H.R. 875, the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 has become the subject of some heated conversation among small farmers and sustainable food system advocates. The bill, if passed, would essentially establish a new government agency to oversee and regulate ‘food production facilities’ and farms. All included farms would be required to register with the agency and prove that they are taking preventative measures to protect consumers.
But would this really be the ‘end of organic farming,’ as some voices claim?
The need for a food safety bill is clear: no-one wants to live in constant fear of contaminated peanuts and salmonella because of poor safety and cleanliness standards at large-scale production facilities.
Although I find it hard to believe that Congress expects or wants to make backyard veggie gardens, farmers markets, and organic farming illegal, I do understand the fears arising as people read this Bill. The problem seems to be found in the vague language of the Bill. Maybe, for instance, it should be worded more specifically, with a concrete exclusion for ‘backyard farms’, ‘local farms’, ‘farm-to-consumer direct sales’, and the like.
Allegations that large-scale agricultural company Monsanto might be somewhere behind this does not make it sound more benign. However, Monsanto claims that it has 'no position' on the bill.
We all want safe and healthy food – but we need to be sure that we don’t let something slip by that might (at some point in the future) be construed to apply to our beloved local farms. Sometimes we need to ask what COULD happen if a bill passes, rather than what WILL CERTAINLY happen. True, H.R. 875 does not say ‘local and personal farms will be illegal’, but is it clear enough to protect us if someone tried to interpret it that way?
To find out more, go to govtrack and search for H.R. 875. Also take some time to read what others are saying. You can read read Sponsor Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)'s 'myths and facts' about HR 875. Huffington Post has a great, relatively unbiased article. Slow Food's blog on the issue link also spells out some truths about what’s really going on.
Remember to take what you read with a grain of salt – and make sure to remember that Bills can sometimes empower agencies to do things that the Bill itself does not explicitly mention. Do your own research, see what you think, and then contact your representatives with your opinion. They should know what you think and vote accordingly - That’s what you pay them for!