I’ve been noticing an increasing uproar in the blogosphere and the agricultural news community about H.R. 875, the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009. Introduced by Democratic Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Congresswoman with indirect family ties to agricultural giant Monsanto, the bill drastically revamps and overhauls the food safety mechanisms by which the Federal government attempts to guarantee the purity and safety of the food Americans consume.
Although my default position is to be somewhat skeptical of these mass semi-panics, in this case there seems to be some meat to the complaints. Many of the elements of the bill as it stands seem to put the Federal government in a position of tremendous power over even the smallest of agricultural producers – literally, the gentleman next door growing a row of organic tomatoes – and requiring them to do business pretty much the way that the giant agricultural companies do business. Now, the big ag companies take a lot of unfair hits sometimes, but we can all agree that not everybody wants to run their farm that way. That’s why there are thousands of organic farms, and plenty of old-fashioned smallholders who do things their own way. Everybody wants food safety – but very few people want the weekend hunter, the hobby gardener, and the small organic operation treated like cogs in the food machine.
What’s more, and troubling to anyone with a memory of the history of government expansions of power, the bill puts all this authority in the hands, not of the FDA (which has handled food safety at the national level for more than a century) but in an ill-defined and shadowy ‘food czar’ working out of the White House. You don’t have to be a frothing partisan to be reluctant to put any President so directly in charge of the food supply of the country. It’s my view that, while there may be ideas of value in this bill (although in my reading thus far I haven’t found any), the bill as it stands would be a terrible idea, one that does nothing to enhance food safety but instead makes it impossible for small producers to compete with the big companies, often imposing what amounts to de facto bans on organic produce or naturally-gathered food and game.
As of now, H.R. 875 is in committee, meaning that the members of the House Committees on Energy and Commerce, and the House Committee on Agriculture, are reviewing the bill and listening (theoretically) to citizen and lobbyist input. The word on the Hill is that companies like Monsanto are all for the bill – although the bill would inconvenience Big Ag, large companies are much better able to absorb the burden of regulation than smaller companies, and thus are often advocates of having lots of regulation simply because they know they can shoulder the load and their smaller (annoying) competitors cannot. The good news is that most bills never make it out of committee, and with H.R. 875 having to pass through two committees before getting out onto the House floor, the odds are probably fairly good that the bill will never become law. (especially if we as ag professionals take action)
To ensure that this terrible bill does not become the law of the land, it is vital for ordinary Americans, most especially including farmers and food producers contact their Congressional representatives and let them know that we do not want to see another Federal bureaucracy springing up and telling honest American entrepreneurs, growers, and food producers how to manage their enterprises. There are three ways you can help:
- Sign my online petition, which will be delivered to Congress to let them know that the people demand that our farm economy not become the plaything of a few major corporations. Visit www.LeaveMyFoodAlone.org (no, it’s not some political activist groups site; it’s a simple petition website I put up.)
- Let your friends and family know about this bill and convince them to help stop it. Email them a link to www.LeaveMyFoodAlone.org so they can sign the petition too, or direct them to this blog.
- Write to your Congressional representative to let them know that you do not want this bill to pass. This will be especially effective if your representative is on the two relevant House committees. Be civil and polite, and avoid conspiracy theories and wild language – just let your representative know that you oppose this bill and want to see food safety laws that protect the rights of hunters, gardeners, organic farmers, and other small producers. Below you will find a sample letter that you can use as a guide, and resources to help you find your Representative.
I suggest you do all three.
SAMPLE LETTER TO YOUR CONGRESSMAN
Dear Congress[wo]man XXX:
As a constituent, I am writing to inform you of my strong opposition to H.R. 875, the so-called Food Safety Modernization Act. Like most Americans, I believe our nation’s food supply must be safe, and that the government has an appropriate role to play in ensuring that our citizens have nutritious and safe food to eat. However, the proposed bill is a true outrage to the liberties which Americans have enjoyed for more than two centuries.
I strongly urge you to vote against this bill in its present form, and to vote against any food safety or agriculture bill which does not make strong provisions for the continued operation of America’s family farms, organic farms, home gardeners, wild game collectors, and others who produce the food that keeps America strong.
You can find your Representative’s contact information by using this form. Space prohibits listing all the appropriate committee members – there are more than a hundred of them – but you can find the Energy and Commerce committee membership listing here, and the Agriculture committee membership listing here. Contact information for each member of Congress is provided at their individual links. Remember, every constituent contact will weigh heavily when your member of Congress decides how to vote! If you don’t have time to write, give them a call, or drop them an e-mail, sign the petition at www.LeaveMyFoodAlone.org. Do it now. Sign the Petition to stop HR 875.