Steve Bemis on Food Safety Bill HR 2749

Kilroy is Coming, Fears this Farmer

Farmer Kilroy -Retired attorney, hay farmer-Steve Bemis

Newest Version of Food Safety Plan is Still a Grave Threat to America’s Small Farms

by Steve Bemis, Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund

Although I “package” my hay bales in the mesh wrap shown in the pictures (below) and sell them to local cattle, horse, sheep and goat farmers, I don’t seriously believe that the FDA would write regulations under HR 2749 (the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009) to define my hay operation as other than a “farm” and make me register–I hope.  The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (of which I am a Board Member) has posted a thorough analysis of the legislation, including our reasoned response to Consumers Union criticisms.

Steve with his Hay Bales weighing

Steve with mesh-wrapped hay bales which weigh 900-1000 lbs apiece.

Nuanced Bill Holds Hidden Risks for Local Farmers and their Patrons

The current version of HR2749 says that farms are exempt from registration, except if you’re a “facility” (a facility might very well include a farmer who buys fruit from a neighboring farmer and makes jam).  Regardless of registration and the annual fee however, the bill would have other far-reaching powers impacting my hay operation and other farmers, including FDA having the power to examine all business records, to stop the all movement of all food in a geographic area (including hay or other products used to make feed), and even to tell me how to grow my crops.  Moreover, failing to comply could land me in prison or in the poor house with civil fines racking up to $100,000; the bill does not differentiate administrative violations from health-harming offenses.  These definitions and restrictions run from mind-bending (even for a retired lawyer) to soul-killing.  They are all time- and money-consuming.  And they would certainly be open to further interpretation and rule-making by FDA; these ‘turnings in the wind’ will require of small farmers their proverbial eternal vigilance, the price of freedom.

Small Farmers Need to be Exempt

How about just exempting small farms from HR 2749 or whatever other bill may emerge?  The FDA just released, after more than five years of hearings and rule making (not exactly eternal, but long enough) final rules which exempt small egg producers who sell direct to the consumer OR have laying flocks of 3000 birds or less, since they are the source of less than 1% of the US egg supply.  That’s a sensible rule with a sensible exemption (see FDA Improves Egg Safety, with the exemption noted near the end).  It is scaled so as to protect the vast majority of the public from eggs from the huge facilities which dominate the industry, yet specifically exempts small farmers.  It would have been a lot easier if the exemption were in the statute instead of having to be fought out in the rule-making process.

Are You Prepared to Trust the Washington Bureaucrats with Your Business?

I attended the first stop of USDA Secretary Vilsack’s “Rural Tour” earlier this week in Charlotte, Michigan (see clips at WILX NEWS and Bonnie’s Sustainable Blog ).  One of the intense concerns was from a man who worried about the impact of a new CAFO for 2500 hogs which would become his new neighbor.  Vilsack quite honestly said there are many things that Washington cannot do, and urged the questioner to seek local help.

Kilroy Was Here--I'm Outta Here!

Steve thinks small farmers need to be exempted

In fact, there are many things which Washington is well equipped to do, including making laws for fixing big problems with big players like Peanut Corporation of America and the entire big-Ag system (including the 60%of current registrants which are foreign).  However, such laws will likely have the effect of stomping on small and local farmers as well as on the consumers whose freedom to choose local foods are thereby limited.   We need to have small farm exemptions crafted like the egg exemptions (for example, dairy farms with 100 or fewer lactating cows or hay farmers producing less than X tons per year ) as well as exempting any farmer selling direct to the consumer, regardless of size.   We need to get the exemptions in the law now, lest I be retired from farming too before it gets settled–Or worse, driven out of farming by onerous regulatory requirements.

Learn more about the dangers of this bill and sign our petition in opposition, here is a link to Cathy Raymond’s post Stop! HR 2749 on Hartke is Online!

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.  Steve bales round and square hay for local farmers.  A frequent commentator on The Complete Patient (, his last opinion editorial on Hartke is Online! was chosen as one of the Top Internet Op-Eds by the editors of

Note From Kimberly: Kilroy Was Here seems to have emanated from WWII as a symbol of “someone who knows what you are up to, has been here” – whether that meant a rivet inspector in shipbuilding or GI’s as they marched through or captured territory.  Since HR 2749 would allow the government unprecedented access to private property and business records, Steve has chosen an appropriate image for what farmers fear. What American citizen should have to live under that kind of infernal surveillance and control? Why should they have to exercise “eternal vigilance” to protect their constitutional rights? If the government can go on the farm, who knows where they will go next. If we allow this law to pass, we non-farmers might be next!

If you are a small farmer concerned about these food safety bills and their possible impact on your livelihood, please donate to the Farm-to-Consumer Foundation, which educates farmers and consumers about their rights to direct trade without government interference. Consumers should support the Foundation, also, to protect their rights to buy from their local farmer.


  1. What a sensible suggestion! All too often Congress passes legislation which is vague, and it is only in the rule making process that the nuts and bolts of how it affects real people gets hammered out. It would make so much more sense to simply pass more specific legislation in the first place.

    Thanks for submitting this to Fight Back Fridays!! I appreciate Steve’s columns and how full of spunk they are.

    (AKA FoodRenegade)
    .-= FoodRenegade´s last blog ..Paul Roberts on The End of Food =-.

  2. Congress is just passing on bills, I have also read on a blog that there is also some funding going on as well for the FDA, I hope the bill and the funds may help the FDA to improve its efficiency.


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