Monday, March 16, 2009

HR 875-- Chill, people

(Just a bill)
Ok, there's a lot of buzz on the interwebs (and by buzz, I mean hysteria) about HR 875, The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009. The primary sin of the bill is that it is vague (as bills are), and vagueness is the devil's playground. It allows those with a conspiratorial bent to fill in the gaps as it suits their agendas- and I should know, since I'm one of 'em.

Important stuff you should know first--
1) The bill is tabled, and not currently up for a vote.
2) The bill has failed before.
3) The bill has little support and is not likely to pass.

So, what's in the bill? The bill is a knee-jerk reaction to the various industrial-scale food scares we've had in the last few years- mind you, these are contaminations caused by, or aided by, the industrial food system itself. And naturally, the bill wants to fix the symptoms and not the root cause of the problem. It's kind of like the War on Drugs, or the War on Terrorism- to only go after symptoms and not the root cause is a Quixotic, endless fight. But lately, that's what American gov'mint does best.

The bill also wants to create a new agency called the "Food Safety Administration"; in fact, it wants to split the FDA into two agencies- one concerned solely with food safety, and one concerned with drugs and medical devices. The bill also calls for tougher oversight over contamination, mainly by increasing the frequency of inspections at processing plants. Splitting food and drugs is probably a good thing, but our food would need far less oversight in the first place if the system was simply decentralized. Of course, that'll never happen- the last thing the system wants is to cease to exist, or exist in diminished capacity. That would be bad for the system, see.

The biggest problem with the bill is that it appears to seek a one-size-fits-all solution to the contamination problems; it never specifies if these measures will apply to mega-farms, or Chinese imports, or small organic farms. And that lack of specification is what's causing the panic. Do I think it will apply the same measures equally to every different food system we already have? No. Just because the bill hasn't formally excluded small organic farms or even backyard gardens (it doesn't, but it should) doesn't automatically mean it will go after them. This bill does not call for the formation of the Greenshirt Food Police.

Most importantly: The bill does not cover anything already regulated by the USDA. That includes seeds and seed banks, farmer's markets, microchipping of animals (a whole other mess unto itself- hello, NAIS), and food traceability. Backyard and community gardeners, please exhale now.
You will still be able to buy open-pollinated seed. And no Greenshirts will rip out your heirloom tomatoes at 2 AM.

This bill was introduced by Connecticut 03 Rep Rosa DeLauro, and her husband, Stan Greenberg, is the CEO of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a consulting firm. Guess who's on the client list for GQR? It starts with an M and rhymes with Schmonsanto. I totally believe DeLauro's motivations are less than pure. I'm equally certain the giant holes in the bill would allow Big Ag more liberties. And probably that her husband would love a new job title- say, Director of the Food Safety Administration. But do I think one single bill could allow for a vast, evil corporate takeover of our small farms and gardens and farmer's markets? Nope. Not gonna happen.

Food activists are passionate folks, and I can understand the panic a bill like this would generate. Clean, safe, fresh food is not a luxury, it is a basic human right. But government-planned machinations are just not in this bill. What's in the bill is a whole lotta vagueness. Like, I said-- devil's playground, people. But still, do contact your congressman and ask them to vote a big fat NO on this bill should it come back up. Sloppy, knee-jerk legislation is not helpful, no matter what the topic. Besides, it's good to call your congressman's office now and again. Shows them you're paying attention.


MOTM said...

Thank you so much for articulating this bill. I've seen numerous threads of people going crazy that they will soon be arrested for growing a tomato in their backyard. Cheers!

Condo Blues said...

Thank you for posting this. And especially for invoking School House Rock while you did it!

PJ said...

Thank you for your dilligence in this particular matter, Ilex.

Rabbits' Guy said...

I don't agree with all you get out of (or put in to) that bill, but hurrah for taking the time and initiative and shining some serious light on it.

PS: I keep reading about good things happening in poor old downtrodden Detroit ... a land of opportunity there!

Mariah said...

Thanks for looking into this for everyone. It's nice to know it's probably going nowhere!