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Consumer Protection Groups Pushing for Food Safety Bills

Little Helpers in the Greenhouse

Little Helpers in the Greenhouse

A Homesteader Calls Out Groups for Ignoring Small Farm Agriculture, the Food Safety Promise for the Future

by Chrys Ostrander of Chrysalis Farm

Here’s what I sent to a group of consumer protection organizations who are asking their members to support S. 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act, without mentioning that their support should be qualified with statements demanding that small farms and small-scale food processors should be protected from undue negative impact from the bill. My list of recipients is at the bottom.

My Letter to members of  Make Our Food Safe, a coalition of consumer protection groups:

So, in support of your mission to protect consumers, your organization has joined up with makeourfoodsafe.org to support the passage of Senate Bill 510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act?

Let me tell you I am outraged that you are asking the public to support this bill without one word about protecting the interests of small farms and small-scale food processors in the process. Don’t you realize the huge benefits that accrue to consumers by having readily available locally grown and artisanally-produced foods?

Tolstoy Farm Cherries

Chrysalis Farm Cherries

Better nutrition from eating fresher, less processed foods is one benefit. And in light of the fact that most food-borne illness outbreaks, and certainly all of the ones that have resulted in dozens if not hundreds of illnesses and forced the recall of massive quantities of foods, have originated in large-scale industrial food processing factories, it’s clear that local, smaller scale food production is safer for the consumer.

Yet you want your consumer base to shoot themselves in the foot by supporting a federal food safety law that could potentially put hundreds of farms (the ones who have diversified and improved their financial viability by including some value-added products in what they produce and sell) and small-scale food processors out of business?

Consumers are rightly concerned about food safety, but imposing one-size-fits-all regulations, many of which require a sea of paperwork, registration fees and/or re-inspection fees and expensive re-tooling will drive the smaller producer right out of business and create a situation where even more of your consumers’ foods will come from high-risk industrial-scale factories. We’re just seeing the beginning of re-localization of our food system, a movement that has multiple consumer benefits, but S. 510 as written has the potential to do serious harm to this new positive trend.

Small Farms Need Your Support to Multiply

Small Farms Need Your Support to Multiply

On top of that, the food safety approach that is being promoted in these bills (including HR 2749) fails to address the root causes of the food safety crisis that our nation faces. Please read a compelling argument from Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA), on why the approach being promoted in HR 2749 and S 510 will NOT protect consumers.

Why is R-CALF USA concerned about this issue? Because they know how poor food safety regulation, which HR 2749/S 510 simply perpetuates, has impacted their economic viability by spreading fear of their product among the populace. Their beef is most often processed in factories they have no control over. These factories and are left, by poor food safety regulation, to police themselves with little or no inspection, promising instead to follow HACCP plans that may only exist on paper. Hence increasingly common outbreaks and recalls.

At the very least you should be asking your audience to support inclusion in S. 510 of the language that was inserted into HR 2749 that specifically exempts small farms and small-scale food processors who sell primarily to the end consumer from the most burdensome provisions of this federal regulation. It’s obvious going by the record of safety of these types of foods that state and county regulations of these producers is already adequate.

Chrys's Goats

Chrys's Goats

You need to try and see the big picture and not assume your audience can’t understand a small level of nuance in your messages to them. Local foods produced by small farms and small-scale food producers benefit consumers. Your message in support of food safety regulation should include a qualifier that such regulation should not put unreasonable and undue burden on small farms and small-scale food producers and should also not put undue emphasis on continuing the failed food safety approach that has brought us to this brink. To do otherwise, while presenting the illusion that you are “doing something” about food safety, will ultimately hurt the consumer you purport to be speaking for. You need to rethink your whole approach. Consumers and small-scale food producers are natural allies. Don’t leave us out of your messaging.

NOTE From Kimberly:

Chrys sent the above letter to the below groups, which have endorsed the current food safety bills, and asks for you to contact them, as well, especially if you are one of their members!

These groups need to hear from YOU! Ask them to demand NO food safety bill without specific protections for small-scale and family farms and small-scale food producers!

