Saturday, April 4, 2009

What About H.R. 875?

There has been an alarm raised over H.R. 875 which was introduced by Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn) in February. Some believe this is the end of the family farm, the small farmer and the backyard gardener. Callers to the Moon Griffon radio program on Friday were very alarmed and were under the impression that they would not be allowed to have backyard gardens any longer. Glenn Beck has even done a segment on this.

Much of this is over reaction.

The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 calls for the creation of a Food Safety Administration. It basically separates the FDA into two agencies -- one for food safety and one for drugs and medical devices.

Chelsea Schilling, writing for World Net Daily, reports that the bill "would allow the government to regulate food production at all levels -- and even mandates property seizure, fines of up to $1 million per offense and criminal prosecution for producers, manufacturers and distributors who fail to comply with regulations."

This is certainly frightening. However, Food and Water Watch attempts to quell the fear and points out that this bill does NOT cover foods regulated by the USDA (beef, pork, poultry, lamb and catfish). It does not regulate backyard gardens or establish a mandatory animal identification system. It does not call for new regulations for farmers markets. And it does not apply to food that does not enter interstate commerce.

What H.R. 875 DOES do is increase inspection of food processing plants and it does require farms to write a food safety plan and consider the critical points opn that farm where the food safety problems are likely to occur.

But how do you define "farm"? The bill does not define "farm" at all, but the "food production facility" is defined as "any farm, ranch, orchard, vineyard, aquaculture facility, or confined animal-feeding operation." That's pretty broad and would certainly include family farms.

The reporting and bookkeeping requirements required in this bill would be extremely burdensome for the small farmer and could easily put him out of business, whereas the large corporation could simply hire a person to handle the reports and paperwork.

Whenever food is contaminated, farms and food producers would be required to submit copies of all records to federal inspectors. Those farms not in compliance would face huge fines. The act reads "Any person that commits an act that violates the food safety law...may be assessed a civil penalty by the Administrator of not more than $1,000,000 for each such act."

What's the burden of proof on that? Can you buy something like the equivalent of medical malpractice insurance to help cover you on that? It's all very BigBrother-ish.

Should serious illness or death occur, criminal sanctions may be imposed including fines and imprisonment.

People need not worry about their backyard gardens or their farmer's markets too much, but the small family farm certainly has much to worry about.

Other farm bills to watch: H.R. 814 - the Tracing and Recalling Agricultural Contamination Act. This calls for a mandatory animal identification system.

H.R. 759 - The Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act. This Act overhauls the entire structure of the FDA. It extends recordkeeping requirements that apply to food processors to farms and restaurants. It also requires food processing plants to pay a registration fee to the FDA to fund inspections. And it instructs the FDA to establish production standards for fruits and vegetables and to establish "good agricultural practices" for produce.

What exactly are "good agricultural practices"? How will the organic gardener fit into that?

We need to be vigilant and stay on top of these bills. We already know that most members of Congress don't read bills, so we need to be informed. At the same time, it isn't helpful to spread irrational fear.

No comments: