Critics say a bill pending in the U.S. Senate would do for Americans’ food supply what “Obamacare” is doing to the nation’s supply of health-care resources.
And it’s generating a surge of alarm among small-farm operators and natural-food advocates.
“S. 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010, may be the most dangerous bill in the history of the U.S.,” writes Steve Green on the Food Freedom blog. “It is to our food what the bailout was to our economy, only we can live without money.”
The plan is sponsored by U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., who explains the legislation “is a critical step toward equipping the FDA with the authorities and funding it needs to regulate what is now a global marketplace for food, drugs, devices and cosmetics.”
His website explains, “The legislation requires foreign and domestic food facilities to have safety plans in place to prevent food hazards before they occur, increases the frequency of inspections. Additionally, it provides strong, flexible enforcement tools, including mandatory recall. Most importantly, this bill generates the resources to support FDA food-safety activities.”
The proposal, which was cleared by the U.S. House last year but has been languishing in the Senate because of a full calendar of projects, creates a long list of new requirements for food-producing entities to meet the demands of the Secretary of Agriculture. It is expected to be the subject of discussion in coming days.
According to a summary of the proposal, it “requires annual registration of food facilities, including food facilities that export food.” It also sets up a suspension of registration for any “food facility” breaking any Health and Human Services rule, creates an annual fee for registration and gives bureaucratic oversight of many operations.
One such proposal, the summary explains, is to require federal officials “to establish a tracing system for food that is located in the United States or is for import into the United States that enables the Secretary to quickly identify each person who grows, produces, manufactures, processes, packs, transports, holds, or sells such food.”
While it includes an exemption for food “produced on a farm,” the absence of further definition is leaving many wondering whether they will be monitored if they pick strawberries, make jam and sell it at a farmers market.
Green’s analysis quoted Shiv Chopra, a Canada Health whistleblower, who concluded S. 510 “would preclude the public’s right to grow, own, trade, transport, share, feed and eat each and every food that nature makes.”
Bill Heid, chief of Solutions from Science, a marketer for survival seeds and information on processes to reduce reliance on a supermarket chain, cited a number of concerns.
First, he said, the new layers of regulations will drive up prices. No producer, he said, can afford to expand massively the expense of meeting government requirements without paying for it, and that would have to be passed on to the customers.
Second, he is concerned about the application of laws designed for corporate entities to the local producer: what about Iowa children who want to sell ears of corn at a farmers market or alongside the road?
Further, he said, the plan probably would raise the danger to consumers, because many local suppliers would be forced out of business, and their customers would be forced to rely on the corporate supply chains.
“What they’re going to do is end up making it unsafe,” Heid said.
He tells people their best defense against contaminated products is to grow their own or buy it from someone they know.
According to a report at Oregon Rural Action, which urged consumers to contact their members of Congress on the issue, the “one-size-fits-all” concept isn’t workable.
“S. 510 is a well-meaning attempt to address the genuine problems of contamination from food-borne pathogens and complications in prevention and intervention caused by large, industrialized food-distribution systems,” the group said.
“All of the well-publicized incidents of contamination in recent years – spinach, peppers, peanuts, hamburger – occurred in industrialized food-supply chains that span national and even international boundaries. Food safety is a priority shared by all. It is not compromised by the growing trend toward healthy, fresh, locally sourced vegetables, meats, fruits, dairy and small processing firms reinvigorating local food systems. Local food systems are inherently safer and traceable,” the group said.
While the group said some definitions that would protect small operations apparently are in the works, the possibility remains of standards even for “small, direct-market farmers.”
The bill opponents say it brings the “complex and burdensome” Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point system “to even the smallest local processors.”
“Applying a HACCP system to newly emerging local foods-facilities processing for local markets as well as to direct-market farmers adding value to their products may undermine and extinguish these emerging small businesses attempting to bring fresh, local foods to the American table,” the analysis said.
The Daily Paul, which dedicates itself to restoring constitutional government, warned the proposal also would undermine the public’s access to dietary supplements.
At Citizens For Health, the bill’s expansion of government authority and bureaucracy was condemned.
“If passed, the law would charge facilities an annual $500 registration fee, require redundant record keeping, and expand the FDA’s authority to quarantine geographic areas for alleged food-safety problems – all without significantly improving food safety.”
The Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance warned, “As it is currently written, S. 510 will actually make our food less safe. S. 510 will strengthen the forces that have led to the consolidation of our food supply in the hands of a few industrial food producers.”