S. 510 Passed with the Tester-Hagan Amendment

As many of you may have heard, S 510 the food safety bill, passed the Senate yesterday. I’ve discussed this bill once before. In that post I asked that people ask their Senators to vote for the Tester-Hagan amendment if they must vote for this poorly done bill. I’m happy to say the Tester-Hagan amendment passed with the bill, along with several other amendments that will make it a bit easier on small farmers. Thanks so much for writing and calling about this!

Even with bill’s passage all hope is not lost by any means. Because of Democrat foolishness, the Senate bill includes provisions about taxes, a House perogative. So the House Democrats will probably stop the Senate bill for a bit.

The bill has to be reconciled with the House version once all these mistakes are rectified, if they can be rectified. The House version of the bill is much, much harsher to small farmers. I might, therefore, be asking you all to write and call as the reconcilation process goes forward.

There are several other ways to stop the worst of this bill. One is when the UDSA/FDA/HSA (Why the heck is Homeland Security involved?) actually make up the rules. There will be hearings, committees, ‘listening’ sessions and more. Although the path to public involvement in these hearings is convoluted and arcane, it can be done.

For example, up until last year small farmers, and anyone who owned a horse, goat, sheep, cow, chicken, duck, or pig as a pet, had NAIS looming before them. NAIS, the National Animal Identification System, was to mandate an RFID for every ‘farm’ animal in this country. It was meant to facilitate disease outbreak tracing and enhance the ability for American meat producers to sell their products overseas.

NAIS mandated one RFID per ‘lot’ of animals. So a ‘lot’ of 10,000 chickens hatched, raised and slaughtered together would need one RFID tag. That’s great for a CAFO. But for a small farmer, who hatches maybe 100 chickens here, 100 there, or even less, it’s disaster. Each chicken or small lot would need a number. The system worked the same for horses, cattle, goats, etc. So I, with my 17 18 (keep forgetting the little one) goats, would pay 18 times what someone with 1,000 goats kidded at once would pay. Yea, that’s fair. The NAIS rules also meant a ton of other impositions. Farmers would be required to report any movement of animals within 24 to 48 hours. If you rode your horse down a trail, every farm you passed would have to report your movement into and off of their property. Take your pet goat to the vet in your car? Report that movement within 24 to 48 hours or face a fine. Animal die? Report it. Animal born? Report it. Animal moved to a different pasture through a common area? Report it. In order to facilitate all this reporting your property would be registered as a ‘premises’ and given a ‘premises number’. Legally, the owner of a premises has a different set of rights, lesser rights, than the owner of property.

When the particulars came out the government ignored the unrest. Then the listening sessions started, and they had to add more, and more. Comments on the Federal register grew long and loud. The listening sessions were attended by people 80% to 95% against NAIS. People dared the government to pass it, promising stubborn, non-violent resistance.

NAIS died last year, supposedly. Funding was dropped by Congress and the FDA/USDA stopped pushing it. However, elements of it are in the S 510 bills.

We can do this again with the Food Safety Act. We can make it palatable and workable for the little farmers. People power CAN fight against corporate ruled government if we are united. Unity is the key. With NAIS all sides came together to fight it. I was on mailing lists with people who became rabid tea-partiers. I didn’t agree with their solutions for everything, but I, and other liberals like me, did agree with how to fight NAIS. And so when someone made a political comment, the rest of us chastized them. ‘The list is only about NAIS, keep the rest out of it. We need everyone to fight it.’ This kind of unity is going to have to happen more and more, to fight against government take-over of our rights to privacy, freedom of speech, travel, and more. I welcome it.

Added the following to discuss the Washington Post article mentioned by BB in her great news roundup. These are my admittedly argumentative thoughts on the points in the article. I think the Food Safety bills could be good, but they need to be gone over very carefully and the wording needs reflect reality. It’s too vague right now.

Point 1: ‘ Would require farmers and food manufacturers to put in place controls to prevent bacteria and other pathogens from contaminating food.’

The bill requires ‘GAPS’ (Good Agricultural Practices) to be put in place for farmers. These are basically flow charts that are meant to identify problem areas and tell the farmer how to prevent them. They probably work ok for a farmer who grows 10000000000 acres of lettuce. However, I grow about 2 4 x 100 ft beds of lettuce, 4 4 x 100 ft beds of broccoli, 8 4 x 100 ft beds of potatoes… well you get the idea. I’d have to have a GAPS, generally designed by a food engineer ($$$$) for each vegetable and for how the growing of each vegetable impacts the other. I really resent this kind of linear, engineering thinking that is applied to everything. Learning about, and deciding to follow ‘good agricultural practices’ is something every farmer does. If they don’t, they go out of business.

Point 2: ‘Would require the Food and Drug Administration to regularly inspect all food facilities, with more frequent inspections in higher risk facilities. ‘

Who defines ‘higher risk’? Right now, it seems the FDA thinks little dairies and creameries are high risk. The factories that produced the 550 million egg recall had the equivalent of ‘GAPS’ in place. They had inspections, and got fined and written up, over and over again. Most of the HAACP (equivalent of GAPS) stuff requires them to self inspect and self report. The problems in these factories were ongoing over years. But a little cheese producer that has never tested positive for listeria is shut down because a California seized sample, held in improper conditions by the government, stripped of all the actual tracing lot numbers which are supposed to allow backtracing of food by that same government, ad nauseum, came back positive for listeria.

