I've got a number of things on my radar but there's one very stupid thing that is causing a huge commotion for no good reason. It's HR 875, the Food Safety Modernization Act, a bill by Rosa DeLauro with about 40 cosponsors (mostly progressives) and no chance of passing (yet). The bill is flawed. It's not perfect. She's introduced it into previous Congresses without this much fanfare and panic among the blogs. So let's get the facts straight so that I don't have to see any more erroneous and crazy, paranoid diaries on the rec list.
Then after that we can talk about stuff that's more pressing, like the Employee Free Choice Act and school lunches.
First off - I've been talking to a few different groups on this - Consumers Union and the Organic Consumers Association. I've also spoken to blogger Judith2007 who was a panelist at last year's Netroots Nation. She's a farmer and a lawyer. But she's also swamped with work right now so she has limited time to devote to this. Oh, and OCA and CU seem to be in touch with Food and Water Watch, another group working on this.
OCA's coming up with a statement on this, CU supports it, and I haven't spoken to Food and Water Watch directly but I hear they are coming out with a statement. So step one is STOP PANICKING. We can work MUCH more effectively with DeLauro, Durbin (who is introducing this into the Senate) and other members of Congress if we are rational and fact-based.
I got an email from a local food group with a subject line "The End of Farmers Markets?" It said:
This is a nightmare:
H.R. 875: Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009
Anyone who fails to register and comply with all of the nonsense could be facing a fine of up to $1,000,000 per violation.
I wrote back something like "Calm down." To which the sender responded with some text of the bill. And (thank goodness) a lawyer responded that farms will NOT be impacted. If I'm reading it right, restaurants and retail stores that sell food aren't affected either. Farmers' markets, CSAs, and roadside stands are ALL SAFE.
(13) FOOD ESTABLISHMENT-
(A) IN GENERAL- The term ‘food establishment’ means a slaughterhouse (except those regulated under the Federal Meat Inspection Act or the Poultry Products Inspection Act), factory, warehouse, or facility owned or operated by a person located in any State that processes food or a facility that holds, stores, or transports food or food ingredients.
(B) EXCLUSIONS- For the purposes of registration, the term ‘food establishment’ does not include a food production facility as defined in paragraph (14), restaurant, other retail food establishment, nonprofit food establishment in which food is prepared for or served directly to the consumer, or fishing vessel (other than a fishing vessel engaged in processing, as that term is defined in section 123.3 of title 21, Code of Federal Regulations).
(14) FOOD PRODUCTION FACILITY- The term ‘food production facility’ means any farm, ranch, orchard, vineyard, aquaculture facility, or confined animal-feeding operation.
There are 4 bills about food safety you should know about (not just HR 975). Some specifics on each bill:
S. 425 - Sherrod Brown's Bill: Food Safety and Tracking Improvement Act
This is a bill for traceability. No cosponsors yet.
- Gives the FDA 3 yrs to establish a traceability system "for all stages of manufacturing, processing, packaging, and distribution of food."
- Specifics of the system will be set up by the FDA and an advisory committee that has 1 year to come up with recommendations.
- Authorizes $40mil for 2010 to 2012.
- Gives USDA & FDA the right to mandate recalls on food.
I'm nervous about any traceability systems only because the National Animal ID System (NAIS) is so awful and because traceability does nothing for prevention and testing and inspections for food safety. It's useful AFTER people start getting sick. What about before? Nonetheless, this bill looks like it's gonna die in committee unless something changes.
H.R. 814 - Diana DeGette's Bill: The Tracing and Recalling Agricultural Contamination Everywhere Act of 2009 (TRACE Act)
A few co-sponsors so far. I don't like this bill. It's similar to Brown's bill with the following differences:
- Establishes a traceability system for livestock – cattle, sheep, swine, goat, horses, mules, and other equines presented for slaughter for human food purposes – and meat and meat food products of these animals. (If this means NAIS, that's BAD.)
- USDA can prohibit entry into any USDA inspected slaughter facility not identified under this system.
- System must allow traceback to any premises at which animal was held at any time before slaughter and carcass/meat products must be able to be traced forward through processing and distribution to ultimate consumer.
- Similar requirements for eggs (since obviously laying hens aren't covered by the slaughter-related stuff since you don't kill them to get their eggs.)
In other words, farmers who raise animals for meat or eggs will be forced to register for NAIS. That would spell death to many small, sustainable farmers. Very bad news.
H.R. 875 - DeLauro's Bill: Food Safety Modernization Act
40 co-sponsors, including MANY progressives and even Peter DeFazio, who is a major friend of organics. This bill establishes a Food Safety Agency w/in HHS. It basically splits the FDA into 2 agencies - food and drugs. This bill does NOT change the USDA in any way (they deal with the safety of meat and poultry.)
- Requires annual registration of "food establishments" - as noted before, these are slaughterhouses, factories, and warehouses.
- Requires these establishments to come up with process controls for preventing contamination: sanitation plan, recordkeeping, sampling to ensure effectiveness of process controls – and to allow access to records by agency. (This is a good idea but limited by corporate honesty... companies are not above keeping two sets of records, real ones and a fake version to show to the government.)
- Requires these establishments to tell the new food safety agency about any contamination they find.
- The new agency has 3 years to come up with "performance standards" for 5 most significant contaminants. Then they will sample and test foods to assess whether companies are within the standards. If the food shows up too dirty, they can mandate a recall.
- Sets up requirements for inspections at least annually and in some cases more often.
- The government can visit and inspect farms. The new agency can set specific regulations for farms but the bil calls for recordkeeping and "good practice standards." I hear this is a bit problematic for small farms... the quote I heard was that the govt seemed to think small farmers wrote it down every time they sold a dozen eggs.
- Imported food must meet standards AT LEAST equal to food produced in the U.S. The new agency must set up a system to accredit foreign governments or foreign food establishments to certify that their food is up to our standards.
- Imported food will be inspected routinely, and there will be some limits on which ports food that needs to be tested or inspected through (based on presence of accredited food testing laboratory).
- Requires new agency to set up a traceability system for food, and allows the agency to set up the specifics. The bill mentions NAIS (which worries me) but this bill only deals with the FDA and NAIS is the USDA's thing. Still, I am concerned that whatever is set up is done in a way that doesn't screw over small farmers or small businesses.
- Allows the government to mandate recalls (yay!) and sets up higher penalties for those who willfully break the food safety laws.
H.R. 759 - Dingell's Bill - Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act of 2009
I heard from somebody that this might be the bill that actually gets passed, and we might have to work to make it better by adding to it with some of the better parts of DeLauro's bill. The reason given was that he's on the committee that's going to pass any food safety law that gets passed. 6 co-sponsors so far.
Like DeLauro's bill, this ONLY deals with the FDA (not the USDA). This also requires food facilities (a facility that "manufactures, packs, transports, or holds food for consumption") to register annually. Unlike DeLauro's bill, it makes each facility pay a fee to cover the costs of inspecting them. It requires food establishments to have food safety plans and keep records that the govenment can see (which seems similar to DeLauro's bill).
Like DeLauro's bill, foreign food establishments need to be certified.
However this does NOT set up a new agency. It leaves everything under our current FDA. Another nice thing is that it gives smaller businesses longer to comply with the law, because presumably they have less capacity to deal with this stuff than large companies. It requires inspections just like DeLauro's bill BUT less frequently - inspection frequency is depending on the amount of risk you pose for the safety of our food. At minimum, every 4 years. (Currently the FDA inspects places on average about every 10 years.)
- FDA must set regulations for safe harvesting/production of fruits & veggies... this worries me! Typically when the government has gotten involved here in CA they've set some really dumb laws. Farm fields aren't intended to be sterile like hospitals, nor should they be.
- Calls for development of "good agricultural practices for produce" to be published w/in 1 year.
- Expands traceability requirements to farms and restaurants. (In some sense this is good... we can figure out where tainted food went, but in another sense it's bad... extra burden for small farms/businesses... and again, traceability still doesn't help prevention.)
- Expands COOL (Country of Origin Labeling) to processed foods.
- Gives mandatory recall authority to FDA. (not USDA?) Also sets penalties for food safety violations - civil penalties, not criminal (DeLauro's bill sets civil and criminal).
- Requires labeling for meat/poultry/seafood treated w/ carbon monoxide - THIS IS GREAT. Currently, they treat beef w/ carbon monoxide to make it stay red longer. Consumers use color as one way to tell if the meat is fresh, so it makes it more possible for a consumer to think bad meat is still good and eat it.
OK so that's a lot of legalese and it wasn't fun to write - no doubt it's not fun to read. Point is - there are some problems with HR 875 but it's overall not so bad and parts of it are even good. I like it better than the other bills here.
Now that we've had this discussion, here are things I find a little more important than debunking internet rumors that shouldn't have gotten started in the first place:
Republicans don't care if Iowa drowns in pig poop. Just another Republican example of "wasteful spending." I think they took the word "pork" literally and found the thing in the budget that was actually about hogs.
Time to sling some mud - the Employee Free Choice Battle began today. This applies to food as well as all other sectors of our economy. The Republicans and big business are already started lying about it. Ugh.
We're being given a false choice between starving kids and stuffed farmers. Why can't kids and farmers win together, and why can't the major corporations that screw us all over lose?
More on school lunch news - everyone's gearing up for the child nutrition reauthorization so school lunch is ALL OVER the news these days.