WHAT IT MEANS: There is no doubt that the food safety system in this country needs a major overhaul. But local-food and sustainable-agriculture advocates worry that food safety legislation aimed to fix the big problems associated with industrial farming will actually harm small family farms. "We're in full support of comprehensive legislation. There's no doubt it's needed, and no doubt something's going to pass," says Mark Kastel, cofounder of the Cornucopia Institute, an advocacy group for sustainable family farms. "But it's corporate agribusiness that's literally poisoning our citizenry."
A cynic might say industry is jumping on board with the current push for legislation and opposing an amendment that would further reduce cost and labor burdens on small family farms—the Tester Amendment proposed by Jon Tester (D-Mont.), in part, to derail a blossoming movement in this country to buy direct from local, sustainable farms.
"Those farm families are eating that same food before we really do. It's a unique testing tool that corporate agribusiness could not buy, no matter what they were willing to pay for it," Kastel says. In direct marketing (a farmer selling to customers through a roadside stand, CSA, or farmer's market), if there was a problem, instead of a national recall that takes weeks or months to identify (the egg recall spans back to eggs packed as early as April), the problem would be pinpointed pretty quickly.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition notes that anyone who wants to help protect small farmers who even minimally process and sell their locally-produced products to local restaurants, schools, co-ops, and grocers, should tell their federal lawmakers to support the Tester Amendment. Kastel says this would take some regulatory and testing burdens off of small family farmers who don't have large staff, resources, or testing facilities.
"It makes sense to support the Tester Amendment," explains Kastel. "No matter what happens here, there's going to be somewhat limited government resources for oversight, and we want those resources to be applied to address the highest levels at risk."