Point 3: ‘Would allow the FDA to order a mandatory recall of any product it suspects may harm public health. ‘

This one sounds great. Of course, the FDA basically already has this ability. Note the wording ‘suspects may harm’. This could mean that a small farm or food producer is effectively destroyed while the FDA determines with the glacial slow movement of government facilities dragging their collective feet, that the farm/food producer did nothing wrong.

Point 4: ‘Would improve disease surveillance, so that outbreaks of food poisoning can be discovered more quickly’

I like this one. But how are they actually going to do it? More testing I suppose. Who pays? The consumer and the farmer. What about testing post slaughter, post canning, post wrapping, etc?

Point 5: ‘ Would require farmers and food-makers to maintain distribution records so that the FDA can more quickly trace an outbreak to its source. ‘

This is NAIS-like. At one time the government was talking about requiring every head of lettuce or broccoli to have an RFID. Interesting concept, and it may come to that. It would provide great tracing, until the RFID is removed. And even then, what if you return to the store with an RFID tag from lettuce that you said made you sick. You neglect to mention you ate that lettuce right after you cleaned the cat box… RFID tags won’t do anything about post-slaughter contamination, which is where MOST of the contamination of meat happens. The tag is removed from the animal when it’s slaughtered, of course.

Having said that, I don’t know of a farmer or food-maker that doesn’t maintain distribution, aka sales, records. Maybe it’s different in the big ag operations.

Point 6: ‘Would require foreign food suppliers to meet the same safety standards as domestic food-makers. ‘

I love this one. Could we reverse it and make it so that our food suppliers have to label GMO products and so on? That would rock.

Point 7: ‘Would exempt small farmers and food processors.’

This is good. I’ll believe it when I see it. Tester’s amendment says that small food producers have to abide by either the state regulations or the fed regulations. In practice, the fed usually tells the state how to regulate, or withholds money. So it’s all one in the same. I’m a bit worried about the part (they might have removed this in the final bill) that sends a farmer to jail for 10 years if they ‘distribute adulterated food’. The problem is the definition of distribute, adulterated and even food. Heh. Raw yogurt can be considered adulterated by some, because it’s still got the little raw beasties in it that make it so good.

Final point: ‘Would add 17,800 new FDA inspectors by 2014.’

I’ll believe that when I see it. Paid for by what? Are they going to be like the TSA? Who’s training them?

S. 510, please call for the Tester-Hagen amendment

Note: I wanted to get this written up and posted yesterday, but family duties called me away and I spent all day at my parents’ house taking care of my sister.

Right now I am stressing about Senate Bill 510. The bill passed cloture today, and will come up for vote tomorrow or Friday, I believe. An important amendment, written by Senator Tester and Senator Hagen, would exempt small farms from many of the onerous provisions of this bill. Food experts, farm advocates, and consumer safety experts have debated the provisions of the bill over at Grist (see this article on if the bill will better provide food safety, this article on if the bill will harm small farmers, and this one on if we really have a food safety crisis), if you are interested in their arguments.

If S 510 passes without the Tester-Hagen amendment and then goes into reconciliation with the absolutely horrid (for small farms) House bill (HR 2749) which passed last year, I expect to be eventually regulated out of business. And I expect many, many other small farms to suffer the same fate. The law has no provisions in it to protect small farms; it simply urges the FDA and FEMA, yes, our food supply would come under FEMA, to consider small farms when making regulations. AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. The Tester-Hagen amendment makes it law that they do so. The Bill is partly concerned with ‘terrorist’ scenarios, such as someone poisoning our food supply. If we were getting food from millions of small family farms, such a thing couldn’t occur. But the bill gives FEMA the power to intervene in cases of suspected terrorism, or food ‘adulteration’, however they end up defining it.

There’s some good parts in this bill. It does provide more oversight for Big Ag. I’m sure that’ll last until the regulations actually get written (cynical, cynical me). But as I see it,  this bill and the House bill are just grandstanding so government people can say they ARE doing something about the supposed food safety crisis. If the USDA and the FDA had the funds to do the inspections they need and if our Senators and Representatives would seriously look into getting the lobbyists out of the regulatory mix, we’d not need these bills at all.

Anyway, I ask you to call or email your Senators and ask them, if they must vote for this bill, that they also vote for the Tester-Hagen amendment. It’s probable that every Dem Senator will vote for it, so let’s do what we can to make it more palatable to the small food producers that hope to feed us all.

More links of possible interest:

S510 may mean 10 years in prison for Farmers

Food Safety:  The Worst of Both Bills

Frequently Asked Questions about S 510

I’m trying to look on the bright side.  If the bill passes, is reconciled with the House bill and becomes the pile of ummhmmm I suspect it will, it can still be fought during the formation of regulations phase.  Oh joy.