Back Friday ideas at the Food Renegade Blog.

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Comments

  1. That’s what I asked my congressmen to do in regards to these food safety bills. In the very least, we need to contact our congressmen and ask them to make the exemptions for small scale farmers and producers CLEAR in the language of the law.

    Thanks for joining in today’s carnival!

    KristenM
    (AKA FoodRenegade)

    FoodRenegade’s last blog post..Rocket Fuel Found In Baby Formula

  2. Just read this article in today’s NYT addressing the very same issue:

    http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2009/04/03/03greenwire-small-farms-fear-bearing-brunt-of-new-regulati-10431.html

  3. Beautiful farm!

  4. Very well stated, Steve. It’s amazing sometimes how simple solutions can often solve complex problems. The authorities seem to have trouble with this notion. To their way of thinking, the complex systems we’ve created can only be dealt with via ever more complexity.

    David Gumpert’s last blog post..When It Comes to Discussing Raw Milk Safety, It Helps to Appreciate the Behind-the-Scenes Agendas at Hand

  5. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!
    THIS INSANITY HAS TO END AND END NOW!
    THESE ARE THE JIM CROW LAWS OF THE 21th CENTURY!
    JUST BECAUSE IT’S A LAW DOESN’T MAKE IT JUST OR RIGHT. AND WHEN LAWS ARE UNJUST AND DETRIMENTAL TO THE NATION IT IS OUR OBLIGATION TO PROTEST AND REPEAL THESE LAWS.

    Small farmers are not the problem, the laws are already slanted in the mega farms favor. In a time of high unemployment they should be encouraging more people to take up farming. Killing small farms increases unemployment, everybody wasn’t meant to work in an office. Small farms are vital to the economy, and vital to those who want real food and not over processed fakes.
    It’s so obvious that the whole purpose of these new laws is to break the small farmer and regulate and control the last freedom we really have left, choosing what we eat.

    SIGNING A PETITION IS NOT ENOUGH, WE HAVE TO BE WILLING TO PROVE WE ARE SERIOUS AND WON’T BE FORCED DOWN.
    WHEN DID THE FDA BECOME GOD?
    WHEN DID THE GET THE POWER OF LIFE AND DEATH OVER US?
    Yes, life and death, because if you can’t get or eat the foods that are nourishing to our bodies, then we will surely die, of cancer, heart disease, liver failure, diabetes, lupus, asthma, and every other disease.
    Limiting us to a few acceptable foods is a slow death sentence of chronic undernourishment and low vitamin and mineral levels needed for healthy life.

    We need to face the fact that the government is for us, not to rule us. It’s supposed to be the will of the people not a few federal workers to run, whatever their titles may be.
    We need to get out the picket signs and good walking shoes and start protesting at all the federal buildings.
    We need civil disobedience, they can’t put all of us in jail or take all of us to court. They are already short handed, lets make them hurt by overworking them. Make them earn those paychecks, let them worry about catching all of us protesters and law breakers who dare to stand up to tyranny.

    It doesn’t matter if you are a consumer or a farmer, this is the last straw, the last insult to our freedoms and right to decide what we eat, what we grow and who we get it from.
    Thru all history, farming has been the backbone of any society, good food meant a good life.
    We already have the milk police making raids, enough is enough!
    I’m mad as hell and not going to take it anymore! If the free market listens to us and gives us products we want to buy, the government must surely follow, unless they have darker motives and hidden agendas.
    We have the power, we just have to use it!
    They are already trying to stop family farms, next will be your backyard garden, I mean what determines what a small farm is? Imagine an agent knocking on your door telling you that your garden is in violation and must be destroyed or pay the fine!
    Are we willing to fight for the basic right to eat what we want and take our chances, or give in and be dictated to and restricted to only what the feds will allow?

    I HAVE A GOD GIVEN RIGHT TO CHOOSE THE FOOD I PUT IN MY BODY!
    NO ONE HAS THE RIGHT TO DICTATE WHAT I CAN AND CANNOT EAT OR DRINK!
    IF I CHOOSE TO TAKE FULL RESPONSIBILITY FOR DRINKING RAW MILK, WITH FULL KNOWLEDGE OF THE RISK AND HAZARDS, WHAT LAW CAN THERE BE TO PREVENT IT?
    THIS IS NOT A DICTATORSHIP, NOR A PRISON CAMP, IF WE CAN’T CHOOSE SOMETHING AS SIMPLE AS WHAT WE EAT, THEN WE DON’T ;HAVE ANY OTHER RIGHTS, WE ARE PRISONERS IN OUR OWN NATION!

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