Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What is the Food Safety Modernization Act (HR 875)?

A few weeks ago, I got a newsletter from my CSA, Abbondanza. As I scanned my way through it (easter egg hunt, hmm, that might be too advanced for a 2 year old, book club, bummer can't go but that book Slow Money looks interesting, CSA pickups start in May, yay!), I noticed a quick footnote at the bottom, "HR875 and S425 are not bad ... do not be afraid to speak up and make these bills take shape to support your community."

Interesting ... a potential blog topic for a rainy day.

Tonight, I finally took the time to find out what this meant. I'll specifically discuss HR875 - the Food Safety Modernization Act.

Where did I start? The first place Google directed me was the horses mouth, congress's website. It had a summary, the full text and the current status of the bill. So, so, so dry. I could hardly get through the summary. As far as I could tell, it creates one agency to manage food safety and by the way, we need some food safety regulation.

I should probably try to find the Cliff notes.

The next references I found were to numerous blogs and websites claiming that this bill will mean the end of small farming, it's sponsored by evil GMO giants Monsanto, and that you'll be thrown in jail for growing basil in your kitchen window. Hmmm, this doesn't sound good. The government and their agro-business lobbyists are out to get us again.

Ok, so after about two more hours of research, I think I found a few voices of reason. In particular, I found a thoughtful analysis from Tom Philpott of Grist. He explains it a little better in a podcast on Good Food on KCRW.

He says the main intention of the bill is to create one agency (there are currently 15) that ensures the safety of food sold in supermarkets.

Is the bill a good bill? Not necessarily. It doesn't account for the difference in scale between mass produced food and food from artisinal producers. For instance he points out that inspections are a good thing, but if small producers with low profit margins have to pay for them, this will make their business less viable.

Is the bill a bad thing? Not necessarily. First, it hasn't progressed very far, so it still has the potential to change. Second, it is not as potentially destructive to small farmers as other bills which are currently further along (HR 1332 and HR 759).

His main takeaway, and that of a few other seemingly rational voices I found out there, is that this bill has the potential to be good and it is still in a stage where citizens can have an influence, so they should. Small growers do need safety regulation, ones that do not harm their business, and they should work to create these. For example, see what some farmers in Maine are up to. This link also contains a brief summary of the other bills mentioned above.

One final thought/side rant. I found it interesting that many of the rumours about this bill surround its status. It is either: already passed, will be passed in a week, or will be passed tomorrow if this blog post is not emailed to 30 of your closest friends in the next 30 minutes.

In my search "house bill hr 875", the first link returned was to the government website with a status showing that it is in committee. That wasn't too hard.

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