Sunday, July 5, 2009

H.R. 875: Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009

What sounds good on the surface -- the protection of our food supply system -- seems to have a number of people and groups up in arms against what they say is a badly written piece of legislation that will end organic farming as we know it today.

"To establish the Food Safety Administration within the Department of Health and Human Services to protect the public health by preventing food-borne illness, ensuring the safety of food, improving research on contaminants leading to food-borne illness, and improving security of food from intentional contamination, and for other purposes."

The bill, H.R. 875, is now in committee. It would put food safety monitoring and control under the a new agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. The Senate is considering a similar bill, S. 425, and the House also has a substitute bill, H.R. 759.

At a time when food-borne incidents are widespread and growing, it's time for some type of action. However, good intent does not always mean good results. A petition organized by the Natural Solutions Foundation is solidly against the bill, although it supports removing food supply oversight from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Organic farmers are afraid the bill will force them to feed chemicals to their food animals, spray chemicals on crops, and generally eliminate "organic farming" as a chemical-free alternative. I haven't found this stated in the bill, but can imagine that the proposed Food Safety Administration could do this because of what is left out of the bill.

Congress must listen to its constituents, including the small farmers and individual voters. Small farmers and micro- and mini-agricultural businesses, which describes many organic food suppliers, need not be legislated to the same degree as large agricultural suppliers.

What I do not know, and therefore am cautious about, is who is really behind both sides of the issue. Some claim that large chemical manufacturers that produce chemicals for the agriculture industry are behind these bills. Opponents of the bill claim that small, organic farms will be too tightly regulated--but who is and what are behind these claims? I cannot imagine that the growing business of organic farms is composed only of very small businesses. In the tug-of-war over legislation, it's important to do some fact-finding before jumping on the bandwagon of either side.

Some questions the legislation, as currently written, bring to my mind include:
  • how will it affect the farmers markets across the nation?
  • will it severely burden small farmers who provide produce locally?
  • who will staff this new department (credentials, influence, etc.) to protect consumers not just from "bad food" but also from large chemical manufacturers that want to chemically enhance all our food supply?

  • I'm sure you can think of a few questions too. The sites I've linked to in this article will bring you to a number of others. You can do your own research and make your own decision as to whether this is good or bad legislation.

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