I know people get worked up over legislation -- health care being a recent example--but the blather coming from the Tea Party types about food safety is a bit over the top, even for them. Here are my favorite Tweets of the week about the Senate struggle to vote on safe food:
"You know what's next after food safety? Socialism and shariah law. DEMINT FOR PRESIDENT."
"Locals say Food Safety Modernization Act will devastate U.S. farmers."
"S 510, the Food Safety and Modernization Act. It will end organics! "
"When did food safety become a buzz word for control of the US people?"
"S 510 "Another power grab! Against veg gardens?"
"S. 510 Would Grant the FDA New Powers 2 Criminalize Backyard Gardening, Imprison People who Sell Raw Milk."
"510, the Food Safety Modernization Act, has been called 'the most dangerous bill in the history of the United States' "
"S 510 Food Safety Modernization Act vote imminent: Would outlaw gardening and saving seeds"
"Overreaching Food 'Safety' Modernization Act Would Destroy Family Farmers"
"Pls defeat S-510 Food Safety Bill. It would ban organic farming & Regulate Home Gardening"
" 'Food Safety Modernization Act' (S510), is this a new threat to civil liberties?"
"Senate Bill 510 Food Safety? The FDA has killed far more people than contaminated eggs or lettuce."
"Only 58 days to lobby against Bill 510 - Food Safety Modernization Act - Farmers markets /saving seeds/growing ur own under threat!"
"Estrella slam right before vote on food safety suspicious."
And, of course there is the King of the Crazies, Glenn Beck--he has now figured out that he can scare people about food safety. Perhaps, instead of convincing his followers to buy gold from his advertisers, it will be heirloom seeds?
So can't the Tea Partiers stop being so crazy and actually be rational? Here is the reality about S. 510 as it stands on small farms after last week's compromises and the attachment of the Tester Amendment (where is the love for co-sponsor Hagen?):
Retail Food Establishments:
In the 2002 Bioterrorism Act, Congress required that all facilities that manufacture, process, pack, or hold food must register with FDA, but it exempted from that requirement "retail food establishments." FDA defined the term at 21 CFR 1.227(b)(11). For purposes of the definition, the Tester amendment would require FDA to clarify that "direct sales" of food to consumers includes sales that occur other than where the food was manufactured, such as at a roadside stand or farmers' market.
• Food facilities would qualify for an exemption from the preventive control/HACCP provisions in section 103 of S. 510 under certain conditions:
(1) They are either a "very small business" as defined by FDA in rulemaking; or (2) the average annual monetary value of all food sold by the facility during the previous 3 year period was less than $500,000, but only so long as the majority of the food sold by that facility was sold directly to consumers, restaurants, or grocery stores (as opposed to 3rd party food brokers) and were in the same state where the facility sold the food or within 275 miles of the facility.
• Facilities that qualify would be exempt from the preventive control/HACCP provisions in S. 510, but would still have to comply with one of the following:
(1) They would have to demonstrate that they have identified potential hazards and are implementing preventive controls to address the hazards, or
(2) They would have to demonstrate to FDA that they are in compliance with state or local food safety laws.
• Disclosure: Any food sold by a facility that opts for compliance option (2), above, would have to prominently and conspicuously provide the name and address of the facility that produced it on a food packaging label, or at the point of purchase, as appropriate.
• Study: FDA would have to conduct a study of the food processing sector to help inform the definition of what it means to be a "very small" facility for purposes of the exemption above.
• Farms would qualify for an exemption from the produce safety standards in section 105 of S. 510 if, during the previous 3 year period, the average monetary value of the food they sold was less than $500,000, but only so long as the majority of sales were to consumers, restaurants, or grocery stores (as opposed to 3rd party food brokers) and were in the same state where the farm harvested or produced the food or within 275 miles of the farm.
• Any food sold under the exemption would have to have the same disclosure set forth above.
• In the event of an active investigation of a foodborne illness outbreak that is directly linked to a facility or farm exempted under this section, or if the Secretary determines that it is necessary to protect the public health and prevent or mitigate a foodborne illness outbreak based on conduct or conditions associated with a facility or farm that are material to the safety of food, the Secretary may withdraw the exemption provided to such facility under this section. No activities under this limitation expand existing FDA authorities to inspect farms.
Are compromises perfect? No, especially if you insist on acting like a 2-year-old when you do not get what you want -- but welcome to democracy. Do I agree with all aspects of S. 510 or the Tester Amendment -- Hell no! For example, I do think that the bill needs to be fully funded in order to have the resources to inspect those high-risk facilities that have been poisoning us over the last decades. I am hoping that can happen as the economy turns around and if politicians have the guts to fairly tax the wealthy in this country.
Do I think that the Tester Amendment excludes from oversight some high-risk facilities? Yes, I do. But, can local and state regulators pick up that slack? They can and they should. Also, my biggest concern about no oversight between farms sales to wholesalers was lessened somewhat by the insertion of "(as opposed to 3rd party food brokers)" into the compromise language. Perfect? No. Can I live with it? Yes. Should the new "Big ag" opponents live with it too? I hope so.
S. 510 and the Tester Amendment are a good bill, not great, but good. It is time for all sides to come together and pass it, work out a compromise with House Bill 2749, and get it to the President's desk before he carves the Christmas goose.
Follow William Marler on Twitter: www.twitter.com/bmarler