RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—The recent peanut butter contamination scandal is just the latest evidence showing how broken our food system is. Under enormous pressure to do something about it, Congress has introduced 6 food safety bills that could start cleaning up the mess—or put sustainable farmers out of business. “Clearly, it’s a hot topic,” says Patty Lovera, assistant director at Food & Water Watch, a consumer-safety watchdog in Washington, DC “But we think creating those [food safety] standards should be done in a thoughtful way.”
THE DETAILS: Of the 6 bills, H.R. 875 (the Food Safety Modernization Act) introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), is getting the most attention. It calls for the splitting of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) into two agencies—one for monitoring food safety and another for overseeing drugs and medical devices. The bill also stipulates that imported food would have to meet the same standards as food produced in the U.S. If passed, it wouldn’t regulate seed, apply more rules to farmer’s markets, or tell you what you can or can’t plant in your backyard garden. However, as the legislative process moves forward, it’s important for consumers to scrutinize the proposed guidelines to make sure they don’t place impossible burdens on small, organic, and sustainable farmers.
Two of the other major bills (S. 425 and H.R. 814) focus on food traceability. The latter would in effect make the current voluntary and controversial National Animal Identification System mandatory, forcing farmers to microchip their animals and buy expensive tracking devices. The government intervention is extremely unpopular among small farmers.
The other 3 bills (H.R. 875, H.R. 759, and HR 1332) focus on food safety issues, too, but they don’t go as far as the Food Safety Modernization Act in calling for the FDA to break up into two pieces.
WHAT IT MEANS: When it comes to regulation, one size does not fit all—and in farming, it’s almost always tailored to the needs of the largest industrialized operations. It’s clear that food safety reform is needed, and we say having that on the agenda of Congress is a good thing. What worries the organic community is that new rules will be doable for huge agribusiness, but not for diversified small farmers who grow and raise a little bit of everything.
It’s your food, and through the democratic process, you have a say in how it’s regulated: