The Food Police

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Two bills are currently working their way through Congress that could have a dramatic impact on our food supply. Both bills sound relatively safe, being branded as food security, but unfortunately they likely will end up doing more harm then good to small local farmers. The first is the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) and the second is the Food Safety Modernization Act (HR 875). Both of these initiatives are being pushed by corporate Ag, with Monsanto being the biggest driver. HR 875 was introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) whose husband is a political operative for Monsanto. The bill is co-sponsored by 39 other Democrats and has the support of the corporate Ag community.

The NAIS requires that all animals be tagged with an identification system and reported to the federal government. This includes small farms that will have to absorb the cost of the tracking system. Of course, large corporate farms have exemptions and can track in lots of 1,000 animals, but my small farm of a few sheep and pigs has to track every single one. This idea has been floating around for a number of years, but it now looks like Obama and the Democratic Congress have the ability to pass it. The Omnibus spending bill currently working its way through Congress provides some funding for the implementation of the program, hearing are being held this week.

The bigger issue is HR 875, which creates the Food Safety Administration (FSA) as part of the Department of Health and Human Services. The FSA will implement a rigorous program to protect our food supply, and can fine a farm $1,000,000 for failure to comply with the requirements. Besides the creation of the food police, the bill is so generic that much of the details will be left to the new organization to figure out. There are no exemptions for organic or small local farms, or even a home garden plot. In principle, there is nothing stopping to FSA from having a say in every bit of food produced in this country, if they so desire. They have complete control of the process from seed production to final commercial sales. So far, small farmers have been shut out of the process and most of their protests to the bills are not being included in the legislative discussion, a dark sign of things to come.

The biggest concern is that Monsanto and other corporate Ag are behind the bills so it is hard to imagine the FSA coming on board and then going after the real major food security issue- corporate Ag. The more likely target is small farmers who corporate Ag would prefer to not have as competitors and unfortunately, nothing in the bill prohibits that from happening. Monsanto is not known for the business ethics and are no doubt concerned by the recent trend towards production that they have no control over. I can just see the new director of the FSA wanting to have a few quick wins and helping out Monsanto for getting him/her the job by going after a few small farmers. It will be very difficult for small farmers to meet the requirements outlined by the FSA (of course it is hard to know because the requirements are not defined in the bill), at a minimum the cost and effort will take much of the incentive out of local farmers. It is certainly difficult to imagine any upside to the bills; best case is the FSA never has the resources and the shear volume of small farmers makes it impossible for them to do anything. Small farmers continue to operate, although probably not in full compliance with the law, and the law is proven ineffective. Worst case is a number of small farmers have the FSA show up at their door and shut them down, sending a chill through the entire local agriculture community.

It is particularly frustrating because these efforts are being predominantly backed by powerful Democrats (including Rahm Emanuel who is living in the basement of Rep. DeLauro’s house) who talk a big game about the importance of local agriculture and then sponsor bills that protect corporate Ag. I contacted all three federal legislators and got a response from Sen. Murray on how important food security is to her; Sen. Cantwell and Rep. Larson have been silent on the issue. Food is one of the few things moving in the right direction. More local citizens are starting to farm and more food is grown organically, both exactly what we need. Now we just need the Democratic leadership to be congruent in their beliefs and support local farms instead of corporate Ag.

About Craig Mayberry

Closed Account • Member since Jan 17, 2008

While writing his articles from 2008 to 2011, Craig lived near Lynden and taught at both Whatcom Community College and Western Washington University. He was active in politics and ran for public [...]

Comments by Readers

John Servais

Mar 11, 2009

As a liberal and strong supporter of Obama, I’ll add a comment. 

If what you write is true, Craig, then we liberals have some real work to do - and fast.  This bill is horrifying.  Absurd.  The FDA ignores their job for decades and then the Feds decide to solve the problem by putting the burden of reporting on the decent farmers. 

I would think the Buy Local and Sustainable Connections folks would immediately notify Larsen, Cantwell and Murray that their opposition to this bill is expected. Where are they? 

I know all three have their staffs check NwCitizen each day.  I invite them to send their response to your questions.  How do I know?  Their staff members have personally told me.  Murray has her election campaign starting later this year and she should be a bit more responsive. 

And if someone has information that Craig has the facts wrong, then please weigh in.


Doug Karlberg

Mar 11, 2009

The Feds pulled this same BS on cottage toy makers this last month.

Usually the extra regulations are sponsored by the big corporate producers to put the small producers out of business, due to the cost of regulations.

Government is not the solution, government is the problem.

I fear that with the size of the government growing from approximately 20% today to 30% in the next four years, that we are only going to hear more of these stories.

Let’s hope not, but our Founding Fathers were fearful of a large central government.