Today this was a section called "Second Opinion" in the Winston-Salem
Journal" (Winston Salem, NC). I don't know how new this news is but I
don't remember seeing anything about it.
A big win for healthy local food
By ROLAND McREYNOLDS
Small-scale, local and organic food producers and their customers won
an against-the-odds victory early last month when President Obama
signed new food safety legislation.
The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) purports to give the Food
and Drug Administration new tools to fight pathogen contamination in
the U.S. food supply. But the most significant elements of the bill
are the provisions protecting small and organic farms and local food
producers from devastating and unnecessary federal regulations. Talk
to any of the vendors at an all-local, producers-only market, like the
Cobblestone Farmers Market at Krankies, and you will hear that this
legislative battle has weighed heavily on their minds and business
decisions. With the FSMA, for the first time, the federal government
is on record in recognizing that size does matter in regulating
agriculture. By limiting the FDA’s power to govern small farms and
food makers predominantly serving local markets, the FSMA ensures that
the local food sector can continue to thrive, continue to offer
consumers a healthy alternative to industrial food and continue to
drive job growth.
Food safety has been a major PR issue in agriculture since 2006, when
industrially-farmed spinach from California was contaminated with a
deadly strain of the normally benign bacteria E. coli, resulting in
illness and deaths nationwide, and a sharp drop in grocery store sales
of fresh spinach. The giant distributors and retailers that dominate
the produce industry lost billions of dollars, and realized that it
was no longer in their interests to oppose new food-safety laws.
So the lobbyists for those companies teamed up with their former
enemies in the health-advocacy world and came up with a food-safety
bill, HR 2749, that put small local and organic food producers on the
hook for the sins of the industrial system. The bill would have made
growers selling at the Cobblestone Farmers Market at Krankies use the
same growing practices as giant produce operations in the Salinas
Valley, and food entrepreneurs using Pilot Mountain Pride in Surry
County comply with the same regulations as General Mills.
The conventional wisdom was that the bill would steamroll through
Congress. After all, no one could possibly oppose “safe” food. HR 2749
passed the House with an overwhelming bipartisan majority in July
2009. Western North Carolina Rep. Heath Shuler was one of the handful
of members who stood up for local farms and food makers and opposed
But local organic-food interests would not be deterred. Like never
before, the sustainable food movement had a major, positive impact
during the Senate deliberations over federal food-safety law, and
nowhere was the pressure from this movement more effective than North
Sens. Richard Burr and Kay Hagan responded, and both successfully
fought for a better deal for local organic food, to the consternation
of the big processors and handlers, who turned against the bill when
small-farm protections were added.
The final version of the FSMA requires the FDA to ensure that its food
safety rules don’t conflict with organic practices or soil and
wildlife conservation programs, as industrial “safety” systems have
done in California and Florida. It requires the FDA to support
research and outreach on safety practices appropriate for small
And it protects farms and food businesses with less than $500,000 in
annual sales that sell the majority of their products locally from new
FDA regulations. In effect, it recognizes that local organic food is a
solution to food safety problems.
Whether the safety of industrial food will improve because of the new
law remains to be seen. Senior Republicans on the House Agriculture
Appropriations subcommittee are already signaling they won’t fund the
FDA to implement the FSMA. Without new inspectors to enforce new
regulations, big industry will continue to self-regulate.
There are many in the local food movement who opposed any version of
the FSMA on the grounds that the FDA cannot be trusted. But ultimately
that concern is a key reason to support the final version of the bill:
Last year the FDA began writing on-farm food safety regulations, and
you can bet that the agency would not have willingly excluded small
farms from its rules.
Now it has no choice.
Because the bill is a good deal for local organic food, Rep. Shuler
voted in favor of the final food-safety bill.
Thanks to him and Sens. Burr and Hagan, and thanks to grassroots
advocates everywhere, we will have a chance to see head-to-head
whether diffused, localized food systems work to better protect public
health — in terms of nutrition and pollution as well as pathogen
control — than the highly concentrated national and international
system does today.
The sustainable-food community welcomes such a competition. The big
handlers, distributors and retailers appear less enthusiastic.
Roland McReynolds is an attorney and the executive director of the
Carolina Farm Stewardship Association.
The Journal welcomes original submissions for guest columns on local,
regional and statewide topics.
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