Senate Bill S510: Points & Counterpoints

florida_chicken_houseSenate Bill S510, the Food Safety and Modernization Act is being discussed right now amongst senators, advocates and consumers; there are so many good points being made that some should be shared.

Grist has a very intensive series dedicated on the subject of the Act which you can find here.

Further, they have a point and counterpoint discussion with Kathleen Chrismer, a food-safety advocate. The point Ms. Chrismer makes is in regard to the "Tester Amendment" which excludes small farms (under $500mil annually) from the FDA regulations. She says,

"If small producers are not keeping good records of who they sell to, where they sell it, and how much is being sold, then I can see why they operate on slim profit margins. I don't think it will be easier for a small producer to retain an attorney to defend them when a food-borne illness victim's attorney files a complaint in court (followed by all the accompanying paperwork), rather than to have a written plan that shows they are taking the steps necessary to reduce the risk of contamination."

The response to this is simple: the problems don't often occur in small operations in the first place, specifically with farmers who relish the soil in practicing permaculture techniques. And we should be clear: ANY thing one puts into his body puts a person at risk, period. There's no doubt that there is a need to regulate a system that hasn't been updated since 1938; however, to include many small farms as equals to large corporations is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. If there were already major problems within the small farm communities, then it would be a topic to address. Small farms provide an alternative. If we lose that alternative, our system is no longer one of choice. A system without choice is inherently authoritarian, but can easily lend itself to outright fascism.

The problem is within large farming operations that look at the dollar over the consumer; they look at numbers instead of people; they take shortcuts. Those shortcuts to reduce costs to sell cheaper products in larger quantities. This is the problem. This isn't about letting small farms run amok and do whatever they want. They can't do that anyway because they have to answer personally to their clientele.

If the government treats the small farm equally to the large farm in fines and records, we really can kiss our small farms good-bye. Large farms can absorb the cost and provide a "standard" which may not actually be a real standard of nutrition nor quality which we may receive from our neighbors' urban gardens, community gardens or small, local commercial farms that have reputations to protect.

The anecdotes she discusses were all cases of food borne illness spread by product grown in industrial factory farming. And yes, all farms should follow rules, of course; but to give the FDA the power to shut down small, accountable farms while they're trying to enforce the industrial system is absolutely not the way to do it. Let's first try to just get the big guys to look at their client base as people instead of numbers, and go from there. Food safety is in their best interest, too!

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