Myths and Facts on H.R. 875 - The Food Safety Modernization Act
Good Earth has been hearing wild stories about this House bill. Please be assured that this bill is really not an imminent threat to Organics as the rumor mill on the net would have you believe. Here is a level headed commentary on it and another perhaps more problematic bill that Good Earth has found thanks to Ecological Farming Association, California Certified Organic Farmers, Food And Water Watch, and Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance.
Here some comments from the California Certified Organic Farmers to put this in more accurate perspective-
CCOF is watching this legislation closely. Claudia Reid, CCOF's Policy and Program Director, is paying very close attention to this legislation, as well as to other proposals. According to her colleagues in DC, many organic agriculture advocates and farmers themselves have had meetings with Congresswoman DeLauro, the sponsor of HR 875. Congresswoman DeLauro wants to make clear she is open to constructive criticism, and will continue to be a champion for farmers markets and organic farming, despite all the crazy talk out there. She is not trying to criminalize organic farming. The likelihood of food safety legislation moving in 2009 is slim. There is more likelihood of legislation moving next year but even this is not a sure bet. In either case, nothing is happening right away, despite all the messages out there in e-land, on various blogs and action alerts.
If/when the legislation is eminent, CCOF will work with other organizations on an advocacy campaign where we will ask you to communicate directly with your elected officials.
Myths and Facts on H.R. 875 - The Food Safety Modernization Act from Food and Water Watch:
MYTH: H.R. 875 "makes it illegal to grow your own garden"
and would result in the "criminalization of the backyard gardner."
FACT: There is no language in the bill that would regulate,
penalize, or shut down backyard gardens. This bill is focused on
ensuring the safety of foods sold in supermarkets.
MYTH: H.R. 875 would mean a "goodbye to farmers markets"
because the bill would "require such a burdensome complexity of rules, inspections, licensing, fees, and penalties for each farmer who wishes to sell locally - a fruit stand, at a farmers market."
FACT: There is no language in the bill that would result in
farmers markets being regulated, penalized any fines, or shut down.
Farmers markets would be able to continue to flourish under the bill.
In fact, the bill would insist that imported foods meet strict safety
standards to ensure that unsafe imported foods are not competing with locally-grown foods.
MYTH: H.R. 875 would result in the "death of organic farming."
FACT: There is no language in the bill that would stop organic
farming. The National Organic Program (NOP) is under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Food Safety Modernization Act only addresses food safety issues under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
MYTH: The bill would implement a national animal ID system.
FACT: There is no language in the bill that would implement a
national animal ID system. Animal identification issues are under the jurisdiction of the USDA. The Food Safety Modernization Act addresses issues under the jurisdiction of the FDA.
MYTH: The bill is supported by the large agribusiness industry.
FACT: No large agribusiness companies have expressed support for this bill. This bill is being supported by several Members of
Congress who have strong progressive records on issues involving
farmers markets, organic farming, and locally-grown foods. Also, H.R. 875 is the only food safety legislation that has been supported by all the major consumer and food safety groups, including:
-- Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention
-- Center for Science in the Public Interest
-- Consumer Federation of America
-- Consumers Union
-- Food & Water Watch
-- The Pew Charitable Trusts
-- Safe Tables Our Priority
-- Trust for America's Health
MYTH: The bill will pass the Congress next week without
amendments or debate.
FACT: Food safety legislation has yet to be considered by any
HR 875 is not the only bill - there are 6 food safety bills at this point and several of them have pieces that people should be paying attention to. Some would require electronic record keeping on farms and registration fees for processing plants (Dingell - HR 759) and another basically calls for mandatory animal i.d. (Degette - HR 814). None of them will be moving that fast.
There is a ways to go on this issue - and folks should be paying attention and communicating with their members of Congress about how food safety impacts small farms/direct markets. We need to look at all the bills and come up with some proposals about how to make food safety programs scale-appropriate and show how organic, direct marketing, etc. is doing a good job on food safety already so that gets included in the mix.
The dilemma of how to regulate food safety in a way that prevents problems caused by industrialized agriculture but doesn't wipe out small diversified farms is not new and is not easily solved. And as almost constant food safety problems reveals the dirty truth about the way much of our food is produced, processed, and distributed, it's a dilemma we need to have serious discussion about.
Most consumers never thought they had to worry about peanut butter and this latest food safety scandal has captured public attention for good reason - a CEO who knowingly shipped contaminated food, a plant with holes in the roof and serious pest problems, and years of state and federal regulators failing to intervene.
It's no surprise that Congress is under pressure to act and multiple food safety bills have been introduced.
Two of the bills are about traceability for food (S.425 and H.R. 814). These present real issues for small producers who could be forced to bear the cost of expensive tracking technology and record keeping.
The other bills address what FDA can do to regulate food.
A lot of attention has been focused on a bill introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (H.R. 875), the Food Safety Modernization Act. And a lot of what is being said about the bill is misleading.
Here are a few things that H.R. 875 DOES do:
- It addresses the most critical flaw in the structure of FDA by splitting it into 2 new agencies -one devoted to food safety and the other devoted to drugs and medical devices.
- It increases inspection of food processing plants, basing the frequency of inspection on the risk of the product being produced - but it does NOT make plants pay any registration fees or user fees.
- It does extend food safety agency authority to food production on farms, requiring farms to write a food safety plan and consider the critical points on that farm where food safety problems are likely to occur.
- It requires imported food to meet the same standards as food produced in the U.S.
And just as importantly, here are a few things that H.R. 875 does NOT do:
- It does not cover foods regulated by the USDA (beef, pork, poultry, lamb, catfish.)
- It does not establish a mandatory animal identification system.
- It does not regulate backyard gardens.
- It does not regulate seed.
- It does not call for new regulations for farmers markets or direct marketing arrangements.
- It does not apply to food that does not enter interstate commerce (food that is sold across state lines).
- It does not mandate any specific type of traceability for FDA-regulated foods (the bill does instruct a new food safety agency to improve traceability of foods, but specifically says that record keeping can be done electronically or on paper.)
Several of the things not found in the DeLauro can be found in other bills - like H.R. 814, the Tracing and Recalling Agricultural Contamination Everywhere Act, which calls for a mandatory animal identification system, or H.R. 759, the Food And Drug Administration Globalization Act, which overhauls the entire structure of FDA. H.R. 759 is more likely to move through Congress than H.R. 875. And H.R. 759 contains several provisions that could cause problems for small farms and food processors:
- It extends traceability record keeping requirements that currently apply only to food processors to farms and restaurants - and requires that record keeping be done electronically.
- It calls for standard lot numbers to be used in food production.
- It requires food processing plants to pay a registration fee to FDA to fund the agency's inspection efforts.
- It instructs FDA to establish production standards for fruits and vegetables and to establish Good Agricultural Practices for produce.
There is plenty of evidence that one-size-fits-all regulation only tends to work for one size of agriculture - the largest industrialized operations. That's why it is important to let members of Congress know how food safety proposals will impact the conservation, organic, and sustainable practices that make diversified, organic, and direct market producers different from agribusiness. And the work doesn't stop there - if Congress passes any of these bills, the FDA will have to develop rules and regulations to implement the law, a process that we can't afford to ignore.
But simply shooting down any attempt to fix our broken food safety system is not an approach that works for consumers, who are faced with a food supply that is putting them at risk and regulators who lack the authority to do much about it.
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