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Organic Consumers Association ALERT: "Food Safety Enhancement Act Hurts Small Farmers and Organics"

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NashVegas Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jul-29-09 11:35 AM
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Organic Consumers Association ALERT: "Food Safety Enhancement Act Hurts Small Farmers and Organics"
from the email newsletter:

The House of Representatives is voting today on H.R. 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 . It's an attempt to address the evermore serious food safety crisis in conventional agriculture, but as it stands, the bill threatens to undermine the most positive development in U.S. agriculture - small organic or transition to organic farmers producing for local markets. H.R. 2749 needs to draw a clear line between small local growers and industrial/factory farms and processing plants where food borne pathogens incubate, flourish, and spread.

More from the link:

H.R. 2749 The Food Safety Enhancement Act
Bill # H.R.2749

Original Sponsor:
John Dingell (D-MI 15th)

Cosponsor Total: 6
(last sponsor added 06/08/2009)
6 Democrats


About This Legislation:
UPDATE from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, July 27, 2009 --

Food Safety Legislation Moves to the House Floor: The food safety bill (HR 2749) that was passed by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in June is expected to go to the floor of the House Tuesday afternoon for a final vote under "suspension," meaning no amendments and very limited debate and two-thirds majority needed for passage are secure. Suspension of the normal rules is generally only used for uncontroversial bills.

HR 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, has attracted much criticism from sustainable and organic farming organizations because it includes provisions that could require a flat fee for small processors, including any farmers who do on-farm value-added processing if they sell mostly wholesale. The bill also requires farms to do extensive and expensive electronic tracing even if they sell only their own unprocessed products in the wholesale market. In addition, the bill does not specify the positive role that conservation practices can play to address food safety concerns, and also fails to provide guidance so that new food safety standards are harmonized with those specified in the Organic Foods Production Act.

On Thursday, July 24, Representatives Marcy Kaptur (OH), Sam Farr (CA-17), Maurice Hinchey (NY-22), Jess Jackson Jr. (IL-2), Peter Welch (VT-at large), Chellie Pingree (ME-1), and Earl Blumenauer (OR-3) submitted a letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee with specific proposed changes to HR 2749 that address concerns raised by members of NSAC and the National Organic Coalition. Kaptur, Farr, Hinchey, and Jackson are all senior Democrats on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, the group responsible for funding both the USDA and Food and Drug Administration each year, including all food safety matters. Negotiations between this team and the Energy and Commerce Committee have just started as we go to press.

The House Agriculture Committee has been negotiating for the past week with the Energy and Commerce Committee over the bill. As we go to press, the final results of that negotiation are not yet public. The press has widely reported comments by House Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) that he is seeking exemptions from the bill for livestock and grain. Representatives Jim Costa (D-CA) and Dennis Cardoza (D-CA) and others are also seeking changes on behalf of the specialty crop industry.

BACKGROUND

If you've seen the movie Food Inc., you have no doubt been moved by the experience of Barbara Kowalczyk. Her tearful description of her 2 1/2 year old child Kevin's painful death from an E. coli-tainted hamburger puts a face on a tragedy that is all too common. With 5,000 deaths and an addition 75 million sicknesses caused by unsafe food each year, any one of us could be the next victim and what happened to Barbara's child could happen to our own.

While certified USDA Organic food is the safest food you can find in the grocery store, and no certified organic food has ever been found to be the source of a food-borne illness, organic products (especially those that are processed or packaged in the same facilities as conventional food) are not completely immune and some were even caught up in salmonella peanut product recall.

We should all join Barbara who became a food safety advocate in the hopes of sparing other mothers her tragedy.

Congress's latest attempt to address food safety is H.R. 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act. According to the Consumers Union, the bill would require:

Inspections of high-risk food facilities at least every 6-12 months as well as inspection of lower-risk facilities at least once every 3 years (FDA currently averages inspections once every ten years.

Righ-risk food facilities to submit the results of testing their finished food products for safety.

All registered domestic and foreign food facilities to identify hazards and implement steps to prevent or reduce contaminants that may appear in food.

Businesses to keep basic safety records in a standard format so they are easier for FDA to review.

An FDA-mandated recall if a company fails to do so when requested.

Food facilities selling to American consumers to register with the FDA and pay annual fees.

The FDA to gather information and run a pilot project to set up a method to trace food back to its source in the case of contamination. Such a traceback system would have to allow FDA to trace food back to its source within 2 business days.

When applied to the big factory farms and processors that supply most of the nation's food, these reforms make sense and are badly needed.

But, they aren't an improvement on organic standards and could result in conflicts with the biologically diverse farming methods of organic farmers, economic harm to small farmers, and a trampling of efforts to boost wildlife habitat and water and air quality.

This criticism has resulted in the addition of important language requiring the consideration of potential impacts on family and organic farms. Sec. 419A now directs the USDA to "take into consideration, consistent with ensuring enforceable public health protection, the impact on small-scale and diversified farms, and on wildlife habitat, conservation practices, watershed-protection efforts, and organic production methods."

The Organic Consumers Association agrees with the National Organic Coalition that the following issues must still be addressed:

1) Why are all food "facilities" under the proposed new law, even those that gross well under $500,000 annually, subject to the same registration fee of $500 each year? Isn't this a regressive tax that disproportionately impacts smaller producers? Why would a small processor have to pay the same annual fee as the largest facilities in our food system?
2) If left as is, provisions in the HR 2749 bill could encourage farmers to tear out important wildlife habitat and buffer strips that protect streams and rivers in an effort to try to create a "sterile" on-farm environment free of bacteria. Can't we harmonize the safety of our food supply with environmental protection?
3) Organic producers who already have to comply with food safety standards outlined in the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 will be burdened by another set of separate standards if HR 2749 becomes law. What can be done to ensure we are not creating a disincentive for farmers to transition to organic?
4) Farmers that sell directly to consumers or who use marketing strategies that preserve the identity of their farm products pose less of a food safety risk because their products are easily traced back to their farm. Shouldn't there be a comprehensive exemption for these kinds of farms in HR 2749?


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