Sunday, November 21, 2010

HR 2749 - the truth about federal food safety regulation changes

Food safety has become a more prominent issue in the public eye with the ever increasing incidence and severity of food contamination in the news. This is a natural and expected process as I see it as our industrial and non-sustainable ag system begins to break down at the hands of the mightiest of forces - Mother Nature.

Rather than working with the laws of nature, we have chosen a system for our food production that promotes cheap food at any cost sacrificing human health, environmental health, animal welfare, and the welfare of our workers.

One thing that became clear in all of these food contamination occurrences was that the Food and Drug Administration lacked the ability and authority to inspect, regulate, and enforce safety standards for industrial agriculture. The problem of course, is that many necessary and important rules that would help control food borne illness outbreaks are impractical and detrimental to small producers like ourselves. The government always wants to put in place regulations that cover all parts of our agricultural system without understanding how different these systems are.
Additionally, the really serious food-borne illness outbreaks, from a national public health perspective, really involve the largest and most industrial producers. Its a simple volume and system thing - large producers supply the largest proportion of food products to the American market. Additionally, they use systems that work against nature and then try and compensate for these unsustainable practices through the use of antibiotics as an example.

In an effort to better prevent and control these outbreaks, the Food Safety Modernization Act, HR 2749, has been proposed and is in front of the U.S. Senate as we speak. This bill would give the FDA the authority to:

-recall food products
-increase inspections
-increase regulatory requirements for anyone ( a corporation is considered a person) processing food.
-produce safety standards for food production.

The primary concerns have been how these regulations would affect small producers who are not setup for such a deluge of regulation and paperwork. These rules would also address a problem that doesn't exist in small production models like ours because we work with nature and don't have the same problems with bacterial and other contamination that industrial agriculture experiences with ever increasing frequency.

What kind of regulations are we talking about? These rules would require a 'Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventative Controls' plan involving:

-identifying and evaluating known or reasonable hazards and developing written analysis of said hazards.
-identifying and implementing preventative controls.
-monitoring effectiveness of preventative controls.
-identify processes if such preventative controls are ineffective
-verifying that preventative controls are adequate, that monitoring meets FDA requirements, that appropriate decisions are being made about corrective actions, and that preventative controls are working through the use of environmental and product testing programs.

Of course, all of this would require record-keeping, a written plan and documentation, and would be subject to FDA approval, fees, and inspection/re-inspection.


Small producers like us are already highly regulated by state and local health departments, as well as state departments of agriculture. In all case, local requirements are at least as stringent, and often more stringent than USDA requirements. In addition, risks are limited based on the mere size of smaller, local operations. Small producers feel these requirements would be unmanageable and cost/time prohibitive and would force even more small producers out of an ever dwindling market for local food.

To counter this, two U.S. Senators added the Tester-Hagan Amendment (Senator Kay R. Hagan D-NC and Jon Tester D-MT) which was successfully added a few days ago to the Food Safety Modernization Act. This amendment would provide an exemption to small producers who would continue to be regulated at the state and local level. There would be no change in the existing regulatory and inspection systems in place. Small producers would be defined as those who sell most of their food directly to consumers, local restaurants and retailers within a 275 mile radius of their farm, and producers that earn $500,000 or less in annual sales.

Big industrial farming groups have already come out against the Tester-Hagan Amendment. Thirty or so industrial agricultural groups such as the United Fresh Produce Association and the American Meat Institute have cried foul claiming this amendment exempts small farms and business operations from "basic federal food safety requirements."

Of course this is completely not true and fails to identify the source of the problem: current food safety systems in place for small producers (=working) vs. industrial agriculture food safety systems (= completely inadequate and failing repeatedly).

So, as things stand, I can support the Food Safety Modernization Act as long as it contains the Tester-Hagan Amendment that allows an exemption for small producers like us. Of course, Big Ag knows that if they can kill this amendment, they have a greater chance of killing the entire bill. Without the Tester Amendment, the Food Safety Modernization Act becomes untenable to small producers.
So, I would encourage everyone to call their Senators and ask them to support the Food Safety Modernization Act and the Tester-Hagan Amendment. It may be imperfect but I do think its an important step in the right direction to adding more safety to the industrial ag business.

In the meantime, we continue to sell the best-tasting, safest, highest-quality food money can buy!

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