AMERICAN PUBLIC HEALTH ASSOCIATION
www.apha.org
Georges C. Benjamin, MD, FACP, FACEP (Emeritus)
Executive Director
georges.benjamin@apha.org

CENTER FOR FOODBORNE ILLNESS RESEARCH & EDUCATION (CFI)
www.foodborneillness.org
Patricia Buck, Executive Director
buck@ foodborneillness.org

CENTER FOR SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST (CSPI)
www.cspinet.org
cspi @cspinet.org
Attn: Ms. Kathleen O’Reilly (President)

CONSUMER FEDERATION OF AMERICA (CFA)
www.consumerfed.org
cfa @consumerfed.org
CFA’s Facebook Page

CONSUMERS UNION (CU)
www.consumersunion.org
Web-based email form. Under “Choose Product or Service” choose “ConsumerReports.org Website”. Another pull-down menu will appear. This time choose “Letter to the Editor”. Once you’ve done this, a box for you to write your comment will appear.
You can also try the phone and ask to speak with Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives.
(202) 462-6262

FOOD AND WATER WATCH
www.fwwatch.org
Web-based email form.

THE PEW CHARITABLE TRUSTS
www.pewtrusts.org/foodsafety
info@ pewtrusts.org
Erik Olson, Director, Food and Consumer Product Safety Programs
202.552.2091

STOP (Safe Tables Our Priority)
www.safetables.org
Executive Director, Donna Rosenbaum
director@ safetables.org

TRUST FOR AMERICA’S HEALTH (TFAH)
www.tfah.org
Governor Lowell Weicker, Jr., President
info@ tfah.org Attn: Lowell Weicker, Jr., President

ho_chrysChrys Ostrander is a single father who homesteads at Tolstoy Farm, an intentional community in Eastern Washington. He has a small greenhouse where he grows certified organic plants for sale, a large home garden and numerous fruit trees. There’s also a small herd of goats whose raw milk keep him and his daughter very healthy and with which he experiments with cheese-making– having the long range goal of starting a cheese business. Chrys helped found the Tolstoy Farms Marketing Collective (bringing certified organic fruits and veggies grown at Tolstoy Farm to market), is active in sustainable agriculture organizing and information sharing via extensive email networking and his website The Future is Organic and is co-founder and current Secretary/Treasurer of the of the Spokane Farmers’ Market in Spokane, Washington. His interests include: Micro-farming, organic gardening, parenting, activism, listening to Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now!, computer skills (web design, web-based activism, digital graphics), intentional community, permaculture, photography, herbology, cooking and music.

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Comments

  1. One of the organizations in the list of consumer groups I contacted, Food and Water Watch, has gone a long way towards redeeming itself with its involvement, along with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, in the publication a few days ago of the excellent report “Bridging the GAPs: Strategies to Improve Produce Safety, Preserve Farm Diversity and Strengthen Local Food Systems”. The report is available on-line at:
    http://www.iatp.org/iatp/publications.cfm?accountID=258&refID=106746

  2. The $825 Million Food Madness Bill
    C. 2009 by James J. Gormley

    Are you a backyard grower of heirloom tomatoes you sell on your own property or at a local farmer’s market? If so, you will be in for a whopper of a surprise if Senator Durbin’s Senate Bill 510 (S.B. 510) passes: you will be receiving a visit from inspectors.

    Products not grown according to designated standards will be considered adulterated and your business records will be subject to warrantless searches by inspectors from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), all this without any evidence that you have violated any law.

    Wonder why the National Guard or Federal agents have effectively imposed martial law by quarantining your town? Under S.B. 510’s House counterpart bill, H.R. 2749 (Section 133b, “Authority to Prohibit or Restrict the Movement of Food), sponsored by Congressman Dingell, the Secretary of Health and Human Services will have the power to prohibit all movement of all food within a geographic area, whether the food is in your grandmother’s grocery bag in her Toyota Hybrid or on a flatbed. No court order will be needed, just a phone call to the appropriate state official and a public announcement will be sufficient.

    Upset that raw milk or raw milk cheeses (like feta) are no longer available in the U.S.? This could well happen thanks to the “performance standards” powers that would be granted to the FDA by S.B. 510, especially since the agency has made it clear that it is vehemently opposed to the consumption of raw milk products.

