A broad food safety bill may have dire consequences for struggling U.S. farmers. The H.R. 875: Food Safety Modernization Act requires closer scrutiny before being passed. In all of its glorious ambiguity, H.R. 875 claims to be setting legislation that will prevent food-borne illness and ensure the safety of food. A primary concern is that while the bill does “focus” on these issues, it leaves most of the real rule-making up to one person, a food safety “Administrator” who will be appointed by the President. It also includes several extremely vague new “regulations” applying to “food production facilities” that are punishable by exorbitant fines and/or jail time.
The US Representative who introduced HR 875 is Rosa DeLauro, who is married to Stanley Greenberg, who did consulting work for biotech giant Monsanto Co. They are the company that introduced such winners as DDT, Agent Orange, Bovine Growth hormone, and genetically-modified foods. Monsanto also has a bad reputation for cut-throat legal maneuvers so they can squeeze every little penny out of farmers who buy their patented seeds. And this piece of legislation could make it a whole lot easier for Monsanto to keep squashing the little guys. Greenburg has written books about poverty and produced left-leaning political strategy, but when someone sits in a big office most days and thinks up ways to make his rich clients like British Petroleum and General Motors richer, I can’t say it inspires trust.
Section 206 of the bill states that the Administrator shall “promulgate regulations to establish science-based minimum standards for the safe production of food” such regulations shall include “with respect to growing, harvesting, sorting, and storage operations, minimum standards related to fertilizer use, nutrients, hygiene, packaging, temperature controls, animal encroachment, and water;”
By far the most frightening speculation I’ve considered was brought to my attention by Linn Cohan-Cole. It is the part about the harvesting, sorting, and storage operations that worries her most. She is quick to point out how easy it would be to “criminalize seed banking and all holding of seeds” if this bill passes. Since most seed is now classified as “food”, they can be controlled by “food safety” laws. Most small organic farmers provide their own seed, by separating the seed from the plant matter with equipment which can be classified as “sorting” machinery. So, in theory, there is a real danger of a minimum standard being imposed on seed cleaning equipment….and the “administrator” can make this equipment as expensive as (s)he likes. Making it, in theory, unaffordable for most small farmers. This would also be giving the bio-tech industry yet another incredible advantage over the modest stewards of the earth, and greatly threatening our food security.
Section 210 is another example of regulation that might require impossible expenses for small farmers: “The Administrator, in order to protect the public health, shall establish a national traceability system that enables the Administrator to retrieve the history, use, and location of an article of food through all stages of its production, processing, and distribution.”
Traceability system? Does that mean GPS tracking or a paper trail? The “Administrator” will decide this once elected.
Then there is part about “Civil and Criminal Penalties”: “Any person that commits an act that violates the food safety law (including a regulation promulgated or order issued under the food safety law) may be assessed a civil penalty by the Administrator of not more than $1,000,000 for each such act.”
Consider also that each day regulation isn’t followed is considered a separate “act”, which means if someone isn’t able to comply immediately, the fines double by the next sunrise. Just a one time violation would put most small farmers out of business forever.
It is clear that this piece of legislation leaves plenty of room for abuse. At the end of the day no one knows how this bill could effect farmers, or even food safety for that matter, until the Food Safety Administrator is appointed. So let’s hope that if this legislation does pass, President Obama will choose wisely. Until then, I highly recommend that you contact your district representative and ask them to think about the potential dangers inherent in this bill.