Thursday, April 9, 2009

Food Safety Bills in Congress

Guest post by Toxic Free NC volunteer Christopher Grohs.

US Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) has issued a proposal for revamping the current Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that’s causing an uproar among advocates of organic farming, and has generated a lot of chain emails about protecting organic farms. The proposal would split the FDA into two separate groups, establishing a new Food Safety Administration. With all the recent outbreaks of salmonella and food contamination, it’s of little surprise that Americans are pushing for stricter regulations and greater accountability in the food production sector. Though the bill is coming from a place of concern for food safety, some advocates for organic farming contend it contains many provisions that could be detrimental to small-scale organic farmers.

According to Gov Track's article on HR 875, the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009, the bill will “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.” To accomplish these goals, the government will increase its power and presence over the food industry by giving a newly created Food Safety Administration control over all farms, which will be reclassified as “Food Production Facilities.”

The proposed regulations appear to be prohibitively hard for small farmers to comply with, and so would favor massive, corporate factory farms. Organic farming advocates argue that the string of food safety scares in the US are the result of mishandling by large, corporate agricultural facilities and not small-scale organic farmers, so why punish them?

Interestingly, Elanor over at The Ethicurean reports that HR875 isn't moving much in Congress, but meanwhile several other food safety proposals might be bigger threats. Read her post here.

Whatever the case may be with these different proposals flying around Capitol Hill, it's clear that most would, in effect, put a small band-aid on a huge problem. The current commercial food system is a failure on food safety, and on many other fronts as well: labor rights, sustainability, humane treatment of animals, public health and more. We won't achieve food safety without a significant overhaul.

With our new, more food-minded administration in the White House and the USDA, we can't let our guard down. Rather, we must redouble our efforts to support our local farmers, talk to our neighbors about supporting organics, and let our state and federal representatives hear that local and sustainable farming is important to us.

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