But the response can’t just come from small producers and vendors.
There has been a lot of hullabaloo about the various versions of food safety legislation working through Congress, and there has been a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding.
I haven’t posted on this matter before now for a couple of reasons. It has taken me some time to sort through all the e-mails, information, and actual text of the bills. I’ve also been pretty busy actually growing food for my family and the local market.
The Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) has a good fact sheet (pdf alert!) on the newest version of the food safety bill, H.R. 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009. The bill essentially sets up one-size-fits-all federal oversight for ALL producers, even those selling only direct to consumers in local markets.
The oversight includes FDA standards for growing, sorting, packing, transporting, and holding of raw agricultural products no matter the size of the producer or the locale of the market, registration (with fees) and inspection of premises engaged in processing food no matter their size, and mandatory recordkeeping and electronic filing for all those producing agricultural goods to be eaten by people.
The bill, as it stands, is a big, elaborate, and expensive mound of red tape for producers to wade through, which once again benefits large producers who can afford to pay fees and hire staff while eliminating competition from the little guys (and gals) who don’t have the time or the profit margins to add one more thing to their plates.
The reason for the Food Safety Enhancement Act is obvious–there have been way too many outbreaks of food-borne illness in this country, and they have been vexing to trace with the elaborate supply lines used by large-scale food producers. But the Bill doesn’t discriminate between those who have been responsible for the outbreaks and those who are selling good, clean food to local markets on a small scale.
I reject this level of government oversight, and I’ll bet there are a lot of other small producers who feel the same way. The people who buy food from me know where it comes from, and the USDA and the IRS both know I’m farming, too–I fill out the Census of Ag, and I report my farm earnings on my taxes. I also remit state and local sales tax on what I sell.
One of the reasons I don’t pursue organic certification of my crops is that I’m not interested in having to report to the federal government about the food I grow and how I grow it–though I’m happy to show any of my customers who ask. I’m not interested in paying more fees and keeping more records other than those that improve my crops and my practices.
I’m interested in growing healthy, safe, nutritious food for my family and my community and finding more ways to increase the sustainability and positive environmental impact of my farm. If the government says I can’t sell that food in a local market without paying their fees, filling out their electronic records, and working under their close scrutiny, I will simply quit growing food for market.
And I’ll bet you’ll hear the same thing from a lot of other independent-minded small producers, too. Oh, we’ll keep growing for ourselves, of course, but I don’t think it’s outrageous to suggest that many producers will quit selling and many farmers markets will be a shadow of their former selves or shutter completely if this thing goes through.
If you buy local food; eat local food; or just want to keep small farmers in business for the good of your local, regional, and yes, even national economy; I suggest you take action on this bill. Read the fact sheet, write, call, or e-mail your representatives, and get the word out.
You can also visit the Western Organization of Resource Councils’ website, www.worc.org, for more information.
We do need food safety legislation, but that legislation’s weight should fall on those whose complex systems and lax oversight are causing the problem.