We Must Tell Congress to also Protect High Quality Organic and Local Food

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Mark Kastel, 608-625-2042

We Must Tell Congress to also Protect High Quality Organic and Local Food

Critical Pending Food Safety Legislation: Supporting Viable Federal Oversight over Corporate Agribusiness

WASHINGTON -  The blogosphere has sounded the alarm warning that Congress and
agribusiness and biotechnology lobbyists are conspiring to pass
legislation that will force organic and local farms, and even home
gardeners, out of business. What are the threats and opportunities, and
how should we gear up to communicate with our congressional
representatives?

1. HR 875: The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009

2. HR 759: The Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act of 2009
3. HR 1332: Safe FEAST Act of 2009

There is no question that our increasingly industrialized and concentrated food production system needs a new regulatory focus. Contamination of spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, peanuts and other foods are an indictment of a food safety system that is out of control and has become dominated by corporate agribusiness
and powerful insider lobbyists. Regulators at the FDA, USDA and other
agencies have fallen short in their public safety responsibilities.

The public outcry over this situation has finally led some in
Congress to propose remedies-and we should support strict oversight of
the runaway industrial farming and food production system that is
responsible for illnesses and deaths among our citizenry.

Although stakeholders in the organic
community need to be on-guard, the flurry of e-mails and Internet
postings suggesting that HR 875 will end organic farming as we know it
seem to grossly exaggerate the risks. Here's what we know:

Some level of reform is coming and we must work diligently to make sure that any changes do not harm or competitively disadvantage organic and local family farm producers and processors who are providing the fresh, wholesome and authentic food for which consumers are increasingly hungry.

Several bills aimed at fixing the broken food safety system have been proposed. Of these bills, the FDA Globalization Act (HR 759) appears most likely to be voted on, with elements of the other bills, including the Food Safety Modernization Act (HR 875) and the Safe FEAST Act (HR 1332) possibly incorporated into the bill.

A vote on a final bill shortly before Memorial Day is likely.

All three bills would require new food safety rules for farms and food processing businesses.
Therefore, as with most legislation, the real battle will be in the
rule-making process that follows the passage of the bill. We must stay
engaged.

Anyone with an interest in food safety issues has probably seen or
received emails charging that backyard gardens and organic farming
would be outlawed by new food safety laws. We have closely read the
proposed legislation, done extensive background research, and talked
with the chief staff member responsible for the drafting of HR 875.
Some have argued that this is a conspiracy promulgated by Monsanto and
other corporate interests in conventional agriculture. It is our
conclusion that none of these bills would "outlaw organic farming."
Other groups, such as Food and Water Watch and the organic
certification agent CCOF have reached similar conclusions. But as we
just noted, we need to be engaged in this process to protect organic
and family farmer interests.

Also, concerns have been raised that these new laws don't examine
meat safety concerns. The USDA is responsible for much of the nation's
meat safety regulations. It does not appear that Congress, at this
time, is prepared to address deficiencies involving meat.

HR 759, authored by John Dingell (D-MI), the House's most senior
member, is the bill that will be given priority by the House as they
weigh food safety legislation. It proposes that all food processing
facilities register with the FDA and pay annual fees, evaluate hazards
and implement preventive controls of these hazards, monitor these
controls and keep extensive records.

HR 759 would give authority to the FDA to establish "science-based"
minimum standards for the safe production and harvesting of fruits and
vegetables. These food safety standards would address manure use, water
quality, employee hygiene, sanitation and animal control, temperature
controls, and nutrients on the farm.

Such one-size-fits-all food safety rules, especially
preventative measures, created with industrial-scale farms and
processors in mind, would likely put smaller and organic producers at an economic and competitive disadvantage. A similar voluntary set of regulations in California have damaged the environment and hurt organic and fresh produce growers.

These high-quality, owner-operated,
and often "local" farms are an important part of the solution to our
nation's food quality problems-not the cause-and they must be protected!

It should be noted that unlike conventional farms, organic producers
are already highly regulated in managing manure by composting and other
requirements that dramatically reduce pathogenic risk. Spinach,
tomatoes, peppers, almonds, and peanuts are in no way inherently
dangerous. These fresh and nutritious foods pose a risk only after they
are contaminated, which is why new food safety legislation must address
the underlying causes of food safety hazards.

Whatever the final legislation looks like, it must make clear that it is the intent of Congress to ensure that ensuing regulations will not disproportionately burden small-scale family farm producers and farmstead businesses that are the backbone of the local, sustainable and organic food movement.

Part of the Solution, Not Part of the Problem!
We must tell Congress to protect high quality organic and local food production

Please contact the following representatives to urge them to support
legislation that will protect organic and small-scale family farmers
while strengthening food safety:

  • Henry Waxman (D-CA), Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce-send a message through the Committee website at: http://energycommerce.house.gov/
    John Dingell (D-MI), the sponsor of HR759
    Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the sponsor of HR 875
    Jim Costa (D-CA), the sponsor of HR 1332
  • Your own district's representative, especially if he or she is a
    cosponsor of one of the food safety bills (see below for a list of
    cosponsors)

Tell them other elements that must be included in new food safety legislation include:

1. A thorough analysis of the underlying causes of food safety hazards.
HR 759 proposes to regulate only fresh fruit and vegetable growers,
setting minimum standards without requiring a thorough evaluation of
the underlying causes of food safety hazards.

