Information about HR 875 – The Food Safety Modernization Act
Momentum is building in Congress for new food safety reforms aimed at addressing the growing cycle of food contamination outbreaks. But concerns are also being raised cautioning legislators not to trample organic farmers, backyard gardeners, and consumers of fresh local foods in the rush to fix the nation’s food safety problems.
In the last several years, contamination of bagged spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, beef, and peanuts have sickened thousands of Americans. And currently a massive recall of food products containing pistachios is underway.
After years of industry-friendly regulations and deteriorating budgets for inspections, holes in the food safety net have prompted some in Congress to push for new laws and increased oversight.
The legislative process, however, has sparked a flurry of internet and email activity, with some warning the agribusiness and biotechnology lobbyists are conspiring to pass legislation outlawing organic farming and home gardens. One of the pending bills, The Food Safety Modernization Act (HR 875), sponsored by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), has been a lightning rod for criticism, but there is a lot of misinformation about the bill circulating over the internet.
As a result of the blowback Congresswoman DeLauro is scrambling to assure organic advocates that they are not the target of her bill: “The purpose of this bill is to improve the safety of food products derived from large industrial processing facilities by increasing the inspection frequency and safety standards at these plants.”
Here are a few things that H.R. 875 DOES do:
• It addresses the most critical flaw in the structure of FDA by splitting it into 2 new agencies –one devoted to food safety and the other devoted to drugs and medical devices.
• It increases inspection of food processing plants, basing the frequency of inspection on the risk of the product being produced – but it does NOT make plants pay any registration fees or user fees.
• It does extend food safety agency authority to food production on farms, requiring farms to write a food safety plan and consider the critical points on that farm where food safety problems are likely to occur.
• It requires imported food to meet the same standards as food produced in the U.S.
And just as importantly, here are a few things that H.R. 875 does NOT do:
• It does not cover foods regulated by the USDA (beef, pork, poultry, lamb, catfish.)
• It does not establish a mandatory animal identification system.
• It does not regulate backyard gardens.
• It does not regulate seed.
• It does not call for new regulations for farmers markets or direct marketing arrangements.
• It does not apply to food that does not enter interstate commerce (food that is sold across state lines).
It does not mandate any specific type of traceability for FDA-regulated foods (the bill does instruct a new food safety agency to improve traceability of foods, but specifically says that recordkeeping can be done electronically or on paper).
While some of the nation’s food safety issues have farm origins – largely due to the inability of huge industrialized conventional livestock facilities to properly manage their mountains of manure, contaminated with lethal pathogens – many E. coli and salmonella outbreaks originate at processing facilities. This year’s outbreak of salmonella in peanut products has been traced to unsanitary conditions at a massive processing plant. And now, the FDA has issued a warning about contaminated pistachios, which appear to have also been tainted during the processing or storage of the nuts or finished processed food products.
“We don’t want organic family farmers to be made scapegoats and lose their markets because of objectionable food treatment practices or recalls put in place due to sloppy practices at giant food processing facilities,” said Dr. Jesse Schwartz, the President of Living Tree Community Foods, a manufacturer of organic nut butters. “The health and well-being of America, its people, and the American land depend upon the stewardship of family farmers who are the true husbandmen of their soil, plants, and animals.”
The Cornucopia Institute is calling on farmers and consumers to stand up for and protect organic and sustainable local farmers. “Organic, local producers of high quality foods are part of our nation’s food safety solution–not part of the problem,” said Fantle.
The food safety bills currently before Congress will not criminalize organic farms, but they could do more to protect them. Ask your Congressperson to help support organic farmers and not burden them with excessive regulations. Sample letters are available at the Co-op’s Customer Service Desk. Find your Congressperson’s contact info at www.govtrack.us.
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This information was taken from the Cornucopia Institute and Food and Water Watch.