    Amazed that U.S. food safety regulations strangely match those of other countries? Well, Section 306 of S.B. 510 would require “Recommendations to harmonize requirements under the Codex Alimentarius.”

    And what about food supplement manufacturers, suppliers, distributors and health food stores? Will they be ensnared in this bill’s draconian, 1984-esque net? Very possibly so.

    S.B. 510 (which would cost Americans $825 million in 2010 alone) and the House of Representatives version of this bill, H.R. 2749, which did pass, both do not address the root causes of the U.S.’s food safety problems, which were highlighted in both a recent campaign by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) and by a letter to 99 U.S. senators by the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF USA):

    1. Current food policies promote and facilitate the consolidation and elimination of independent farmers, artisanal food producers and ranchers and this is inherently dangerous to both food safety and food security.

    2. Sound U.S. food safety standards were weakened when Congress bowed to international standards that prohibit it from targeting food safety problems originating in foreign countries with stricter standards — unless Congress first applies the stricter standard to the U.S., regardless of whether the stricter standards are applicable to, or already addressed elsewhere in, the U.S. food production system.

    3. Congress’ adoption of the internationally touted HACCP (hazards and risk-assessment-based) food safety system hampers Congress’ ability to ensure that even existing food safety requirements are properly followed.

    Citizens for Health, R-CALF USA and other groups are urging the U.S. Senate to take the following steps to improve food safety:

    1. Correct and reverse the fundamental deficiencies in our U.S. food system that make genuine food safety in the U.S. unattainable.

    2. Re-establish food safety standards that were weakened when Congress bowed to international standards, and then order agencies responsible for food safety to begin hands-on inspection and enforcement of U.S. food safety standards for all imported food and for food processing facilities where food contamination is known to frequently occur, such as in large-scale, commercial slaughterhouses.

    3. Do not grant international standards more weight than is accorded any other standards.

    4. Do not presume that international standards — designed specifically to facilitate trade — are appropriate standards to be forced on U.S. farmers, artisanal food producers and ranchers or that corporate food producers can adequately police themselves under HACCP. International standards must not be referenced in U.S. food safety statutes and HACCP must be reformed.

    5. Take no action that would impose any additional regulatory burdens on any U.S. farmer, artisanal food producer or rancher, including any requirement to register them with the federal government or participate in a federally mandated food traceability program.

    6. If Congress suspects that a particular segment of U.S. production agriculture is contributing to food safety problems, a formal risk and hazard analysis must be conducted to determine the specific practice or practices that caused or contributed to the food safety problem and the specific type of operation involved in that practice to determine the specific corrective actions needed.

    The problem is that the U.S. has lowered its import standards to facilitate higher-risk food imports.

    The U.S. has abrogated its duty to inspect and enforce food safety standards, both here and abroad, by allowing processing plants to regulate themselves under the failed HACCP system; and it has embraced policies that have driven independent U.S. farmers and ranchers out of business by the hundreds of thousands, replacing them with corporate-owned, industrialized food production units that are known to cut food safety corners to maximize corporate profits.

    So what do we need to do?

    We need to demand food safety by killing this misguided bill or having it re-written from scratch, excluding dietary supplements since they already have robust safety regulation via the federal Serious Adverse Events (AER) law and Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs) and focusing, instead, on the fundamental problems outlined above. Visit Citizens for Health (www.citizens.org) in early October for an opportunity to send a letter opposing S.B. 510.

    As of this writing, our nation is over $11.8 trillion in debt.

    Let’s not add $828 million more (actually several trillion dollar over the next few years) for a bureaucratic monster to be foisted upon an already deeply flawed U.S. food-safety system.

    S.B. 510 is sadly, and ironically, not about food safety, although I wish it were.

    It’s about food madness, pure and simple, and it must be stopped.
    .-= James J. Gormley´s last blog ..Lawmaking and the GAO Report: A Dose of Reality =-.

  3. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was good. I do not know who you are but certainly you are going to a famous blogger if you are not already 😉 Cheers!

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