However, HR 875 requires "identifying and evaluating the sources of
potentially hazardous contamination or practices extending from the
farm or ranch to the consumer that may increase the risk of food-borne
illness." Such an analysis could potentially identify aspects of
industrialized/centralized agriculture and food processing as serious
health threats.

2. HR 759 should establish categories for food (processing) facilities to ensure that smaller businesses are not disadvantaged by one-size-fits-all registration fees.

3. The final bill should also determine categories for "food production facilities" (farms) - based on level of risk. These categories should differentiate between farms based on criteria including size and organic certification.
A certified small-scale organic farm, as an example, selling its
produce in the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model or through
farmers markets or roadside stands should be regulated differently from
a large-scale, conventional farm selling commodities to a national
market.

4. Also, some small-scale farmers, including
members of the Amish community, will find mandatory electronic record
keeping requirements onerous and should be able to access alternatives,
or be exempted due to scale.

5. At least one other separate piece of legislation, HR 814, would require a mandatory animal identification system (NAIS).
Since the majority of all food contamination problems have emanated
from processing, distribution, retailing, and food service, there is
limited utility in requiring agricultural producers to go to the great
expense of tracking each individual animal (any value from the system
would mostly be applicable to animal health concerns, not human
health). Since NAIS has caused a maelstrom of controversy in the
farming community, Congress should debate this issue separately to
avoid stalling the progress of critical food safety legislation.

6. Most importantly, the final bill needs to state clearly
that food safety regulations should not interfere with any farmer's
ability to follow and comply with the regulations of the Organic Foods
Production Act.
Organic farmers are already audited and
inspected on an annual basis. They already have a plan for their
farm-an "organic system management plan." The bill should specify that
food safety regulations and food safety plans should not interfere with
farmers' existing organic plans.

We urge you to contact Congressional
leadership, and your own representative and senators, to make sure that
the highest quality farmers in this country are not run over by
juggernauts in Washington in their attempt to address the filthy
industrialized food system that has sickened so many!

To locate your representatives in Congress, and send them a message through their website, click on this link:

  • http://www.congress.org/congressorg/officials/congress/
  • Or you can call the Capitol Switchboard at (202)224-3121 and ask for your senators' and/or representative's office.

    Note: it is especially important for you to contact your
    Congressional representative if they are a cosponsor of the proposed
    legislation.

    For a sample letter you can easily personalize and modify to send to your elected officials, click here.

    Cosponsors of HR 759 include:

    Representatives Donna Christensen (VI), Diana DeGette (CO), Eliot
    Engel (NY), Frank Pallone (NJ), Gary Peters (MI), John Sarbanes (MD),
    Bart Stupak (MI), Betty Sutton (OH)

    Cosponsors of HR 875 include:

    Representatives Shelley Berkley (NV), Sanford Bishop (GA), Timothy
    Bishop (NY), Andre Carson (IN), Kathy Castor (FL), Joe Courtney (CT),
    Peter DeFazio (OR), Diana DeGette (CO), Eliot Engel (NY), Anna Eshoo
    (CA), Sam Farr (CA), Bob Filner (CA), Gabrielle Giffords (AZ), Rual
    Grijalva (AZ), John Hall (NY), Maurice Hinchey (NY), Mazie Hirono (HI),
    Eddie Johnson (TX), Marcy Kaptur (OH), Barbara Lee (CA), Nita Lowey
    (NY), Betty McCollum (MN), Jim McDermott (WA), James McGovern (MA),
    Gwen Moor (WI), Christopher Murphy (CT), Jerrold Nadler (NY), Eleanor
    Holmes Norton (DC), Chellie Pingree (ME), C.A. Ruppersberger (MD), Tim
    Ryan (OH), Linda Sanchez (CA), Janice Schakowsky (IL), Mark Schauer
    (MI), Louise Slaughter (NY), Pete Stark (CA), Betty Sutton (OH), John
    Tierney (MA), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL), Robert Wexler (FL).

    Cosponsors of HR 1332 include:

    Representatives John Adler (NJ), Joe Baca (CA), Joe Barton (TX),
    Leonard Boswell (IA), Michael Burgess (TX), Dennis Cardoza (CA), Yvette
    Clarke (NY), Henry Cuellar (TX), Lincoln Davis (TN), Nathan Deal (GA),
    Eliot Engel (NY), Sam Farr (CA), Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (SD), Steve
    Kagan (WI), Collin Peterson (MN), Joseph Pitts (PA), Adam Putnam (FL),
    George Radanovich (CA), Charles Rangel (NY), Thomas Rooney (FL), Ileana
    Ros-Lehtinen (FL), John Salazar (CO), Adam Schiff (CA), David Scott
    (GA), John Shimkus (IL), Lee Terry (NE), Mike Thompson (CA), Greg
    Walden (OR).

    ###

    The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit farm policy research group, is dedicated to the fight for economic justice for the family-scale farming community.  Their Organic Integrity Project acts as a corporate and governmental watchdog assuring that no compromises to the credibility of organic farming methods and the food it produces are made in the pursuit of profit.  Their web page can be viewed at www.cornucopia.org.  

     

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